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September 14, 2013

UCLA keys to victory and HOL staff predictions

Nebraska will arguably play one of their toughest games of the season on Saturday against UCLA.

The Bruins come to Lincoln with one of the most potent offenses in the country and they beat the Huskers last season in Pasadena. Nebraska enters today's game with UCLA as a 4 point favorite. Here are the keys to a Husker victory.

Tackle in space

A year ago UCLA was able to do a lot of different pre-snap shifts and motions that confused Nebraska's defense, which led to several big plays in the Bruins 36-30 win.

A lot of the problems a year ago were simply tackling in space. The Huskers need to do a good job of recognizing UCLA's formations before the snap, communicate and most importantly read their keys and make open field tackles. Most of the Bruins yards last season came off missed tackles.

Exploit UCLA's man coverage

I expect UCLA to come at Nebraska with a lot of press man coverage. They are going to dare quarterback Taylor Martinez to make some early throws down the field.

If the Bruins put NU's wide receivers in one-on-one situations, offensive coordinator Tim Beck needs to recognize that from the box and go at them. It's these types of passing plays that will open up things in the running game.

Effectively pressure Hundley

A year ago Nebraska's defense struggled to get effective pressure on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. The former five-star signal caller is not a run first quarterback, but he's fast enough to avoid front four pressure and keep plays alive an extra second or two.

NU needs to find ways to bring effective five man and even six man pressure packages at Hundley to make him throw in a hurry. It's going to take more than just the front four to get to him.

Protect Martinez on third down

Any time Nebraska faces a third-and-long passing situation keep your eyes on UCLA pass rusher Anthony Barr. The projected first round draft pick had 13 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in 2012 and was a second-team All-American.

NU's tackles can't take on the 6-foot-4, 245 pound Barr alone. They are going to need to give quarterback Taylor Martinez extra protection, because these third down type passing plays will ultimately be some of the biggest moments in the game. If Martinez can stand up and make throws in these situations you have to like the Huskers chances to win.

Get the crowd going early

With an 11 am kickoff you never know how Memorial Stadium is going to react. We've seen in big games before like Texas 2010 that if the Huskers don't come out fast the stadium can easily be taken out of the game.

It's going to be important for Nebraska's defense to make a few early stops and give the crowd something to cheer about in the first quarter. I'm not as worried about the offense, but it's the defense that will get the stadium into the game early and set the tone.

Callahan's weekly predictions

The biggest difference with this game compared to a year ago is Nebraska has a much better handle on how UCLA will come at them now that Mora has coached in the college ranks for 15 games. With that said, I think NU's young defense will find a way to get some key stops and the Huskers come out with a 41-35 victory. I also think the home field advantage and the 11 am kickoff heavily favor Nebraska.

Nebraska 41 UCLA 35
Iowa State 23 Iowa 17
Washington 34 Illinois 30
Arizona State 41 Wisconsin 37
Texas 27 Mississippi 24
Alabama 37 Texas A&M 31

Season Record: 9-3 overall; 6-6 vs. points

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