Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Iowa State Cyclones vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
--by Vince Campisi
October 24th, 2009
11:30 AM CT
Television Coverage: FSN
IOWA STATE (4 - 3) (1 - 2)
NEBRASKA (4 - 2) (1 - 1)
Weather Report for Iowa State vs. Nebraska
Nebraska by 19.5.
09/03/09 - vs. North Dakota State - W 34-17
09/12/09 - vs. Iowa - L 3-35
09/19/09 - at. Kent State - W 34-14
09/26/09 - vs. Army - W 31-10
10/03/09 - vs. Kansas State - L 23-24
10/10/09 - at. Kansas - L 36-41
10/17/09 - vs. Baylor - W 24-10
10/24/09 - at. Nebraska
10/31/09 - at. Texas A&M
11/07/09 - vs. Oklahoma State
11/14/09 - vs. Colorado
11/21/09 - at. Missouri
09/05/09 - vs. Florida Atlantic - W 49-3
09/12/09 - vs. Arkansas State - W 38-9
09/19/09 - at. Virginia Tech - L 15-16
09/26/09 - vs. Louisiana-Lafayette - W 55-0
10/08/09 - at. Missouri - W 27-12
10/17/09 - vs. Texas Tech - L 10-31
10/24/09 - vs. Iowa State
10/31/09 - at. Baylor
11/07/09 - vs. Oklahoma
11/14/09 - at. Kansas
11/21/09 - vs. Kansas State
11/27/09 - at. Colorado
Iowa State Offense
Iowa State's offense has been quite productive on the ground this season under first year head coach Paul Rhoades and offensive coordinator Tom Herman. The Cyclones are currently ranked 36th nationally in total offense (408.86 ypg), 80th in passing (195 ypg), 89th in passing efficiency (117.10 rating), 14th in rushing (213.86 ypg), 68th in scoring offense (26.43 ppg), 68th in interceptions thrown (7), 97th in fumbles lost (8), and 93rd in giveaways (15).
QB: Jr. Austen Arnaud (105 of 185, 1246 yds, 9 TDs, 5 INTs) has done a nice job this season and in the new spread attack, has become a quality dual-threat QB. Arnaud has a nice arm, accurate in the short to medium range routes with a pretty good deep ball as well. He's made some really nice throws this season, putting just enough touch to get over a defender and right into his receivers' hands. His running ability has not gone unnoticed this season as he has put up 434 yards on 90 carries, good enough for 8th in the Big XII in yards per game. He suffered a hand injury in the first quarter of last week's game against Baylor. He continued to play until early in the second half when the swelling got to be too much for him to get a good grip on the football. Fortunately it is not a bad injury, so Arnaud will be starting on Saturday. Behind Arnaud is RFr. Jerome Tiller (14 of 26, 119 yds, 2 INTs). Tiller is a better runner than Arnaud, and showed that ability last week against Baylor, rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts. On the season, he has rushed for 108 yards and 1 touchdown on 13 carries. Tiller also has a strong arm, and once he gets a good grasp on the system, he should fit in nicely.
RB: The Cyclones' running game has been the best in the Big XII this season. This is in part due to a run-heavy spread that new offensive coordinator Tom Herman has implemented. Thanks to some quality blocking by the offensive line, they can go with a number of backs and still have success. Jr. Alexander Robinson (130 carries, 737 yds, 6 TDs) starts at running back for the Cyclones. Robinson is the Big XII's leader in rushing yards at this point in the season, averaging 105.3 yards per game. He is quick footed, but because of a nagging groin injury this season, his speed, especially his lateral speed, has suffered. When healthy, he does a nice job of breaking tackles and has a nice power element to his game that blends well with his speed to make him a pretty complete back. He re-aggravated the groin injury last week against Baylor in the first half, but is expected to play on Saturday. Behind Robinson are TFr. Beau Blankenship (23 carries, 98 yds), RFr. Jeremiah Schwartz (26 carries, 180 yds, 4 TDs), and So. Bo Williams. Blankenship has a slight foot injury that has kept him out of practice this week. Both Blankenship and Williams are quick backs, compared to Schwartz, who is more of a power back. Schwartz is actually more of a fullback, and in certain situations, could line up as one. The backs are used occasionally in the passing game, but are not a focal-point. Robinson (7 catches, 137 yds, 1 TD) and Schwartz (1 catch, 30 yds) have caught passes this season. Robinson has nice hands and has shown to be a very good threat out of the backfield.
