Know Thy Opponent: Nebraska

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Minnesota plays at Nebraska this afternoon, so we chatted with Mike Jaixen of CornNation.com to learn more about the Huskers and their high-powered offense.

GopherSports: Mike, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you give us a brief scouting report on Nebraska?

Mike Jaixen: Nebraska's offense is perhaps it's most explosive in many years. The Huskers are proficient in both running and passing. Taylor Martinez has refined his passing fundamentals and it's really made a difference...as has the experience of being a three year starter. He's always had the ability to make plays with his feet, but now he knows what he's doing in managing the offense and finding his receivers. The biggest issue the offense has is turnovers; Martinez has such confidence in his throws that he sometimes forces the ball into coverage, and when he's running the ball, he's been known to lose the grasp of the football. Nebraska's corp of receivers might be the most dynamic in school history; sophomore Kenny Bell has speed and great hands while fellow sophomore Jamal Turner is elusive. Don't forget about the tight ends; senior Kyler Reed runs like a wide receiver and senior Ben Cotton has sure hands. Ameer Abdullah is a durable fast running back who also has surprising power inside.

Defensively, the secondary has been playing well as of late. If Nebraska is vulnerable to anything, it's with the running game, especially with a mobile quarterback complimenting a good running back.

GS: It is Senior Day at Nebraska and this is the first time that Minnesota has played in Lincoln for a long time. What will the atmosphere be like today? 

MJ: The "Senior Day" activities will likely occur well before kickoff. The atmosphere should be similar to Madison, Columbus, or State College. It's a big crowd, but B1G teams should be used to B1G crowds. The fans can be loud, but we're typically respectful. Fans who come to Lincoln should try to be in their seats at least seven minutes before kickoff; Nebraska's best tradition is the "Tunnel Walk", which choreographs the Huskers path from the locker room to the field. More than 80,000 Nebraska fans clapping in rhythm can be quite impressive.

GS: What is your feeling on Rex Burkhead? Will we see him today?

MJ: I get the feeling he MIGHT play. Ameer Abdullah has been more than serviceable playing in his place, so I hope he doesn't rush things. (He's reinjured himself twice, so that's why I err on the side of caution.) Burkhead does a couple of things if he's able to play.  He's able to take snaps in the Wildcat, so he opens up all sorts of extra options in the offense. The biggest is a "Diamond" formation where he, Abdullah, and Braylon Heard all line up in an inverted wishbone, with Martinez taking a shotgun snap. Nebraska can run the ball in any direction, and if you bite on the run, a tight end is running free downfield.

GS: Who is an underrated player on Nebraska that Gopher fans should pay attention to today?

MJ: I'll throw out three names. Kenny Bell will probably be up for all-Big Ten honors at receiver, and likely will play in the NFL after his days in Lincoln are over. Great hands and speed. On defense, Eric Martin has become a beast in the pass rush.  And cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a converted wide receiver who is very much hit or miss. He's still learning the position and makes mistakes which land him on the bench. But he's big enough to steal the ball from any receiver in coverage.

GS: What is your prediction for today's game?

MJ: Based on past history, Nebraska is going to make some mistakes early on, and the game could be closer than the oddsmakers think (and Husker fans hope). But they've become kings of the comeback, so no lead is safe against Nebraska. So I think this one stays a little closer at halftime, but then Nebraska puts it away late. So let's go with Nebraska 42, Minnesota 20.

GS: Mike, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

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