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December 5, 2009

Callahan's take: Can the defense get it done again?


ARLINGTON, Texas - Nebraska hasn't exactly taken the smoothest road to the Big 12 Championship game, but the bottom line is the Huskers have gotten to Dallas.

NU heads into tonight's Big 12 title game in Cowboys Stadium as a 14 point underdog against No. 3 ranked Texas. As things get closer to kickoff, here are the five key to victory for Nebraska against the Longhorns.

Establishing the run

If Nebraska wants to have any chance in this game, the most important thing they must do on offense is establish some sort of running game with Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead.

This obviously won't be an easy task, as Texas is ranked No. 1 nationally in stopping the run, but on the flip side I don't think anybody has tried to run straight at them like the Huskers will do tonight. If NU can move the ball with some success on the ground, it will open up every other aspect of their offense and take the pressure of quarterback Zac Lee.

Keep McCoy off-balanced

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is easily the most complete quarterback Nebraska has faced this season. McCoy showed last week that he can hurt you with his feet just as much as he can hurt with his throwing ability.

The key for NU is to keep McCoy off balanced. Don't let him know what's coming. Head coach Bo Pelini does a pretty good job of mixing up his blitz calls and coverage schemes. Pelini's going to have to be at the top of his game tonight in this aspect. If McCoy doesn't know what's coming, Nebraska's defense should be able to make some plays and force him into some bad decisions.

Make Texas one dimensional

Texas's running game hasn't been consistent this season. The Huskers can't afford to let that change on Saturday.

McCoy is arguably the Longhorns best running threat, but they'll mix in a committee of backs with him led by sophomore Tre' Newton. On the season Newton has just 477 yards rushing on 83 carries. If NU can keep Newton and McCoy in check on the ground, it will allow Pelini to do that much more with his defense and keep seven men in coverage.

Dominate special teams

It's really amazing what both Alex Henery and Adi Kunalic have been able to do for Nebraska's special teams this season.

Henery has placed a Big 12 best 26 punts inside the 20 yard line and Kunalic's ability to put balls through the end zone has given Nebraska the best kickoff coverage team in the league. In last week's Colorado game Nebraska's special teams forced CU's average starting field position to the 15 yard line on their first eight possessions.

The average fan doesn't probably realize how big these numbers are in a football game, but the extra yardage provided by Kunalic and Henery have forced opponents to drive the field in longer chunks against NU's stout defense.

Create big play opportunities

Plain and simple Nebraska has to make plays in this game. Whether that's forcing turnovers on defense, big runs by Helu and Burkhead, Lee hitting Paul on play action passes or Henery pinning punts inside the 5 yard line-the Huskers just need big plays period.

Texas has a lot to play for. Not only are they trying to get a spot in the BCS national championship game, but McCoy is also trying to wrap up the Heisman Trophy. With that said it's hard for me to pick against the Horns with everything they have to play for.

Right now I'm taking the Horns, but I like Nebraska in the points.


Callahan's Prediction: Texas 27 Nebraska 16
Season Record: 9-3 overall; 6-6 vs. points



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