Plan of Attack: San Jose State
Much of the talk this week regarding San Jose State has centered on Western Michigan.
No, really, here we are on Thursday and there hasn't seemed to be a whole lot of talk about Dick Tomey and his Spartans yet. That's partially due to the fact that SJSU played, and won in a nail-biter, against a FCS team in Cal-Davis in week one--only the ambitious among us will even see a box score from that game--and partially due to Nebraska's offense. Even with the running game being a relatively low tire on the Watson hot rod last week, it looks like the Huskers have plenty of weapons to handle San Jose State.
That being the case, this week's plan of attack should revolve mostly around staying out of trouble because, as a coach of mine once (i.e. at least 500 times) told me, it's easier to stay out of trouble than get out of trouble.
There were really only two gripes to be heard with Nebraska's offense against WMU last week: 1) the running game, and 2) despite his overall impressive game, Ganz' interceptions.
It seems logical and desirable to assume that Nebraska is really going to try and come out and run the football on Saturday. They have something to prove there and, while SJSU starts four upperclassmen across the defensive front, the Spartans did allow 4.54 yards per carry in 2007 to rank 88th in the country. San Jose State held Cal-Davis to 61 yards rushing in their first game, but that's Cal-Davis. Everyone could heave a huge sigh of relief if Nebraska was able to dominate this game on the ground but one of the hidden lessons from game one was that Shawn Watson sees no need to be stubborn with the football. If SJSU stacks the box like WMU did, don't expect him to keep running just to prove a point. That's a welcome change from the recent past.
In terms of the passing game, this might actually represent a good test for Ganz patience in the passing game. Last year the Spartans ranked 10th in the country in interceptions with 20 total. Their leading ballhawk (6 INTs) and returning tackler (41 solo), Christopher Owens, is back for his senior season at corner back. The have talent on the other corner as well in Coye Francies. Phil Steele's preseason #4 ranked JC transfer played at Oregon State before redshirting last year.
Not surprisingly, Nebraska trailed SJSU in just about every major defensive category last year. The good news, however, is that the Spartans run the spread offense and Bo Pelini isn't hearing any of that offense du jour jibbajabba.
After trying out three QBs in his opener, Tomey has named former blue-chip prospect Kyle Reed the starter this week. Against UC-Davis, Reed was nearly perfect going 14 of 18 for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns. The problem if you're a Spartans fan is that that stat line represents all of Reed's Division 1-A experience, but he's not without a weapon.
After moving over from the defensive backfield prior to last year, senior wide receiver Kevin Jurovich ranked 12th in the nation in total yards in 2007 with 1183 (98.6/game), hauling in 9 touchdowns along the way. Against Kansas State last year, Jurovich didn't find the end zone but he did catch 10 balls for 82 yards so he's done more than just see Big 12 talent. Suffice it to say, if you've seen a San Jose State highlight from last year, it probably involved Jurovich. He's their playmaker and his ability or inability to succeed should provide a good base line for analysis of the defense in game two.
In college football circa 2008, it's never safe to assume a victory over anyone but I think that's just what most Nebraska fans are doing, myself included. While the match-up lacks the first game, first glimpse intrigue of last week or the pass happy oddity of New Mexico State, SJSU actually looks like a good opponent for game two, almost like a tailor-made test based on what we saw in week one.
Worried about Ganz' turnovers? San Jose State has a proven defensive backfield that should provide a good test.
Worried about the 340+ yards the Blackshirts gave up through the air last week? The Spartans have a seemingly strong QB-WR combo that should merit watching.
Worried about the running game? On paper SJSU doesn't look like they'll offer much resistance but that's only more reason to be concerned if the Cornhuskers struggle in the trenches again.
While San Jose State has talent in spots and experience overall, it's tough to see Nebraska truly getting pushed here if they don't lose the turnover battle by a considerable margin.
Look for the run early and often, then enjoy the potency of the playaction pass. Defense? Just look for improvement and fewer blown assignments.