The best way to get to know the devil is to look him right in the eye. That, or ask his blogger's all about him. We opted for the latter, of course, and bring to you today a Q&A with the authors of two of Nebraska's best blogs - SBN's excellent Corn Nation as well the fine folks from Big Red Network.
Both websites interviewed BON about Texas, so be sure to stop over at each site to get our own take on the game>
Burnt Orange Nation: What's the general mood about Nebraska's 2006 season so far?
Corn Nation: My mood is a little schizophrenic.
At the beginning of the year, it was amazing to see how far the offense had come since last year. In 2005, we were incapable of doing pre-snap shifts without constant penalties. 2006 rolls around and we're suddenly beating up lousy teams like we used to - scoring big points, lots of yardage, whoooeeee!
Then the USC game rolls around and we run the ball, and run the ball, and run the ball. I understood the idea, and I thought it was a good one - keep the game limited, control the tempo, and see if we can stay close. We didn't execute well enough, but that's suddenly what we're known for - being ultraconservative against USC.
We performed very well against Iowa State and KSU, but against Kansas we give up a 17 point lead, 594 yards of offense on 94 plays. We're 6-1, but it's a discontented, unhappy 6-1 because of the USC game.
You still have a sizable percentage of people in Nebraska upset about Frank Solich being fired, that Tom Osborne wouldn't do it this way, blah blah blah. They're not happy that we moved to a passing offense. Now that we're running more, we're not scoring enough "style" points. Bottom line - they're not happy, nor will they ever be happy. When I'm around them, I try to spike their drinks so they pass out really fast and therefore stop complaining.
Big Red Network: I'd say constrained optimism. We're 6-1 as the vast majority expected. And, all of the stated goals (North title, etc) are intact. With all of the improvements in facilities, total personnel, and noticeable improvement on offense, I think fans are really getting behind this team. Fans like the heart they show, especially Taylor.
Right now, everything is still pointed toward KC and the title game. Absent that, I don't know how fans will react.
Burnt Orange Nation: I recently took a look at Nebraska's play calling in two critical games, as well as the season as a whole, and concluded that the offense is anything but a West Coast attack. What's the real story about your offense?
Big Red Network: People, both locally and nationally, have gotten WAY too caught up in the notion of "West Coast" offense coming to NU. It's a misnomer, certainly. If you go back and look at teams (particularly pro teams) that ascribe to that style of offense, you'll see a whole range of attacks. Some are very run oriented (like the Packers in their best years) and some are pass first (like the Eagles right now). The point is that it *should* be capable of just about anything, providing you have the personnel.
This year, NU has players at the skill positions, particularly quarterback, that allow them to execute many different things. While in Oakland, Callahan's best team was sort of known for doing anything and everything. One game they threw it 40 times, and the very next game, they ran it 40 times. I will say that this year's propensity to run first has won the hearts of Huskers who want physical football. Though, I think we're more apt to run a lot on the road, shorten the game and get out with a win. At home this week, you might see more footballs in flight.
Corn Nation: It is a not a West Coast offense, it is a Corncoast offense. Nebraskans by nature don't like an association with the West Coast, so, we've changed the name and not really told anyone. It's supposed to be announced Saturday. They were originally going to call it the Corncoast Run And Pass offense, but, gee, if you can't see the problem with that name.... so they shortened it.
Anyway, I've seen Bill Callahan's playbook. It is 950 pages long. (It's alleged there is a volume two that has another 375 pages, but it was lost during the flood. The big flood. The one with Noah, the ark, all that. Some guy named Nebraska Jones is still trying to find it. He calls me asking for money. -What an awful joke.-) The USC game that you're looking at consisted of plays on pages 200-283, so it's no wonder you're confused, you only got a smattering of the totality that is the Corncoast.
When you look at the Nebraska offense, what you should really see is that there is incredible depth all over the place with the exception of quarterback. We have pretty good receivers, but they get no press. We have four backs capable of starting. We have a plethora of tight ends, and a good set of experienced lineman, most of which can play multiple positions.
I feel that Nebraska's offense is getting at a point that we can do whatever we need to do to win a game. If the gameplan calls for a heavy run attack, like we used against Iowa State and Kansas State, then we can do that. Against Texas, we're obviously going to need to throw the ball more to win the game, and I believe we can do that too. Look for us to put the ball up 35 times.
That is the Corncoast. Adversity, diversity, confusion, defensive bewilderment which leads to breakdowns, then sobbing, weeping, but always with massive amounts of hyperbole. You try preparing for 950 pages, and see how you like it.
Burnt Orange Nation: Tell us about two critical concerns you have of your own team.
Corn Nation: Can we be efficient in the passing game? We have the tools, the players. The offensive line protects well. The receivers are experienced, and they are good, even though no one talks about them. This will be key to our offensive production.
Kevin Cosgrove. He makes me insane sometimes. We get a lead and we go into this soft zone thing that allows teams to rack up yards and potentially, like the Kansas game. I'm not 100% sure about him, his abilities. A couple misplaced blitzes, and it's all over.
