AU goal: Slow down Nebraska's running game
By Bradley Handwerger
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DALLAS — Take a quick glance at both Auburn's and Nebraska's season statistics, and it becomes obvious what will be the most important aspect of Monday's Cotton Bowl.
No. 10 Auburn (10-2) will have to stop No. 22 Nebraska's rushing attack if it's going to capture its fourth bowl win in five years.
Don't be fooled by the Cornhuskers' use of the West Coast offense, installed by third-year head coach Bill Callahan in place of Nebraska's traditional option attack.
"In my mind, and the coaching staff, we want to try to make them one-dimensional," Auburn senior linebacker Karibi Dede said. "The goal is to stop the run. Looking at them statistically, in the games they lost, they haven't run the ball well."
Dede has done his studying.
He's right. In three of Nebraska's four losses, the ground game got stuck in neutral. No churning out ridiculous numbers as it did against Troy, when it gained 316 rushing yards.
Southern California limited Nebraska to 68 yards on 36 carries in a 28-10 win. Texas kept the Cornhuskers to 38 yards on 24 attempts in a 22-20 win.
And in the Big 12 Championship Game, where Oklahoma won 21-7, Nebraska carried 21 times for 84 yards.
But, Auburn's inability to stop the run played a role in both of the Tigers' losses.
In Auburn's 27-10 loss to Arkansas, the Tigers allowed 279 rushing yards. And in the 37-15 loss to Georgia, Auburn gave up 227 ground yards.
Seven times Nebraska gained more than 190 yards rushing this season.
"That's the thing about any West Coast offense — you have to establish the run to stop the pass," defensive end Quentin Groves said. "Our offense is the same way."
Auburn can't concentrate on one running back. No, the Cornhuskers employ four, though three are playing at less than 100 percent.
Starter Brandon Jackson has 951 yards and seven touchdowns, but a broken right hand has hampered him.
Cody Glenn had 370 yards and eight touchdowns, but he's battling through an injured foot.
Kenny Wilson has 335 yards and four touchdowns, but a bad knee has slowed him down.
Only Marlon Lucky, Nebraska's second-leading rusher with 640 yards and six touchdowns, is healthy.
But, Nebraska isn't only a running team.
The Cornhuskers boast the Big 12 offensive player of the year in Zac Taylor. And guess what? He's not a running back.
Taylor, Nebraska's senior quarterback, threw for 3,071 yards and 25 touchdowns and is Nebraska's career passing leader.
"He pinpoints the ball and knows where to go with the ball," Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. "He does an outstanding job of reading the coverages, and knows where the weakness of the coverages are."
It's not that Nebraska offensive coordinator Jay Norvell only wants to run the ball. It just appears that way because that's what he believes wins games.
"We have gone into every game wanting to run the ball and trying to establish the running game," Norvell said. "But we also feel like we need to be balanced."
To obtain that "balance," Nebraska uses motions, and shifts, and more motion and more shifts.
The key, Dede said, is not to get lost in all the movement.
"I think the attitude and mindset is not to get out of our deal," he said. "We're going to do what we're going to do and not let their motion and shifting affect us."
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