Which raises the question... do Husker fans really think the Huskers are going to win?
USC was the clear pre-season favorite to win the national championship this season. John David Booty is a Heisman contender. They return 10 starters from a defense that Pete Carroll called his fastest. Do the Huskers even have a chance?
Of course the Huskers do...that's why they play the game.
We all know the reasons why USC will win. 4-star, 5-star, and 47-star players all over the field. One of the best coaches in college football in Carroll. How does Nebraska counteract all this?
First of all, let's look at what Nebraska can't do.
- First of all, Nebraska can't be predictable. Last year's game plan against USC wasn't bad because it was conservative, it was bad because it was woefully predictable and unimaginative. Even the USC Alumni Association mocked Callahan's game plan by selling t-shirts saying "See Red Run, See Red Run, See Red Run, See Red Punt."
- No mistakes. Nebraska MUST win the turnover battle.
Well, for starters, let's look at Sam Keller. He's not only played USC, but he even taken a lead into the locker room at halftime. He knows what it will take to beat the Trojans, and won't be intimidated. Keller will need to be efficient by completing short and medium range passes to loosen up the defense. He also knows that he needs to step up in this one.
Nebraska also needs to establish a physical ground game to balance out the passing game. Last year, USC remarked at how physical Nebraska played. We need to do that...plus some. Matt Slauson told the Lincoln Journal-Star about how Oregon State took the legs out from under USC in their upset of the Trojans last season. USC's team speed will negate our ability to run wide; we'll have to run right at them. I look for a lot out of Quentin Castille Saturday night, as I'm not sure Marlon Lucky matches up well here. If Cody Glenn is healthy, that could be a huge advantage as well.
Remember... the key is balance. Run the ball when USC expects us to pass. Pass when USC expects the run. The Huskers must keep USC off balance.
Last year on defense, Nebraska did an ok job of containing USC's explosive wide receivers. They're gone now...meaning that while USC still has talent, they are inexperienced. Conversely, Nebraska's depth in the secondary is better this season. Kevin Cosgrove will need to mix up his defenses, showing USC different looks all night long to keep Booty from getting into a groove.
Fans expect Memorial Stadium to be loud, and hopefully Cosgrove has figured out how the defense can deal with a loud crowd. A loud crowd might also affect USC a little more than usual, as USC will start true freshman Kristofer O'Dowd at center. The center makes the line calls on the offensive line, so while the rest of the USC offensive line is experienced, O'Dowd has likely never ever played in an environment like will exist on Saturday night. (As if lining up opposite Ndamakong Suh won't be tough enough.) How will he respond? Will he make the right calls? At first, I thought USC wouldn't be impacted by the crowd noise on Saturday night, but now, I see a real opening for fans to make a difference early.
A winning strategy? Keep USC's offense off the field as much as possible with a balanced, ball-control attack. When USC's offense does manage to get on the field, the fans and Blackshirts need to unite to be as disruptive as possible. It won't be easy. Nebraska will need to play a perfect game.
But it can be done. Unlike last year, Nebraska must play to win the game. Herm Edwards said it oh so well...you must play to win the game.