MINNEAPOLIS - After a week off, Nebraska will begin the second half of the 2011 season today at Minnesota.
The Huskers enter today's match-up as a 25 point favorite, as the Gophers have been outscored by an average of 43 points in their first two Big Ten games.
As things get closer to kickoff in Minneapolis, here are today's keys to victory over Minnesota.
Make the early adjustments
One of the biggest challenges for Nebraska today will be making the early adjustments in this football game, particularly on offense.
Minnesota has literally showed a different defensive front each game this season. In fact, the joke amongst the Husker coaching staff is the Gopher's scheme is called "the defense of the week."
NU has literally been preparing for everything on defense this week, because they have no idea exactly what front Minnesota will come out in today. The early adjustments made by Tim Beck will ultimately decide what type of day the offense has.
Contain Gray outside of the pocket
It's no secret that mobile quarterbacks have given Nebraska's defense problems this year. That's why when you look at Gopher quarterback MarQueis Gray you have to have some concern of NU's ability to defend signal callers that can operate outside of the pocket.
Defensive end Cameron Meredith told me earlier this week that the Huskers have a better plan in place this week on how to defend Gray. The only way I see Minnesota moving the ball today on offense is if Gray can extend drives with his feet or keep plays alive by scrambling outside of the pocket and finding open men down field.
Expose the Gopher defense
Every quarterback Minnesota has faced this year has had a huge game. There should be a big opportunity for Taylor Martinez to put up some numbers through the air and on the ground.
Nebraska needs to impose their physical will on this Gopher defense by establishing the run early and opening things up in the passing game for Martinez down field.
Filling Crick's shoes
Say what you want about the kind of season Jared Crick was having in 2011, the guy still drew the attention of every offensive coordinator in the league and the Huskers no longer have a player up front that can do that.
The Huskers will rotate by committee today at defensive tackle and it will be important for players like Chase Rome and Terrence Moore to pick up the slack and try to give NU some solid contribution. Nobody is asking them to be Jared Crick, but if they can at least give NU something it will go a long ways.
Start fast, finish fast
The motto for Nebraska as they start the second half of the season is to "start fast, finish fast." As the Huskers take the field today in Minneapolis that's means forcing quick three and outs and establishing early offensive rhythm.
These are things NU hasn't done the first half of the season and if the Huskers want to get to Indianapolis it must start today.
Callahan's weekly predictions
The motto for the second half the season for Nebraska is to "start fast, finish fast." I expect that to happen today. Taylor Martinez will have a big day and the Blackshirts will leave Minneapolis with some swagger and the Huskers will role to an easy victory and cover the spread.
Nebraska 41 Minnesota 13
Wisconsin 31 Michigan State 20
Northwestern 23 Penn State 20
Season Record: 11-7 overall; 10-8 vs. points