It’s been 31 days since Nebraska last played football. Is that long enough to erase the memories of the Huskers last outing? Today’s performance in the Capital One Bowl against Georgia will go a long way towards answering that question.
Here are three keys to a Nebraska win, three players to watch and three stats to keep an eye on today.
Oh, and, Happy New Year!
THREE KEYS TO A NEBRASKA WIN
1) Stop the run – It really all comes down to this. When Nebraska has played well against the run this season, the Huskers have won. When they haven’t? Well, let’s just say 49.5 percent of Nebraska’s total rushing yards allowed this season came in three games: UCLA, Ohio State, and Wisconsin (the second one). You probably know what those three games have in common.
2) Stay on schedule – Georgia’s front seven is not a group you want to drop back against a lot. Getting yards on first down, either through the run game or play action and three-step drops, will be big for Nebraska in this game. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck has a lot of weapons at his disposal and I’m sure a few tricks up his sleeve with a month to tinker. He’ll need to be creative early because pure passing downs in this game are poison.
3) Play with an edge – Internally, Nebraska wanted to play the best team available and the Huskers likely got it. The feeling among Georgia’s media contingent in Orlando is that the motivation angle is a real concern. In theory, Nebraska has it and Georgia does not. If that’s true, the Huskers should be able to show it from the opening kickoff.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
1) C/G Cole Pensick – This is a big one for Pensick who will likely take the bulk of the snaps at center. Georgia will be without future pro NG John Jenkins but the Bulldogs will replace him with another NFL-ready talent in Kwame Geathers. Can Pensick handle him on his own? That’s important in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme. If Nebraska doesn’t have to double team Geathers, that frees up guys to get on linebackers.
2) DT Cameron Meredith – A defensive tackle out of necessity, Meredith is at a serious size disadvantage inside but he’s what the Huskers have got at this point. He might need to have his best game as a Husker in his last game as a Husker if Nebraska has a hope of slowing down the Georgia run game.
3) QB Taylor Martinez – Can T-Magic be magical against a Dawgs defense loaded with NFL talent? Martinez proved a lot of doubters wrong this season. Now, can he do it against the most talented defense he’s seen this season? If he has a good game today the Heisman buzz for 2013 will begin in earnest.
THREE STATS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
1) Aaron Murray’s interceptions – Murray is second nationally with a 172.37 passer rating this season but he’s not immune to the occasional off game. But Murray’s on a hot streak. He’s only thrown one interception in the last five games. If Nebraska can get one or two in this game the Huskers should be in pretty good shape.
2) Fumbles – Georgia is third nationally with 20 forced fumbles this season. Nebraska is tied for last in the country with 21 fumbles lost. It doesn’t really get more clear cut than that.
3) Yards per play – Minus the wind-hampered 3.93 yards per play against Iowa, the Huskers have been better than 5 yards per play in every game this season. Georgia’s held four of its last six opponents below that mark but the Dawgs have allowed more than 300 yards rushing in each of their last three games. If Nebraska can have similar success on the ground, that opens up a ton of options for Beck in play action. That’s the surest path to 5-plus yards per play for Nebraska today.