Nebraska Football: Cornhuskers Look To Regain Focus Vs. Kansas State

Michael HuckstepCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2010

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA - SEPTEMBER 11: Nebraska Cornhuskers Head Coach Bo Pelini (C) coaches his defense during second half action of their game at Memorial Stadium on September 4, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Idaho 38-17. Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

The story lines are rich and plentiful, like the fertile Nebraska soil, as the Cornhuskers head to Manhattan, Kansas one last time for a Big 12 North Division tilt.

Perhaps the most analyzed (and over-analyzed) subject is how the Big Red plans to rebound from its lackluster performance against FCS opponent South Dakota State.

Before speculation could get wildly out-of-hand, coach Bo Pelini leaped into the media fray and did his best to make it a non-issue.

He called it a "reality check" that came at the "perfect time" and, without flinching, took responsibility for his team's outing.

And as he always does, Bo spoke of progression, getting back to the basics and learning from their mistakes.

Whether his players believe that they took their opponent too lightly, that the coaching staff had them ill-prepared, or something else entirely, chances are good that Bo and his staff will have broken the team back down to fundamental football.

By the time the Huskers line up against the Wildcats, those reasons will cease to be important. The unimpressive effort will be forgotten, no more than an unpleasant speed bump along the way to bigger and better things.

Nebraska will have a hungry (and also-undefeated) North Division foe breathing down their necks. It won't be time to focus on what cannot be changed; it will be time to turn their attention to game at hand.

Secondly, during the extra time the Huskers have had to prepare, perhaps the second most discussed topic among the Big Red faithful has been the apparent regression of Taylor Martinez.

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has worked intensively with Martinez since the SDSU game to show him where he made his mistakes and they boil down to a fairly simple concept: Martinez is an incredibly gifted athlete who, like almost all young players, sometimes tries to do too much by himself.

In an interview in the Omaha World Herald, Watson said, “He made some bad decisions, and then it started snowballing on him because he kept trying to make amends to them...He wants to make the big play. That’s the thing that he’s learning. Unfortunately, (a first-year starter) has to go through that.”

If Martinez can learn to reel things in a bit, realize that not every play is going to end in six points and focus on what he can do in the moment, he'll only get better.

Topic No. 3 (and some of you are probably wondering why it took this long to mention his name): Daniel Thomas.

Be it in print, over the radio or on the television, you've likely heard that Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas is the Huskers' primary focus as they gameplan against the Wildcats.

"Stop him and you'll stop K-State" has been the oft-repeated mantra from barroom banter to news broadcasts.

Deservedly so, the Nebraska players have been complimentary in their remarks concerning Thomas. After giving up 100-yard performances to Bobby Rainey of Western Kentucky and Kyle Minett of South Dakota State, the Husker defense isn't about to give anyone any bulletin-board material.

Especially not against the fifth-best rusher in the nation, averaging 157 yards per game.

Couple that with the comparatively "soft" play of the Nebraska defensive line and Thomas begins to loom larger than life.

For what it's worth, however, both Rainey (the ninth-ranked back in the country) and Minett have had three 100-plus rushing days apiece and Thomas was limited to 76 yards in a 17-13 win over Central Florida.

However, as much as Nebraska has lauded the Wildcats' gifted back, Pelini has been one of the first to say that if the Huskers focus too much on Thomas, it will allow Kansas State to just toss the ball over the Huskers' heads all night long.

While it's not quite that simple, the point is clear. Nebraska's D has to be ready for everything.

Obviously, though Thomas has been the Wildcats' primary weapon, K-State's senior quarterback, Carson Coffman, has been fairly serviceable, yet it's worth mentioning that Coffman ranks 83rd in the nation in passing yards (159.75 yds/gm) and almost half of his 639 total passing yards came against FCS foe Missouri State.

Coffman is no Jake Locker, at least Locker before he met the Nebraska defense.

On the other side of the ball, Kansas State ranks 102nd nationally in rushing defense, allowing 195.5 yards per game (compared to the Huskers' 53rd place squad at 138.75 yds/gm).

While the Wildcats succeeded in holding the tenth-ranked UCLA Bruins' rushing offense to less than 200 yards, it's unclear if they can regain that type of focus against Nebraska's fourth-ranked unit (309.25 yds/gm), which features the 11th, 60th, and 61st ranked backs in Martinez, Helu and Burkhead, respectively.

Finally, there is the fact that this will be Nebraska's last trip to Manhattan as a division opponent (possibly their last trip ever).

The purple-clad fans will have plenty of time to pump copious amounts of "spirit" (pun intended) into their bodies and would love nothing more than to give Nebraska the bitter taste of defeat as a going-away present for the Huskers who are headed to the Big Ten next year.

The NU players have openly said that they enjoy playing on the road, that they feed off the opposing fans' hostility. To deflate a roaring, raucous crowd with an explosive play or slowly bleed away their enthusiasm with a couple of long, successful drives only makes them play harder.

This will no doubt be a recurring theme for the Nebraska all-season, as their scheduled division mates take one last shot at the Big Red 'N'. In a sense, it will be like the old days of Husker dominance when they got everyone's best game.

Coach Pelini, while realizing that aspect of finality is unavoidable, believes that, this Thursday night, neither team should need any more game motivation.

“This is going to be 4-0 Kansas State and 4-0 Nebraska. It's going to be a big game whether we're in the WAC and they're in the Big East, or we're both in the same conference. It doesn't matter. It's a big football game," he told the World Herald.

And while the Huskers have set out a specific game plan, focusing on specific things, and have given specific instructions to specific players, perhaps Pelini's words sum things up best, at least in a general sense.

Don't let the doubts, debates and distractions blur their vision for the remainder of the season.

Focus only on the next play, the next drive, the next game.


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