It's the Big 12 North Championship game today when K-State travels to Lincoln to take on Nebraska. To get a little more information on the Huskers from those who follow them most closely, I turned to the trio at Corn Nation for more info. Questions and answers are below.
BOTC: Roy Helu has looked a lot better in the last couple games. Is he finally healthy?
Mike: Healthier, perhaps. After the Oklahoma game, Helu talked about playing for the team instead of for himself, and while he didn't phrase it this way, he's decided to grit it out and play through the pain. If you watch him block in pass protection, it's obvious that his shoulder's no where near 100%. (Another good reason to leave a fullback and a tight end or two in on pass protection.) Helu left the field in Lawrence holding his arm again, and his arm was wrapped up in the post game press conference, so we're all hoping he didn't aggravate the issue last week.
JLew: Healthy yes? 100% no. Burkhead maybe back after a broken foot, he's been cleared to play so he may be able to take some of the load off Helu.
Corn Blight/Jon J: Something certainly changed. Bo Pelini and the rest of his staff talk about injuries the way people hide their crazy uncles, so the only real way to know someone's injured is if they're out for the season or carried off on a stretcher.
Helu is a big key to the Husker offense, although true freshman Rex Burkhead might be back for this game. He's missed several games due to a foot injury, and provided a huge lift to the offense earlier in the season.
BOTC: Last week, KU apparently unlocked some serious magic and kept the Husker d-line in check. What did they do?
Mike: Todd Reesing is the most experienced quarterback NU has faced this year, and it showed. He didn't wilt in the face of pressure. Carl Pelini dialed down the pressure as a result of some Reesing scrambles, and that limited the pressure after the first quarter. Considering that NU held KU to 0 first downs in the first quarter, I wonder if that might not have been a mistake.
JLew: NU changed the approach some, Pelini explains- "That's on me. I slowed them down. (Kansas) got out on a couple quarterback draws. I thought we could cover on the back end. I thought we needed to handle (KU quarterback Todd) Reesing with the front four, and when you're trying to handle six gaps with four guys, you got to be a little more controlled in your pass rush.
Even then KU didn't run the ball particularly well. The defense also seemed to come down after a lights out game against OU.
CB/Jon J: Kansas played a darned good game on offense. They switched between misdirection and running quarterback draws with Reesing, who did a good impersonation of his old playmaking self. The playcalling was just enough to confound the Husker defensive line.
BOTC: What has been Nebraska's biggest problem on offense this year?
Mike: I think there are two problems at the heart: (1) Injuries at I-back. Roy Helu has been banged up and Rex Burkhead has been out for over a month. Even Dontrayeveous Robinson got banged up late against Baylor. Nobody has that much depth to handle that rash of injuries and not be limited. (2) Lack of talent at wide receiver. We're learning just how good Nate Swift and Todd Peterson were last season now that they're gone. Their backups have failed miserably, and Nebraska has resorted to playing a juco transfer and a center fielder from the baseball team. Niles Paul is really the only playmaker at receiver, and while he's made some incredible plays, his two fumbles against Texas Tech and Iowa State changed those ballgames.
JLew: See Mike's answer, and I'll add finding an identity. NU started the year trying to run a West-coast spread offense, which they couldn't do against better teams with our talent at WR. Now NU seems to have settled into a heavy formation, I-Back, play-action, bootleg offense.
CB/Jon J: For me the biggest issue is the offensive line. They've played decently, but had way too many mistakes this season. Holding calls brought back a touchdown pass against Virginia Tech that would have won the game, personal foul penalties have cost the Huskers badly when deep in red zone territory, and numerous false starts. Dumb stuff, really. Most of the line is made up of Bill Callahan recruits so they're big and slow. The current coaching staff can only do so much to correct that problem.
BOTC: Pretend you're the coach for a minute (you have to wear an oversized sweatshirt and chew your gum really hard while you answer this question): Do you let Adi Kunalic kick it deep, banking on a touchback and risking that he misses and Brandon Banks gets a shot at a return, or do you squib it to keep it out of Banks' hands?
Mike: Start off trying to get it in the end zone. Then kick it out of bounds if you have to.
JLew: Hmmm predicted 10-15mph winds from the South. So half the time Adi should be able to clear the endzone. Other than that I think Pelini will challenge his special teams to stop Banks, and kick it deep.
CB/Jon J: Depends on the wind, really, what kind of weather hits Memorial Stadium Saturday night. If it's calm and the wind isn't swirling, I'm kicking it deep.
BOTC: Finally, most Husker fans are pretty confident that this game will be won if NU plays well, but what about that spread? Will the Huskers cover a 16.5-point spread?
Mike: I think they can; they've shown the ability to move the ball at times. The biggest concern to me is turnover margin; KSU is 2nd in the Big XII in this statistic, and Nebraska has had issues throughout Big XII play with ball security. If NU takes care of the ball, I think they can win this game handily. If KSU forces turnovers, all bets are off.
JLew: NU has had no turnovers in the OU and the KU games. Against Baylor Green the freshman QB had a pick 6. So the last couple of games NU has taken care of the ball pretty well. On the other hand, KSU's defense has been able to force some with some hard hits. I don't think I'd take the Huskers in this one. I wouldn't surprised if they covered, but I wouldn't bet on it.
CB/Jon J: The point spread is 16.5 points? Who the hell bets real money on this stuff, nutballs and addicts?
Thanks again to the guys from Corn Nation for answering our questions.