Judging from the Coaches All-Big 12 team, this is the finest collection of defenders the Big 12 has ever seen. Outside of the Big 12 North Galapagos where there are no offensive predators and beyond the Big 12 South Bob Stoops sewing circle, they're the 2nd or 3rd best defense in the league with all of their impact players loaded on the DL and 1-2 secondary spots.
They put a few players on the field that are outright poor, in fact. They have also feasted on a schedule of bad offenses. They're as vanilla as Omaha foreplay and pretty much run a base 4-3 and dare you to beat them. Obviously, they'll go base nickel against us but I doubt we see too much exotic unless Pelini pulls out all stops and rolls the dice. After seeing his management of the Va Tech game, that would surprise me.
DE Barry Turner
DT Ndamukong Suh
DT Jared Crick
DE Pierre Allen
This is the clear strength of the Nebraska defense and I expect to struggle with them. They're huge and very active. They do a great job of batting balls when they can't get to the QB and given the rhythms of our passing game and Colt's instincts in a collapsing pocket, I could see this being a problem.
Suh gets so much publicity now for being underappreciated (including his contrarian Heisman campaign - NO ONE AFFECTS GAMES LIKE HIM! I SAW PART OF THE MIZZOU GAME!) that he almost borders on overrated. Don't get me wrong, the guy is fantastic and his ability to disrupt in mutiple ways is absolutely unique, but Reggie White he is not. Lamarr Houston is as effective on a traditional running down and his equal as a pass rusher despite whatever babble you may read elsewhere. He's just not dropping into short zones and covering RBs like Suh because no one else can pull it off. Suh could be interesting messing with our dinky-dunk short game if we try to swing on his playscape over the middle. I hope Tanner and Huey eat their Wheaties.
Jared Crick is a big, rangy DT with a good first step and he's feasted on some of the opportunities that Suh has provided him. He had five sacks in one game. Not bad for a sophomore from Caucasian, Nebraska. He's 6-5 or 6-6 and I have seen guys get under his pads in the run game.
Barry Turner is a power DE. Pure strength. Pelini did get him to lose some weight in the offseason and increase his quickness, but he's no blur. Pierre Allen is the DE I fear most if he plays with consistency, but he seems to fade in and out during a ballgame. These are quality ends and big boys against the run.
These guys play with discipline and they constrict the pocket like an anaconda chomping on a peccary. Nebraska is quite content to rush 4. Because their DEs are big and not super quick laterally, I could see Colt getting outside of them, but I expect Pelini to play them wide and contain.
I consider this unit a weakness and whatever production they have here is largely a function of their DL. Teams are leaving these guys totally unblocked and taking their chances while doubling the playside DL and I hope we do the same. Colorado had some success doing this, for God's sake.
If Greg Davis can get some sets where our inside receivers are matched on these guys, we have a good chance of creating a miss and manufacturing a big play. That little bootleg flip out to Tre Newton in the flat will be a go on Saturday as would a well-designed reverse.
CB Prince Amukamara
CB Alfonzo Dennard
S Larry Asante
S Matt O'Hanlon
These guys aren't super-athletic and they're not interested in manning up, pressing, and trying to turn and run with anybody. They play good technique, sit in zone or two deep man, pass off WRs to each other, and feast on what the DL serves up to them. If we "take what they give us" on every down, we'll be playing right into their hands. They're good tacklers.
Asante is a former JUCO who finally had the light come on and he's a poor man's Darren Sharper and a legitimate player. He's a big safety and he likes to sit back and react to what unfolds in front of him. The more we spread the field and get him matched up vertically with Malcolm Williams and Jordan Shipley, the less comfortable he'll be. If we dink and dunk in front of him, that's firmly in his wheelhouse and he will create a turnover.
O'Hanlon is Gideon, basically.
They moved Alfonzo Dennard to starter at CB mid-season and he has played well. I know nothing about him save that his secondary coach raves about him.
The other CB (1st Team All Big 12) Prince Amukamara is the rightful ruler of Zamunda but gave up his throne in order to travel to Queens and find his bride. The boy good! He is Nebraska's best corner and no, he is not as good as Aaron Williams. Apparently he impressed the shit out of ISU and CU though. He's a big physical corner.
Eric Hagg is the nickel. He's a good tackler and the Huskers love to use him as a blitzer when Pelini wants to change things up a bit.
Their field goal kicker is also the punter (Alex Henery) and he's 16 of 19 on the year and kicking pretty well on punts. They present little threat in the kicking game in terms of a big play - no scores on the year on punt or kick returns. So less potential for cheap points, thank God.
How Do We Attack Them?
As I suggested before the Aggie game, we need Colt running.
Nebraska doesn't want Colt running around and extending plays against their big DL and a secondary that relies on keeping WRs in front of them. That means they'll either need to split out their DEs wide or assign LBs to that task. Either choice creates opportunities in the zone read and honesty in defending our offense. If they collapse a bit more inside, you create bootleg ops as well as the chance to get something going downfield with play action. Nebraska has no desire to see their safeties turning and running with Shipley.
The trap we cannot fall into is taking the "easy play" (see OU) with 3-5 yard completions, batted balls, and jumped routes. It's Fool's Gold and the risk-reward calculus doesn't work. It works against UTEP when a bumbling fool misses the tackle and the play goes for 12, but not against sound defense.
As I mentioned above, I also think we'll have opportunities for our WRs and Newton with their LBs in space. The key is getting them the ball on the run so that they can make an athletic play.
I think it's absolutely reasonable to expect 20-27 offensive points and that should be enough to get it done.