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October 26, 2013

Minnesota keys to victory and HOL staff predictions

MINNEAPOLIS - After an off week, Nebraska (5-1, 2-0) will take the road for the second game in a row today at Minnesota (5-2, 1-2).

As things get closer to kickoff, here are today's keys to a Husker victory, along with our HOL staff and expert guest predictions for Saturday. NU enters today's game as a 10 point favorite over the Gophers.

Early down defense

It's no secret Minnesota wants to run the football. The Gophers rank fourth in the Big Ten in rushing at 210.1 yards per game, while they rank last in passing at just 117.7 yards per game.

If they don't run the football, they have no chance of staying with the Huskers. That's why early down defense will be critical to put Minnesota's quarterbacks in obvious passing situations where NU will be able to drop seven men into coverage.

Ease Martinez into the game

It's not for sure senior quarterback Taylor Martinez will play today at Minnesota, but it's pretty much assumed he'll see some sort of action.

It will be important for Nebraska to ease him back into things. It's been six week since he's last played a football game on Sept. 14 against UCLA. There's going to be a transition period. Hopefully NU will be able smoothly work him back into the offense.

Front four pressure

Nebraska has done an outstanding job of getting pressure with their front four the last couple of weeks. NU leads the Big Ten with 17 sacks, and they've actually had another five sacks negated because of penalties.

When the Gophers are forced to pass, they will max protect by keeping their tight ends at home and using their backs to provide additional blocking. It will be important for the Huskers to force Minnesota's quarterbacks to get rid of the football and not give them all day to make throws.

Kenny Bell: The Gopher killer

No player on Nebraska's roster has hurt Minnesota more the last two seasons than wide receiver Kenny Bell. In two games against the Gophers Bell has caught 13 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with an 82 yard touchdown run off a reverse play.

That's why going into today's game I dub Bell "the Gopher killer." Look for Bell to have more chances to break off big plays, especially with Martinez most likely back in the line-up. Bell and Martinez have a great relationship on the field, and you haven't seen Bell have as many big plays when Martinez has been out with his injury.

Winning on special teams

Lastly special teams will play a huge factor today. If Nebraska can make Minnesota drive the field like they did to Purdue, there's no way their offense can consistently put together scoring drives against the Huskers.

The kicking game will also be important, because we don't know much about NU's kickers since they haven't had to attempt any high-stress field goals from longer than 35 yards.

Callahan's weekly predictions

Even with the questions at quarterback, Nebraska has more than enough to win this game going away in Minneapolis. There will be a strong Husker presence in the stadium and that should help NU start fast out of the gates. Minnesota does not have a lot of explosion on offense and their quarterbacks have struggled throwing the football. This all plays into NU's hands.

Nebraska 38 Minnesota 17
Ohio State 41 Penn State 31
Iowa 34 Northwestern 31
Michigan State 23 Illinois 10
Missouri 37 South Carolina 31
Oklahoma 41 Texas Tech 30

Season Record: 26-10 overall; 23-13 vs. points

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