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September 26, 2009

Callahan's take: NU close to turning the corner

After suffering an emotional loss at Virginia Tech last week, the best cure for Nebraska this week is to get back on the field and take out their anger on another opponent.

The Huskers should get that opportunity tonight when Louisiana-Lafayette comes to town for the 300th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium.

As things get closer to kickoff, here are my five keys to victory for Nebraska heading into Saturday's match-up with the Ragin' Cajuns.

Have a short memory

I have no reason to believe anything other than Nebraska's players and coaches have moved on from their emotional loss at Virginia Tech.

Both secondary coach Marvin Sanders and defensive ends coach John Papuchis called the last few days NU's best overall week of practice they have had all season. The coaching staff has seen a focused team take the field each day and you just get the sense everybody knows how close the Huskers are to turning the corner as a program.

I think it's going to be very important though for quarterback Zac Lee to get off to a good start on Saturday and do his best to move past Saturday's rocky performance in Blacksburg. Obviously Lee's health will be something to watch, as he was backed down on Tuesday due to a medication he was taking.

Neutralize Lafayette's defensive speed

The biggest area Louisiana-Lafayette's defense will give the Huskers trouble with is their overall team speed, particularly at the linebacker position.

The best way for the Huskers to take advantage of this speed will be for them to attack it with a physical north-south running game, and also make them pay the price for being over aggressive with their blitz calls by mixing in some play action passes on early downs.

However, make no bones about it, the Ragin' Cajuns will go after Lee on Saturday. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster proved that you can rattle Lee with effective pressure packages, so expect a similar game plan from them on Saturday.

Attack the Ragin' Cajun secondary

Lafayette will come into the game with a glaring weakness at their safety position. The Ragin' Cajuns have major issues right now, as all four of their top safeties are battling injury, and two of them are already ruled out for Saturday and the other two will be limited.

This should be an area that will leave big play opportunities in both the running and passing game. If Louisiana-Lafayette's safeties cannot fill the run effectively, it should leave some big holes for Roy Helu to break out some long runs.

Find ways to create pressure

People can try to downplay the fact that the Ragin' Cajuns haven't given up a sack all season, but the bottom line is that's an impressive stat.

Lafayette has the best offensive line in the Sun Belt Conference and they return all five starters from a unit that had two first-team all-league players in 2008. By putting this stat on the table, I feel like it's a great motivational tool for defensive coordinator Carl Pelini to challenge his guys up front to get pressure on Chris Masson and this Cajun offense.

I will be very surprised if NU can't generate at least one or two quarterback sacks on Saturday.

Feed off the atmosphere

With the 300th sellout and a night game atmosphere in Memorial Stadium, this place will be rocking. If Nebraska can surge out to a quick start, I feel like they have the potential to lay an early knockout blow to the Ragin' Cajuns similar to what they did in the Arkansas State game.

This should be the perfect type of game for head coach Bo Pelini and his staff to rotate in several different personnel groupings and try some different things before Big 12 Conference play.

I expect NU to cruise to victory and head into the bye week on a high note.

Callahan's Prediction: Nebraska 38 Louisiana-Lafayette 7
Season Record: 3-0 overall; 1-2 vs. points

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