Thursday, September 13, 2007

NU Re-View:Nebraska 20, Wake Forest 17

THE GOOD ...
- THE BETTER TEAM LOST: I know, that looks odd as a good thing. But hear me out. Wake Forest really out-played Nebraska on Saturday. Jim Grove knew that NU's defensive weakness was at defensive end, and planned his offense to attack the edges to put pressure on those ends. The Deacons SHOULD have won the game on Saturday ... but didn't. That is a small, but significant indicator of a team that is improving, to get out-played by an opponent but still win.
- DEFENSIVE STARS IN THE MAKING: Much like Brian Billick in Baltimore, Bill Callahan is an offensive genius winning because of defense. Steve Octavien, Courtney Grixby, Ndomukong Suh, and Zachary Bowman were the stars of this game, much more than anyone on the offense. Nebraska's success this season will hinge on the Blackshirts, make no mistake about it.
- I GOT RHYTHM: Callahan has said repeatedly that Sam Keller is a rhythm quarterback. Avoiding the obvious "method" jokes, Keller definitely proved that on Saturday. When he throws a lot, he's good. When he throws sporadically, he's not so good. But he's had two solid tests now to warm up and get into rhythm, hopefully sooner than later.

THE BAD ...
- THE BETTER TEAM LOST: I know, I'm repeating myself. But while it's good that Nebraska won an ugly game, the fact that Nebraska played ugly is in and of itself disturbing. The most disturbing is the inability to run the ball between the tackles. Wake Forest is a good team, but not a great team. If Nebraska struggles against a team of that level, what will happen in the Big XII?
- CATCHING THE SPEAR: Wake Forest ran what Callahan called a "spear" route leaving a receiver wide open twice. It only hit once, and, according to Callahan, the staff diagnosed it at halftime and were able to shut it down. Still, to see a receiver running free twice in a row on the same play, at any point, is a frightening harbinger of things to come.
- CALLAHAN THE RIVERBOAT GAMBLER: Good Lord, man, why are you going for it on fourth and two? Your defense has held Wake Forest in check almost the entire second half, and there's a little over a minute left. Punt the ball, pin them deep, and don't give them the chance to gash you, kick a field goal with their All-American kicker, and send it to overtime with momentum at home! The fact that the call worked out does not mean that the call was not a ridiculous and unnecessary risk to take.

... AND THE BIG EVENT
Here they come, the big, bad, USC Trojans. In many ways, the USC game feels like the Wake Forest game in reverse. Here, as with last week, the superior talented team comes on the road to play a team with a lot to prove. USC has played only one game, and did not play an inspired game. The Trojans also have a lot of small injuries, and some significant ones. But, they have a lot of talent, and with LSU closing fast in the polls, they have an incentive to win and win big.

THE BIG PICTURE
Winning ugly against a team like Wake Forest is definitely a good sign. Keep in mind, though, we've seen this before from Nebraska (see:Pittsburgh both times, Kansas and Texas A&M last year). The bottom line about this game is much the same as last year. The only way Nebraska really gets hurt is if USC manhandles the 'Huskers, and even then the damage isn't that bad. Arkansas had a half-hundy hung on them by USC, and still make the SEC Championship game. While this game will be a good yardstick to measure Nebraska's talent level, Nebraska still comes into this game with a lot more to win than to lose.

THE NEXT GAME: USC (-10) @ Nebraska. NU has the home field advantage, a quarterback with experience against the Trojans, and momentum on their side. But USC has an overwhelming talent differential, a blueprint for attacking the Blackshirts from Wake Forest, and an incentive to pile the points on. The energy from the home crowd keeps it close through the first half, but USC will eventually find enough chinks in Nebraska's armor to draw blood and pull away late. Nebraska CAN win this game, and I will certainly be rooting for them to win, but the rational part of my brain tells me the Trojans are too much. Give the points, take USC.

GBR, baby.

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