Keegan: Game at NU is huge
Lincoln, Neb. ? Today’s Kansas-Nebraska game at the Cornhuskers’ Memorial Stadium is big, but just how big?
It’s bigger than Lil’ Red’s caboose, bigger than Bill Callahan’s debt to Nebraska football, bigger than Jake Sharp’s e-mail in-box after the Kansas State game.
Kansas wins this game and it plays for the Big 12 North title in Arrowhead Stadium no matter what happens next Saturday in Lawrence and crushes any chance Nebraska had at representing the North in Big 12 title game in Kansas City.
KU can’t bank on three factors that played in its favor in last Saturday’s 52-21 rout of Kansas State. First, the energetic crowd will fuel the opposition this time. Second, Nebraska didn’t have a Deon Murphy popping off and thus motivating the Jayhawks. Third, Kansas faces a team that has a coach at the beginning of his tenure, not the end.
“That trash talk last week was highly motivating for us,” Kansas linebacker James Holt said.
To a lesser degree, so too was all the on-point talk about the utter lack of a pass rush Kansas exhibited in losses to Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
“You get kind of tired of hearing the same thing: ‘We can’t get a pass rush unless we bring the whole house in.’ Hopefully, I’ll be able to help the D-line with that, keeping my hand down and being able to rush off the edge again this week,” Holt said.
Holt was the central figure in KU’s best Big 12 defensive performance of the season and earned Defensive Player of the Week honors. Lining up as a defensive end in the bandit package on third-and-long, Holt sacked Josh Freeman twice for 16 yards in losses. During the game he had another tackle for a loss, forced two fumbles, recovered one and broke up a pass. He was everywhere.
“Once I got back to doing it, it helps me keep low, I love doing it,” Holt said of keeping his hand on the ground in the bandit package. “The lower you are, the harder it is to block you.”
The trick will be getting the Cornhuskers into third-and-long situations. They don’t let that happen as often as most because they run such a balanced offense. Sophomore Roy Helu (7.4 yards per carry in Big 12 games) and senior Marlon Lucky know how to keep the chains moving.
Consistently losing the take-away, give-away battle is the main factor that has kept Nebraska from having a better record than 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big 12.
Winning the game without winning the turnover battle won’t be an easy feat for Kansas, which last scored a victory in Lincoln in 1968. The Huskers have outscored KU by an average of 42.5-9.9 in the 19 games since.
“That would be a great honor,” Holt said of ending the domination. “I don’t know how that streak is even possible. That’s going to be part of their preparation, too, not wanting to be the ones that let go of that streak.”
“Every game is big for us, especially when it comes against a North opponent because our ultimate goal is to win the North division, so this game is especially big for us because it’s one more step to achieving that goal,” Holt said.
Kansas 35, Nebraska 31.