The matchup couldn’t be much more lopsided on paper.
WKU’s offense was worse than all but 16 teams in college football last season. Nebraska’s scoring defense was the best in the nation.
So how can the Toppers leave Lincoln, Neb., with a good showing Saturday? It starts with limiting mistakes, according to Head Coach Willie Taggart.
“I just look at teams that played Nebraska last year that just beat themselves,” Taggart said. “False starts, penalties — we just can’t afford that. We need to make sure we’re locked in, and everybody knows what they’re doing every single play.”
The Huskers’ defense, which allowed just 10.4 points per game last year, lost several key starters — none more significant than current Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Despite the personnel losses, 2010 is anything but a rebuilding year for Nebraska. The Huskers’ defense is led by several players projected as possible early picks in next year’s NFL Draft, including junior defensive tackle Jared Crick and senior cornerback Prince Amukamara.
“(Their pressure) allows them to keep their safeties and corners out of it and stop the run with those front four, so they’re a very sound defense,” said WKU Defensive Coordinator Clint Bowen. “They’re not going to give up big plays. They’re going to hang back there, and you’re going to earn everything you get from them.”
If WKU has anything on their side this weekend, it may be the element of mystery. The Toppers’ new coaching staff means new schemes on both sides of the ball and some question marks for the Huskers.
Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Carl Pelini told reporters Tuesday that the Huskers’ staff has watched tapes of each of WKU’s coordinators at their previous schools, including film of Taggart at Stanford. But he said Nebraska can’t be surprised if nothing is like they prepared for.
“Western Kentucky’s personnel is as different as night and day from what was at Stanford, so there’s going to be some adjustment to that scheme based on who’s playing for them,” Pelini said.
WKU quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford described Nebraska as a “turnover defense,” pointing at its secondary as a group that sits back and waits for others to falter.
“They’re very strong there, but the thing they do defensively is that they want you to play into their hands,” Sanford said. “They want you to throw the ball to them.”
Taggart agreed that the Huskers encourage opponents to do uncharacteristic things, so he said it’s important that WKU sticks to what it knows.
“Sometimes when you play games like this — even as coaches — you read up on how good teams are and … then you sort of get away from some of the things you do as a coach, and that’s not good all the time,” he said. “If we get beat, we’re going to get beat doing what we do.”
And if WKU is going to stick to “what it does,” that means not being shy about running the ball, sophomore tight end Jack Doyle said.
“You’ve just got to keep coming at them,” Doyle said. “You can’t let a play where we don’t get any yards discourage you. We’ve got to keep coming and keep coming, and if we do that, we’ll be just fine.”