Saturday’s game crucial for NU

September 13, 2016 GMT

The Nebraska Cornhuskers football team has an extremely intriguing game this Saturday in Lincoln against the high-powered Oregon Ducks. Oregon is ranked 22nd while the Huskers are inching toward the top 25. A win over Oregon would surely put them there.

Here we go. Getting our hopes up again. How soon we forget that this Nebraska team is one year removed from a 5-7 regular season that included a 55-45 thrashing at the hands of Purdue. There were the heart-wrenching losses along the way. So here come the Ducks and all of a sudden people are talking 3-0, speaking of going 7-0 into the Wisconsin game. Huh?

Granted a win over Oregon would be a signature victory for coach Mike Riley and his Huskers. He had a tough time beating the Ducks when he was meeting them on an annual basis while coaching at Oregon State so a win over Oregon would be extra special. Also, this is not the same Oregon juggernaut that perched itself in the top-five teams in the league for several years. Yes, the Ducks can still score points in bunches, as their 53-28 and 44-26 wins over UC Davis and Virginia would attest. But this is also an Oregon team that gives up points in bunches, as well.

All of those interceptions against Wyoming in the second half had to calm the nerves of many Husker fans going into the game this weekend. Still, Oregon passes for 301 yards a game, runs for 276 yards a game and has a 60 percent third-down efficiency. Those are very impressive numbers.

Can this youthful Nebraska defense play a full 60 minutes and hold Oregon below its 48.5 points a game average and 577 total yards a game? That remains to be seen.

The hopes and dreams are building. Midway through the 2015 season the thought of a possible win over an Oregon team seemed ludicrous, if not impossible. Now, Nebraska is a 2.5-point favorite and many national publications are actually picking Nebraska to win. It is possible, but a couple of things must happen for the Huskers to have a chance.

First, Nebraska can’t commit those stupid penalties at crucial times. No holding penalties wiping out touchdowns, no personal fouls giving the opponent first downs and no unsportsmanlike penalties at all.

Second, the Huskers can’t turn the ball over to Oregon, especially when they are deep in the opponent’s territory driving for a touchdown. Nebraska held a staggering 6-1 advantage in the turnover margin against Wyoming, but that one turnover was reminiscent of so many Tommy Armstrong flops in the past. He rolled right on the Cowboy 5-yard line and forced a terrible pass into the end zone that was picked off. That gaffe didn’t hurt Nebraska last weekend, but it was so eerily similar to the interception he threw against McNeese State a couple of years ago that nearly gave Nebraska a devastating home loss.

Now Nebraska finds itself on the national stage again. Bo Pelini’s teams didn’t like that stage. Bill Callahan and Frank Solich struggled mightily there, as well. Now Riley has his chance in the limelight. A 2:30 p.m. national television audience will be tuned in to watch a battle between Oregon and Nebraska, both 2-0. If the Huskers win and go to 3-0 they could find themselves in uncharted waters. They could be on their way to games against Wisconsin and Ohio State with a little swagger and a bit of a chip on their shoulders.

This Nebraska team has a high-powered offense that can stay on the field with Oregon. The Huskers have all of the pieces in place to put up 40-50 points against the Ducks. Oregon, of course, has that same potential. So it comes down to the Nebraska Blackshirts. If they play hungry and smart then a victory is not only possible, it is probable.

Nebraska football could finally be rising in the eyes of the college football world.