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September 5, 2009

Callahan's take: Huskers need to set the tone

It feels like it's been five years since Nebraska has last played a football game, but today the Huskers will finally get to show the nation just how far head coach Bo Pelini has taken this program over the last year.

People chuckle when they see who NU's opponent is in week one, but Florida Atlantic shouldn't be taken lightly. In a way, this team reminds me of the Louisiana Tech team that came into Lincoln in 1998 with quarterback Tim Rattay and Troy Edwards.

Like Tech, FAU has an NFL caliber quarterback with a big time arm in Rusty Smith. They also have a legitimate pro prospect at tight end in Jason Harmon. Together this duo, along with a stable of skilled wide receivers has the potential to give the Blackshirts trouble.

As things get closer to kickoff, here are my five keys to victory for the Big Red.

Front four pressure

One of the things I want to see right away is Ndamukong Suh and the Husker front four send a message to Smith.

Suh and company need to set the early tone with some big plays up front. They need to let Smith know that if he's going to sit in the pocket there's going to be a price to pay. If the front four can do this within the first quarter, Nebraska should have a very good chance to cruise to victory.

Stay relaxed Zac

At Friday morning's Big Red Breakfast in Omaha, Pelini said his biggest fear with junior quarterback Zac Lee is him trying to do too much.

Lee has enough talent around him that he just needs to let the game come to him. Lee needs to manage the game in an efficient manner and realize if a play is not there it's ok to throw the football away.

I think it will be very important for Lee to get off to a good start on offense. If he's able to establish an early rhythm, I expect the Husker offense to have a big day.

Contain FAU's tight ends

Talking with South Florida Sun-Sentential beat writer Ted Hutton this week, he said expect FAU head coach Howard Schnellenberger to go over the middle and attack Nebraska's safeties and linebackers with their talented trio of tight ends.

With two redshirt freshmen and one sophomore starter at linebacker, this game plan makes a lot of sense. That's why the communication aspect on the field will be crucial for the Husker defense.

One of the things defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said this week that the coaching staff has been impressed with in practice is how well the communication has been with the safeties and linebackers. This will definitely be something to watch closely on Saturday.

Wear down the Owl defense

When you go one's vs. one's Florida Atlantic will be able to hang with Nebraska in some facets of this football game. The key for NU will be to get the Owls to have to turn towards their bench.

The Huskers have a significant advantage when it comes to depth. FAU will already be down two defensive linemen. They are a very undersized unit up front as well, so that's why I expect Nebraska to run the football 40-plus times with junior Roy Helu and freshman Rex Burkhead.

Running the football effectively will not only wear down the Owl defense, but it will also take pressure off Lee and the passing game.

Play with an edge

As a media member sometimes it can be tough to get much out of Pelini after practice due to the hard edge he carries himself with, but when you talk about traits you want to see in a football coach you couldn't ask for a better one then this type of mindset.

Pelini's no-nonsense attitude to football and life is something I expect to really rub off on his team in year two. I expect to see a fired up squad take the field on Saturday with something to prove.

Callahan's Prediction: Nebraska 45 Florida Atlantic 21
Season Record: 0-0 overall; 0-0 vs. points

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