Man, what a week in Husker Country.
It started with Bo Pelini‘s recommitment to fun. Then the dismissal of Tommie Frazier‘s criticism of Pelini’s coaching staff. Then there was something about leaked audio? I’m not sure, I wasn’t really paying attention. Needless to say, there has been an awful lot to distract a football team trying to recover from a loss. NU should take care not to overlook South Dakota State.
Or maybe it’s South Dakota State that needs to take care not to overlook NU. The sixth-ranked Jackrabbits visit Memorial Stadium this Saturday, but Lord knows they’re aware of top-ranked North Dakota State coming to visit the following week. The Jackrabbits lost twice to the Bison last year, once in the regular season and once in the playoffs, as NDSU steamrolled their way to a second consecutive national title. You better believe the Jackrabbits have this game circled on their schedules.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
STOP THE RUN. Make no mistake: this isn’t your granddaddy’s South Dakota State, or your daddy’s, or even your older brother’s. The Jackrabbits run on the legs of junior running back Zach Zenner, who in three games for SDSU has already carried the ball 70 times for 545 yards (7.8 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. Zenner’s stats include a 37-carry, 296-yard game against Southeastern Louisiana.
As you might be starting to suspect, they depend on him. Not that the Jackrabbits lack quality players: quarterback Austin Sumner is a quality dropback-style quarterback (46-for-78, 670 yards, 5TD/0int) and has decent targets in Jason Schneider and Brandon Huebert.
To put things in perspective, Husker fans, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits would beat the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.
That being said, Sumner is not a threat to run. His receivers have steady hands but lack explosiveness. Therefore, in weeks two and three when Sumner and his receivers weren’t clicking, guess who got a whole lot of touches? The 6’0″, 220lb. Zenner.
He’s got a quick first step and enough shiftiness to evade defenders, but is he tough enough to carry SDSU to victory over Nebraska? The Blackshirts looked solid in the first twenty minutes against UCLA, but then . . . you saw what happened next. NU can shut down Sumner and his receivers, but if Zenner establishes some momentum it may be a long afternoon.
LIMIT MISTAKES ON OFFENSE. With Martinez possibly sitting with turf toe, the job will fall to redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. or senior Ron Kellogg III. Neither have much in the way of actual game experience, so hopefully Tim Beck will be willing to let Nebraska’s three talented running backs carry the team to victory. If Beck insists on getting anyone some experience passing, he better keep it short and not put these inexperienced quarterbacks in a position to fail.
Personally, as much fun as it would be to see Armstrong run a little option, I hope Beck doesn’t make him pitch.
LEAVE THIS CRAZY WEEK IN THE PAST. Hopefully with the statements from Harvey Perlman, Shawn Eichorst, and Tom Osborne today declaring that Pelini will face no discipline regarding the leaked audio from 2011, the Huskers can leave Monday in the past and focus on stopping the Jackrabbits.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
I don’t anticipate that this one will be real exciting, Husker fans. I hope the Huskers bleed clock and run the ball, limiting Zenner’s opportunities. He gets his touches and breaks a few long runs, which will give Husker fans something to gripe about on message boards next week, but Nebraska wins 34-20. And be happy with it, because at this point no win is too ugly.
NAMES TO REMEMBER: RB Zach Zenner, QB Austin Sumner, WR Jason Schneider