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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Top Five Things to Watch For Against Minnesota

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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By Erin Sorensen
After a record-breaking comeback win over Ohio State, the Nebraska Cornhuskers couldn’t have headed into a bye week at a better time.
The opportunity to rest was sorely needed for a Nebraska team that had faced plenty of scrutiny from both media and fans alike just one week before. The Cornhuskers took the time off as an opportunity to go home, bond with each other, and relax.
With the mini-vacation over, it is time for Nebraska to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. While many fans views today’s game as a “second bye week”, it is important to never overlook the underdog. With a 24.5-point spread in Nebraska’s favor, what should fans be looking for today?
1.) A Dominant Defense
Before anyone touts Nebraska’s defense over Minnesota’s too much, it is important to note that the Gophers are actually ranked one spot higher in rushing defense nationally (No. 74).
For the Cornhuskers, this means that the defense needs to step up big time following the loss of Jared Crick. Today’s game is not going to be a cakewalk. It is going to take a fair amount of dominance to keep the Gophers from scoring much.
With Lavonte David settling in as the defense’s primary leader, it is key that the Huskers rally behind him. A group that has often been lacking a spark is set up to prove themselves against a weaker Minnesota offense.
With David’s leadership, Nebraska fans will be looking for overall dominance throughout today’s game. It is up to the defense to determine how good they want to look following the bye week.
2.) Defensive Line Unity
The loss of Jared Crick was a huge shock to both the Nebraska team and fans. A strong leader, Crick’s season-ending injury is one that brought about immediate concern from fans about the future of the 2011 defensive line. While his loss is notable, the talent to remain competitive despite Crick's absence is there.
With the likes of Terrence Moore and Chase Rome, the line has enough depth and experience to easily fill Crick’s void. While the outstanding senior will be missed on the field, his presence will still be felt on the sideline as he is allowed to travel with the team for the rest of the season.
What is important for the defensive line against Minnesota is for them to show unity. The linemen need to prove they are just as much of a unit today as they were two weeks ago to both themselves and the fans. With Crick stepping up as a leader on the sidelines, the rest of the line has the opportunity to show they are not only strong, but united as one.
3.) Stability in the Secondary
It has been no surprise to see the Nebraska secondary struggle against opponents each week. While Alfonzo Dennard’s return was positive for the secondary, he is still rebuilding confidence on the field thanks to the late beginning to his senior year.
Regardless, Dennard’s leadership is prominent. When Stanley Jean-Baptiste checked into the game against Ohio State, Dennard made it clear to him that he had only one thing to do and that was to play hard. Jean-Baptiste took those words to heart and came up with a huge interception for Nebraska late in the fourth quarter.
Going into today’s game against Minnesota, the secondary doesn’t need to do anything other than find stability. The little things are what will ultimately make the biggest difference for the remainder of the season. Safety Austin Cassidy will be looking to make better reads and improve his play.
Expect to see Jean-Baptiste rotate in and out with Aaron Green. It won’t necessarily be pretty for Nebraska every time Minnesota opts to put the ball in the air, but as long as the secondary finds stable ground, this outing should be much more positive than many were in the first half of the season.
4.) Continued Growth on Offensive Line
The first half of the season caused a spotlight to be shined on a major strength of this Nebraska team – the offensive line. Led by senior Yoshi Hardrick, this group has proved it is a force to be reckoned with.
They need to continue to prove just how dominant they are against the Golden Gophers. At this point in the season, it would not be too much to expect near-perfection from this bunch.
The offensive line has spent the first half of the season finding its identity, which they’ve clearly found. Bringing down opponents while giving quarterback Taylor Martinez time to throw has been incredibly valuable for Tim Beck’s new offense.
While the Gophers’ defense should not provide too much of a threat, the linemen still need to grow. As this unit surely knows, the perfect never rest until their better is best.
5.) A Convincing Win
While Minnesota should not necessarily be overlooked, it is unlikely the Gophers beat Nebraska. With another away game dominated by traveling Husker fans, TCF Stadium will feel like a second home for the Nebraska faithful. A convincing win would sit well with the expected turnout.
Even after the comeback win against Ohio State, Nebraska still seems to be lacking an overall identity. A big win over Minnesota will bring back the confidence that may have been lost on the road against Wisconsin. While the rest of the Big Ten has room for potential upsets, one won’t happen in Minneapolis. Look for a big win today against the Golden Gophers – The Nebraska Cornhuskers are ready for one.
The bye week was a nice break for both the team and fans, but it is time to get the second half of the season underway. How will the Huskers finish out the season? Today will be a big first step in answering that question.
Follow Erin on Twitter: @helloerinmarie
Follow Husker Locker on Twitter: @huskerlocker
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