WR/TE: The Cyclones' receiving corps is performing pretty well this season. While there aren't any real game breakers, there are plenty of blue-collar receivers that do a good job of getting this offense moving in the right direction. The unit took a big loss three weeks ago when Jr. Darius Reynolds (13 catches, 72 yds) suffered a broken leg, effectively ending his season. Reynolds was a promising JUCO transfer that was developing into a solid possession receiver. Starting at the wide receiver positions are Sr. Marquis Hamilton (31 catches, 479 yds, 3 TDs), Jr. Jake Williams (23 catches, 234 yds, 2 TDs), and So. Darius Darks (7 catches, 48 yds, 1 TD). Hamilton is the best of the bunch and is Arnaud's top go-to guy. He leads the team in receptions, receiving yards, as well as touchdowns. His excellent size (6'3") gives opposing secondaries match-up problems. Williams is another good target, having a knack for getting open, which goes well with his good hands. He made an outstanding catch in the game against Kansas State a few games ago that gave the Cyclones a chance to tie at the end of the game. He isn't a very good blocker, though, which is something he'll need to work on. Darks had a great game against Kansas two weeks ago, picking up 5 of his 7 catches and a touchdown in that contest. Top reserves for the Cyclones include TFr. Josh Lenz (9 catches, 69 yds), Sr. Joel Zitek (1 catch, 11 yds), and So. Sedrick Johnson (3 catches, 5 yds). Lenz has been a pretty solid receiver, working his way into the mix despite being a true freshman. This is largely due to his ability to find ways to get open. Johnson's 6'4" frame and good speed would lead you to believe he'd be the team's top deep threat, but that hasn't been the case to this point in the season. At tight end is Sr. Derrick Catlett (17 catches, 215 yds, 2 TDs), with Jr. Collin Franklin (7 catches, 65 yds) backing him up. Catlett is a very good downfield blocker and soft hands, making him a pretty ideal balanced tight end. Franklin is a huge 6'7" TE that is a quality receiver, but not where Catlett is as a blocker.
OL: Iowa State's offensive line has is a very solid unit, performing better than anticipated in the pre-season. The unit has allowed just 3 sacks (-16 yds) in 7 games this season, which is among the best in the nation. Starting at tackle is So. Kelechi Osemele (6'5", 349 lbs) on the left and So. Scott Haughton (6'3", 338 lbs) on the right. Osemele is one of the largest on this big line, and has done a nice job since switching over from guard. Haughton, similar to Osemele, has been doing a nice job this season, however, they are both better run blockers than they are in pass protection. The top reserves at tackle are RFr. Brayden Burris (6'6", 277 lbs) and So. Zack Spears (6'6", 294 lbs). Starting at guard is Jr. Alex Alvarez (6'2", 295 lbs) on the left and Jr. Ben Lamaak (6'4", 318 lbs) on the right. Alvarez is a pretty big guy and has struggled with athletic d-linemen this season. Lamaak is a solid guard that has helped open up some nice holes for the Cyclone running backs this year. Top back-ups at guard are So. Tray Baysinger (6'5", 322 lbs) and RFr. Mike Bangston (6'3", 253 lbs). At center is Sr. Reggie Stephens (6'3", 333 lbs), with Jr. Sean Smith (6'4", 307 lbs) backing him up. Stephens has 35 straight starts under his belt, however, played mostly left guard before this season. He doesn't have great lateral movement, but is pretty good going straight-forward at opposing d-linemen.
Iowa State Defense
Iowa State's defense has not been great this year, giving up chunks of yards and points. The performance against a struggling Baylor team was a good one, but against better offenses, they have really struggled. The Cyclones currently rank 88th nationally in total defense (386.71 ypg), 95th in pass defense (245.86 ypg), 87th in pass efficiency defense (133.33 rating), 67th in rush defense (140.86 ypg), 42nd in scoring defense (21.57 ppg), 7th in interceptions forced (10), 45th in fumbles recovered (6), and 15th in total takeaways (16).
