October 12, 2007

Red Alert in Huskerland?

As the song goes: "There is no place like Nebraska."

That's especially true this week, as citizens of the Cornhusker State are in a near panic mode trying to figure out exactly what is going on with their beloved Big Red.

Last weekend, Chase Daniel and the Missouri Tigers mauled Nebraska, 41-6. This weekend, the Cornhuskers return home to take on Oklahoma State, a team which hasn't won in Lincoln since 1960.

And while that is a daunting historical stat for the Cowboys to stare in the face and overcome, NU's recent past is scarier to them than a 47-year winless streak. It seems that way, at least.

Both teams enter Saturday's contest at 1-1 in the Big 12. The winner moves to 2-1 and gains solid footing in the conference race. The loser drops to 1-2 and begins an uncertain path.

Cornhusker head coach Bill Callahan is in a very shaky position. Is he on the hot seat? Is he about to lose his job? Questions abound, mostly due to the fact that his team has been spotty all season long. Even though NU is 4-2, it's not a pretty 4-2, as two wins were by the skin of their husks and the two losses were downright embarrassing - a relatively new way of losing along the shores of the Red Sea.

The biggest problem has been with the defense, which ranks worse than the Cowboys' unit. As for Callahan's opinion on the Blackskirts Blackshirts, he believes the group can make a turnaround.

"I always keep hope alive and keep looking forward to a positive performance, because I know that we're capable of doing that," Callahan said. "I see so many signs of it in practice. Again, it comes to the consistency of making a big play. I'm not delusional when I say this to you: there were opportunities in that (Missouri) game the other night where plays could have been made."

"We are really trying to be as positive as we can right now," linebacker Paul Ruud said. "We are looking at it in terms of we still have a lot of season left. We are really just trying to get better and play better, is what we are trying to do. We are not trying to focus on the negatives really. We are just trying to stay positive and get this thing back on track."

While the Husker's total defense is ranked 96th nationally, OSU's isn't much better, coming in at No. 92. While you'd think that would be a reason for optimism amongst the NU offense, quarterback Sam Keller says they can't look at things like that.

"We have said this before that, if we take care of our jobs and our business instead of shooting ourselves in the foot and not converting third downs and not doing what we do every week in practice, then we are going to make another defense look really good," Keller said. "Vice versa, we can make a good defense look not so good. That is the nature of the game. That is why we have to come out ready for this one and we have to come ready to fly around and have fun and celebrate. We just have to get back to loving football and that is what we are going to do. That is what I am going to do. I am going to do everything I can to make that happen this week for everybody."

With NU's offense ranking 29th in the NCAA, Keller does have a shot at leading the Huskers to a fun day on the gridiron. Especially since OSU's defensive weakness is against the pass and NU is pretty proficient throwing the ball, averaging 293 yards per game. But on the flipside, OSU's offense is solid as well and its strength is the running game (234 ypg), while NU's defensive weakness is against the run (190 ypg). What do the Huskers see in the Pokes?

"They're extremely balanced and can spread the field," Callahan said. "They take shots. They have a good vertical passing game and they have an excellent running game. When you have that type of balance and that type of mix, it can create a lot of problems for you in terms of what you need to shut down. When you have the athletes they have and the overall success and performance that they've had, you have a lot of things to defend. It's going to be a challenge."

While the Huskers are coming home to try and bounce back from the devastating loss to Mizzou, the Cowboys would like to see a repeat from the first half in College Station, where OSU jumped out to a 17-0 lead before the half.

If OSU can do that again on Saturday at Memorial Field, what will that do to the psyche of a defensive unit which has had issues all season long?

"When you get down early from a couple quick touchdowns, that really opens up what an offense can do," Ruud said. "Your game plans are adjusting and that is never good to give up what you wanted to do. It will be important next week to get out to a good start and get things rolling. Get the defense on a roll and get the defense on and off the field."

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