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5 things Nebraska must to do beat Oregon

It’s a smoky situation in the Beaver State as over 1,700 fires ravage it. Currently, Nebraska’s matchup versus Oregon is still on according to Pac-12 officials. No decision to postpone or cancel will likely be made until the day of the game. Let’s assume Mother Nature works with the college football-loving public to give us a rematch of last year’s highly entertaining back-and-forth contest in Lincoln.

After a weekend when Nebraska gave up 36 points and 463 yards to Arkansas State while Oregon was pummeling Southern Utah to the tune of 77-21, many Huskers don’t have much hope. The Ducks are still beatable, though. Here’s how it can be done:

1.) Pick a New Flavor – Bob Diaco’s gamble to run a base 3-4 all night long against ASU almost severely backfired. Now that the risk factor is out of the equation, it’s time to see how much can be gained after showing Oregon absolutely nothing of substance on defense.

It’s likely that the Huskers will utilize a nickel look most of the game, if not shifting back into dime. Heavy substitution can also be expected. What Diaco kept clandestine from everyone but the most important VIPs during camp will finally be displayed to the world.

Interesting side note: While he was the head coach at Connecticut, Diaco faced new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart (at South Florida) three times. Taggart won all three games. Make of that what you will.

2.) Expect Speed Everywhere – Despite having a defense that did them no favors in 2016, the Ducks still managed to have the nation’s 27th-best scoring offense at 35 points per game.

Don’t expect new Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to be a miracle worker, but anything he can do to prop up the Duck defenders will be an improvement over last year. What should stand out more than the 77 points hung on Southern Utah is that Taggart loves the big play.

When Oregon gets its first chance to move the football, expect an early attempt at what Mike Riley calls an “explosive play” (runs of 10 or more yards and passes of 20 or longer). It could be an immediate pass out of a quad formation that Taggart was fond of at South Florida, where four wide receivers line up to the outside.

The Ducks might feed running back Royce Freeman a time or two and then launch a deep ball on play action.

It’s coming and it’ll keep coming all game long. Oregon’s offense still lives on speed, both in its athletes and with Taggart calling the plays. Not only will we get a look at what this Nebraska defense can actually do; its stamina will be tested over the course of the game.

3.) Exploit a Smaller Front Seven – Aside from true freshman nose tackle Jordon Scott (6-1, 333), the Ducks’ defensive front seven is pretty small. Defensive ends Henry Mondeaux and Jalen Jelks average 262 pounds with the former being the “hefty” one at 280.

Outside linebacker Justin Hollins is closer to what you’d expect, but still light at 6-5, 238. JACK linebacker Troy Dye checks in at 6-4, 224. MIKE linebacker Kaulana Apelu seems like a pup at 5-11, 200. DUCK linebacker Fotu T. Leiato II must be an extremely hard hitter — it seems he has no place there, standing just as tall as Apelu and weighing only 198 pounds.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see Tre Bryant get the ball. This looks like the perfect game to unleash the bruiser that is Devine Ozigbo, assuming he’s good to go. The Ducks might be able to keep up with Nebraska’s wideouts more than most teams they’ll face this year.

However, the size differential seems to favor the Big Red in run blocking with the offensive line, tight ends and wideouts. Don’t be surprised if Nebraska tries to shove Oregon around up front and gets some chunk plays as a result.

4.) Throw the Kitchen Sink (Maybe Not the Piping) – This is the most difficult game Nebraska will have until Wisconsin comes to town on October 7. It’s time to get creative and throw some wild stuff at the Ducks on both offense and defense. If the Ducks show an obvious speed advantage on defense, watch for the screen game to be used quite a bit. Who knows? We might see a reverse, double reverse, dare I say a triple reverse?

Diaco knows how to dial up the pressure. His exotic blitzes work well primarily because of motion prior to the snap. This causes both the quarterback and his offensive linemen to hit the reset button after making their calls. At that point, there’s often someone missed when the ball is snapped. This is where Nebraska can take advantage.

5.) Stop (or Slow Down) Freeman – In terms of what’s most important, this is what ultimately gets emphasized. It’s obvious the Ducks will feed Freeman. They wanted to last year, but he left the game injured and never returned.

However, if Nebraska manages to clamp down on him and force the speedster to make a pit stop on multiple occasions, the Huskers are in a far better position to take on quarterback Justin Herbert and the Oregon receivers. While there’s a chance they could win one, the Huskers don’t want to engage in a shootout here.

Balancing time of possession and quick strikes will be vital. That means Freeman won’t have enough chances to look like one of the best backs in the country. It’s hard to think he won’t break the century mark in rushing yards, but that doesn’t mean the Huskers have to give up seven points every time he’s on the field as a result.

To comment or keep up with the author, follow Brandon on twitter at @eightlaces

A member of the Football Writers Association of America, Brandon has spent over a decade reporting on and researching college football, both the sport itself and recruiting.

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