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Friday, November 13, 1998
Wildcats seek happy returns

By Mike Gottfried
Special to ESPN.com

I like Kansas State against Nebraska because I think the individual matchups favor the Wildcats for the first time in a long time. A big part of this Big 12 game, however, will be decided by the kicking game and which team can derive the best field position.

 David Allen
Punt returner David Allen is one of several weapons for Kansas State.

That's where Kansas State punt returner David Allen becomes the most important factor. Allen is the nation's leading punt returner and has returned four punts for touchdowns. If the Wildcats beat Nebraska, Allen will most likely give them a short field to work with.

Combine Allen with place-kicker Martin Gramatica, and Kansas State has a pair of weapons on special teams. Any time Kansas State crosses into Nebraska territory, Gramatica is capable of getting three points every time. The Cornhuskers have to play a little differently knowing Gramatica's tremendous kicking range.

Nebraska will start redshirt freshman Eric Crouch at quarterback. That gives the Cornhuskers a better shot because he's more athletic and can run the ball. Otherwise, nothing is going to change for Nebraska offensively. The Huskers will run four or five different option looks against Kansas State.

The key for Nebraska's offense will be fullback Joel Makovicka. He averages almost five yards a carry, and he needs to be effective at anchoring down the active Kansas State linebackers as a running threat inside.

Cornell Buckhalter and Dan Alexander will share Nebraska's tailback duties, but when you run an option offense against a defense with Kansas State's speed, controlling the linebackers with the fullback is essential. All three Kansas State linebackers -- Jeff Kelly, Travis Ochs and Mark Simoneau -- run well, and they're the heart of the defense. The mid-line option and traps and trap option will be big for Nebraska to establish.

Pro scouts tell me that Kansas State's defense, the nation's second-ranked unit against the run, is fun to watch because they fly around. All 11 defenders can run. The Wildcats use a lot of man coverage and blitzing. Safeties Lamar Chapman and Jarrod Cooper will really be coming down hard to slow down Nebraska's option.

It'll be strength vs. strength, and I think Nebraska is going to have a hard time running the ball against the Wildcats, who may have the best defensive team in the country.

Offensively for Kansas State, quarterback Michael Bishop is a playmaker. He's the guy Nebraska has to figure out how to stop. Bishop has excellent receivers in Darnell McDonald and Aaron Lockett. They'll play a lot of formation with three wide receivers and an I back. Although they like to run the option, the Wildcats' offensive key against Nebraska is balance. They can't get caught up too much running or too much passing.

Nebraska's a 3-4 defensive football team that has played as well as any in the country. The injuries on offense have really been the reason why the Cornhuskers lost some ballgames. Their defense has played great except against Louisiana Tech's aerial attack in the opener.

Much like Kansas State, the Cornhuskers like to blitz and run a lot of man coverage with one safety free. What concerns Kansas State are the blitzes from the outside in which Nebraska will rush someone like weak-side linebacker Eric Johnson. The outside pressure from the linebackers is something to watch because they are so quick off the edge.

Kansas State will move away from Chad Kelsay, a solid, smart defensive end, when they need yardage. Also, Jay Foreman is a talented middle linebacker who needs to be controlled to have success against Nebraska's defense.

To control Bishop, the Huskers won't shadow him with a defender because that will create matchup problems trying to defend Kansas State's receivers. Instead, they'll count on Johnson, Kelsay and others to create pressure and contain Bishop from getting outside and making plays with his feet and his arm.