Big Red Network: Our defensive backfield and our defensive backfield. The loss of our #1 corner (Bowman) in preseason was devastating because it moved 5'9" Grixby out of the nickle and to the outside. And, our safety play has been less-than-stellar. Only now are we seeing new players get put in the mix (Thenarse at corner, Wilson at safety). That might make some difference. Some say our offensive line is a concern. But, based on performance, I'd say they have answered the bell.
Burnt Orange Nation: Tell us about two critical concerns you have about Texas' team.
Big Red Network: We don't match up well with your wide receivers at all (Sweed is a nightmare), and Jamaal Charles is breathtakingly fast. If NU doesn't find a way to contain (tackle!) those athletes, they will kill us. I also find your defensive front very imposing. Any team with the ability to smother the run and get after the quarterback is impressive.
Corn Nation: Can we slow the Texas rushing offense? That's the game, in a nutshell. Texas isn't going to come into Memorial Stadium with a Freshman quarterback and start heaving the ball all over the place. They're going to establish the run early. If they do, the big pass plays will open up, and it will be a nasty day for the Huskers.
That Sweed guy. Big, physical, fast, playmaker. Or maybe Jamaal Charles, speedster, track star, can take it the distance once in the open field. Maybe the entire defensive line and their backups. Is that more than two?
Burnt Orange Nation: Are there any Nebraska players that the rest of the nation doesn't know very well, but might play a huge role in Saturday's contest?
Corn Nation: Maurice Purify, 6'5" receiver that tends to catch anything thrown near him. He will play a huge role provided we actually throw the ball near him. He has 15 receptions for 333 yards, two TD's. He's very physical, difficult to cover.
Ndamukong Suh - pronounced En-dom-ah-ken Soo - goes by "Sue". Redshirt Freshman defensive tackle. Not a starter, but a genuine force on the defensive line. Sack leader. Bottom line is that we have a good rotation on the defensive line.
Big Red Network: Maurice Purify is an NFL talent at wide receiver. He's Nebraska's Sweed. His only weakness is he's new and doesn't know the whole offense. Marlon Lucky can get through holes in a hurry and that's why he has a bunch of long touchdowns this year. Linebacker Corey Mckeon is probably the Huskers best defender. He hurt an ankle last week, but he is the glue and the spirit of the Husker defense. Ndamukong Suh is a young stud at defensive tackle. He will be a first day draft pick one day. Andre Jones has had trouble early but has been coming on at corner and freshman Rickey Thenarse is very fast in the defensive backfield as well.
Burnt Orange Nation: Texas is 5-1 against Nebraska since Big 12 play began, including two road wins in Lincoln. Do you think the home field advantage will be a factor this season?
Corn Nation: Thanks for the reminder, btw. There's nothing like bringing out past pain. I was there in '98. I watched Ricky Williams run, and Garrity catch. I yelled "Heisman" at the end of the game. It was our first home loss in something like seven years. As I left the stadium, I tried not to harm anyone, including myself. Nowadays, I try not to think about it.
Home field advantage will be a factor this season if only because you have a freshman quarterback. Wait that's too easy. Greg Davis will shield him from mistakes. Home field advantage will be a factor because the Huskers will feed from the crowd's energy. LIterally - when everyone leaves this game Saturday, they will be exhausted, and I do mean EVERYONE.
Big Red Network: I think home field advantage is a factor in every game. I think it is a bigger deal Saturday because it is really your first road challenge. And Lincoln could be especially loud with the addition of more seating this season, and our players calling on the crowd to make it very load. About our 1-5 record, that includes a mediocre (7-7) team in 2002 that played UT down to the wire. Home field was an advantage then. I hope it is again Saturday.
Burnt Orange Nation: Any final thoughts or predictions on Saturday's game?
Corn Nation: I have tried to cross things up this week by yelling profanities at the TV all during the week even when there are no games on. Since I'm traveling this week, it's apparently been disturbing the other guests in the hotel. It's a theory that I'm working on. The idea is that I only scream profanities at the TV when there are bad Nebraska plays, so if I get it all out of my system before Saturday, well, there won't be any bad Nebraska plays, right?
Like you, I try to leave predictions until Friday, so be sure to stop by Corn Nation later in the week and then you can make fun of me. Thanks for the opportunity to communicate with the hordes of Burnt Orange wearing people. I only wore Burnt Orange once, and it was a good experience. That was enough.
Big Red Network: Darren: Obviously, I'm a huge Nebraska homer. I'm picking the Huskers. Beyond my biased emotion, I think NU is playing their best defense of the season heading in to this game, and it is at home, and wild Bill Callahan and his crew have been pointing to this one since the start of the season. They will have something cooked up, for sure. That puts NU over the top, 27-24. Steve: My heart says NU pulls out a close one, but my head says Texas 28-17.
Burnt Orange Nation: Many thanks, gentlemen, for all your thoughts. Enjoy the weekend in Lincoln!