Anatomy of an Upset: How to Avoid the Unthinkable Versus Idaho State
If there were a point spread for Nebraska hosting Idaho State, it might be somewhere between 40 and 50 points. If both schools play to their averages, Nebraska would rush for about 300 yards in the game and pass for about 180. Those actually seems like lower estimates considering that half of ISU's statistics were compiled against Black Hills State. The Huskers haven't lost under Pelini when rushing for over 300 yards. They also haven't lost when scoring 35 points. He also has yet to lose to a school that plays outside a BCS conference. The plan is to keep those streaks alive, here's how.
Nebraska has lost 17 games under Bo Pelini. In fifteen of those losses, Nebraska had more turnovers than their opponent. That includes probably the biggest upset of the Pelini era where NU lost to Iowa State in 2009 by committing eight turnovers versus the Cyclones zero. Hanging onto the ball is paramount for NU.
Another common element in Husker losses has been penalties. In fourteen of seventeen losses, Nebraska had more penalties (or penalty yardage) than their opponent. One way to help the Bengal defense is to have false starts and holding penalties. A team that passes as frequently as ISU will surely be helped if they can draw defensive holding, interference, and late hit penalties. If NU makes Idaho State earn it on both sides of the ball by playing within the rules, the underdog's task is that much harder.
Just Run It
It's been a welcome sight to see Taylor Martinez off to such a good start passing the ball. But there seems little reason to go into this contest with a game plan that has him throw the ball 30 times. Missed assignments can mean sacks even against a small defensive line. Dropped passes can happen even when the ball is right on the money. The strength of the Bengal defense this season has been in stopping the pass. It makes sense since they face a good passing offense in practice. If they can't stop or slow the run game, why not stay with it? The ball can take some funny bounces in the passing game. No matter how confident the coaches might be in that element of the Husker attack, save it for Big Ten opponents. And if NU should fall behind, be patient. There are plenty of points to be had in the run game, Air Force showed that.
Idaho State will complete passes on Saturday. That's inevitable. What they do after those completions will do a lot to determine the score. If every completion is abruptly followed by a tackle, chances are ISU won't have a big day on the scoreboard. But if the small and medium-distance throws are stretched into big gains, that could change things considerably. If you can't pick off or knock away the ball, then at least make the tackle. Teams that tackle well generally don't give up a lot of points.
Chances are excellent we'll see a Husker victory on Saturday. If the Huskers stick to the run, avoid turnovers and penalties and take away yards after the catch for Bengal receivers, it's all but guaranteed.