Nebraska Huskers: INSIDE SLANT
RB, Rex Burkhead
RB, Rex Burkhead
special to bigredreport.com
Posted Dec 15, 2009


Nebraska players poured out onto the field to celebrate a stunning victory over Texas in the Big 12 Championship game in Dallas. Then, officials put another second on the clock, the Longhorns kicked a game-winning field goal, and the shocked Huskers were left trying to find answers for their third loss by two points or fewer this season.

INSIDE SLANT

One thing about Bo Pelini's teams, though: They always seem to find a way to rebound after difficult defeats.

Nebraska will have most of December to shake off the disappointment of a 13-12 loss to unbeaten Texas, and to prepare for Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. It's Nebraska's first trip to San Diego since 1998, when these two same teams played.

The Huskers are 9-4 overall, and went 6-2 in the regular season of the Big 12 Conference. They lost 16-15 at Virginia Tech on a touchdown in the game's final seconds, and lost 9-7 at home to Iowa State when the Huskers committed eight turnovers.

Both times, Nebraska rebounded with a victory.

A BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl was this team's main goal, but a trip to the Big 12's third bowl (behind the Fiesta and Cotton) isn't a bad consolation prize.

The Huskers will face an Arizona team that's 8-4 after winning 21-17 at USC to close the regular season.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Huskers are seemingly helpless on offense. Nebraska switched gears midway through the season, ditching a spread attack for more heavy sets and a run-oriented game. The conservative approach, combined with a stout defense, has allowed the Huskers to shorten games and most times pull out victories. But points and yards have been hard to come by, and quarterback Zac Lee has never regained his throwing touch he had in the season's first three games. Nebraska managed a meager 106 yards of total offense against Texas.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Nebraska has a national championship-caliber defense. The Blackshirts rank No. 2 nationally, behind BCS title-game participant Alabama, in scoring defense, allowing 11.2 points per game. Nebraska is No. 9 nationally in total defense (284) and is coming off a stellar performance against BCS title-game participant Texas, having held the Longhorns to a season-low 202 total yards. Nebraska's front four is arguably the best in the nation.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh vs. Arizona offensive line -- What will brother Bob Stoops tell Mike Stoops about trying to slow down Nebraska's mighty big Suh? And if it's good advice, will it help?

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's the staple of our defense. He makes plays that not a lot of other guys could." -- Nebraska safety Matt O'Hanlon, on Ndamukong Suh

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BOWL BREAKDOWN: Nebraska vs. Arizona, Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30, San Diego -- This is a rematch of the 1998 Holiday Bowl, won by Arizona, 23-20. This is Nebraska's first trip to the Holiday Bowl since that game, a destination earned after a Big 12 Conference North Division championship and narrow 13-12 loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship. The Holiday Bowl chose Arizona from three teams tied for second in the Pac-10. The Wildcats ended the regular season with a 21-17 victory at USC. This will be only the third meeting between the Huskers and Wildcats.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DT Ndamukong Suh -- The senior defensive tackle produced such a strong game in the Big 12 Championship that he earned an invitation to the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York. A winner of the Lombardi and Outland, Suh is the nation's most dominant defensive lineman. He leads Nebraska with 92 tackles -- 23 for loss, including 12 sacks.

P/K Alex Henery -- The junior has provided all of Nebraska's offense in two games this season -- both heartbreaking, one-point losses on the road. Henery is dependable for long field goals, and he's always changing the field position with critical punts. He's a key figure in Nebraska's success this season.

WR Niles Paul -- Nebraska doesn't have much in terms of big offensive playmakers this season, but Paul comes the closest. He leads the Huskers with 36 catches for 673 yards, and what's more, he's becoming more and more of a threat on punt returns. He returned one 56 yards for a touchdown against Colorado, and nearly scored again versus Texas.

CB Prince Amukamara -- So much attention is given to DT Ndamukong Suh and Nebraska's dominant defensive line, but the secondary had contributed to some of those sacks, too, with strong coverage. Leading the charge is Amukamara, a junior who has five interceptions and a team-leading 11 pass breakups.

ROSTER REPORT:
--TE Mike McNeill has played but hasn't been as active since breaking a rib early in November in Nebraska's victory at Kansas. Some time off may allow the junior to heal in time for the bowl game.

--CB Alfonzo Dennard has been bothered by both a sprained shoulder and a sore foot. He sat out the Kansas State game and has played in Nebraska's last two games, but without the same effect.

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