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Nebraska looks to clinch Big 12 North vs Texas A&M

- Associated Press - Friday, November 19, 2010

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS (AP) - Ninth-ranked Nebraska can clinch its second straight Big 12 North division title with a win this weekend against No. 18 Texas A&M or next week against Colorado.

The Cornhuskers prefer not to wait past Saturday.

"This is the week to go out there and clinch the North," Nebraska offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirels said. "You never want to leave it up to the last game. You never want to leave it up to anything."

The Cornhuskers, who have won four straight overall, are 4-0 on the road this season and secured the North division title in 2006 with a 28-27 win over the Aggies in College Station.

This time they'll face a hot Texas A&M team that has also won four in a row and needs to win out and get some help from Oklahoma State for a shot at the South title and a trip to the league's finale championship game.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said he hasn't spent any time discussing the importance of clinching the North title this week, preferring to focus on simply playing well against Texas A&M.

"That all takes care of itself in time," he said. "All I'm concerned with is playing the best football we can on Saturday. That's just part of it. I haven't talked about it with the team, and I won't. I'm sure they understand it's out there, but we've got plenty to be motivated by beyond that."

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez should be back to full speed. Nebraska limited what he did in the first half of last week's win over Kansas after he missed a week with an ankle injury. Pelini was glad Martinez was able to play last week.

"I thought it was big," Pelini said. "You didn't want him to be sitting for two weeks. We were a little guarded with Taylor early in the game, and I think Taylor was a little bit guarded. He wasn't sure where he was going to be, and I thought as the game went on he grew more confident, which was a big key."

Martinez has 957 yards rushing with 12 rushing touchdowns and Roy Helu Jr. has 991 yards rushing with 10 more scores. The Aggies are 13th in the nation in run defense and are allowing only 112 yards rushing a game.

Texas A&M is coming off a 42-30 win over Baylor last week and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter thinks dealing with Robert Griffin will help in preparing for Martinez. Griffin had 100 yards rushing by halftime last week, but the Aggies shut down his scrambling as they rallied in the second half.

"Taylor Martinez is a guy who is very capable of making explosive plays just like Robert Griffin," DeRuyter said. "Nebraska will be by far the best running team we will face this year and they have some explosive players in Martinez and Helu that if you don't defend well it can get ugly like it did in the first half last week."

Texas A&M has improved since Ryan Tannehill took over at quarterback for senior Jerrod Johnson and the former backup is 3-0 as a starter. Coach Mike Sherman has said he likes the decisiveness of Tannehill, something Pelini has also noticed.

"I don't think the offense has changed a whole heck of a lot, I just think they're executing at a little higher level right now," Pelini said. "He makes good reads. He understands the offense. He understands where to go with the ball. I think he does a good job of running the offense."

Tannehill has been helped by the emergence of running back Cyrus Gray, who has four straight 100-yard rushing performances and has become a bigger part of the offense in the two games since fellow running back Christine Michael broke his leg.

Gray had 137 yards rushing with four touchdowns, both career highs, last week against Baylor.

"It has put him more in the front and he is getting more opportunities," Sherman said. "He is the type of back that plays better when he gets more opportunities. It's hard to be in and out of games the way we had played him before the injury and he has definitely taken advantage of that."

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