DL: The Cyclones' defensive line has been pretty average this season. At times, the group has done a nice job at getting a pass rush, but other times they seem to get pushed around by the opposing offensive line and giving up chunks of rushing yards. One problem the unit has had to deal with is the loss of Sr. Rashawn Parker (13 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 QBH), who suffered a knee injury against Army this year that ended his season. He was a solid end that isn't easy to replace. Starting at defensive end is So. Patrick Neal (10 tackles, 1 QBH) on the left and Sr. Christopher Lyle (34 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 FR, 2 QBH, 2 PBU) on the right. Neal is a fair pass rusher, but isn't the strongest lineman you'll find. He was often pushed around by Kansas' offensive line a couple of weeks ago. He is still pretty new to the position, moving from tight end in the off-season. Lyle is the best of the unit, getting to the QB often and also doing a nice job against the run. Top reserves on the ends are RFr. Roosevelt Maggitt (9 tackles, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 2 PBU) and RFr. Cleyon Laing. Maggitt has done a nice job in his limited back-up role, showing good pass rushing skills. Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. Nate Frere (15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH), with Jr. Austin Alburtis (11 tackles, 1 QBH) backing him up. Frere is a solid d-tackle, but quite undersized at just 6'1". He's built more for stopping the run than getting a consistent pass rush. There isn't much, if any, drop-off when Alburtis is in the game. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Bailey Johnson (8 tackles), with So. Stephen Ruempolhamer (10 tackles, 1 sack) serving as his back-up. These two have done a decent job of holding their own, but neither have been stand-outs at the position this season.
LB: Iowa State's linebacking corps is the strongest unit on the defense. They are at their best against the run, having some difficulties in pass coverage. Two weeks ago against Kansas, the backers left a number of open receivers in the second level. Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Jesse Smith (75 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 3 PBU), with Jr. Matt Tau'fo'ou (1 tackle) and TFr. A.J. Klein (8 tackles, 1 FR) backing him up. Smith isn't going to wow you with his athleticism, but makes up for that with good football smarts. He seems to always be in position to make plays and rarely misses tackles. He leads the Big XII in tackles, with 19 more than the number two guy, Baylor's Joe Pawelek. At weakside linebacker is Sr. Fred Garrin (46 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 3 PBU), while Sr. Derec Schmidgall (3 tackles) and TFr. Jake Knott (14 tackles) back him up. Garrin has done a pretty solid job in coverage this season, but he has missed his fair share of tackles. It hasn't been a big problem yet, but it is one area that he can improve in. He earned both of his interceptions last week against Baylor. Sr. Josh Raven (20 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH) starts at strongside linebacker, with So. Jacob Lattimer (3 tackles) providing back-up. Raven might have the quickest feet of the group and has registered the most tackles for loss (5.5) in the linebacker corps.
DB: The Cyclones' defensive backfield is a decent unit, having their share of struggles with good passing attacks this season. Iowa State has given up 15 passing touchdowns this season, the second worst in the Big XII, next to Kansas State (16). Starting at cornerback is Sr. Kennard Banks (39 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 4 PBU) at left corner and So. Leonard Johnson (34 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 4 PBU) on the right. Banks has done a nice job this year, showing his prowess as a hard hitter in many of his tackles this season. He's just 5'9", and is a prime target for opponents to try and pick on. Johnson has been pretty average this year in coverage, and had a mediocre game against Kansas two weeks ago, getting beat on deep routes as well on comebacks. Players in the reserve rotation include So. Ter'ran Benton (31 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 PBU) and TFr. Jeremy Reeves (3 tackles). Benton does a nice job in nickel/dime situations as well as spelling Banks. He provides better size than the other defensive backs at 6'. Starting at strong safety is Jr. David Sims (42 tackles, 3 INTs), with Jr. Zac Sandvig (2 tackles, 1 FR, 1 BK) providing back-up. Sims, a JUCO transfer, has really put himself in good standing at SS, holding off Sandvig from getting much playing time. He's a pretty solid athlete that leads the team in interceptions. At free safety is Sr. James Smith (44 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU), while Jr. Michael O'Connell (16 tackles) backs him up. Smith is another size-limited d-back at 5'8", but has very good speed and is one of the team's most consistent tacklers.
Iowa State Special Teams
Iowa State's special teams units have been pretty decent this season, especially on kick and punt coverage. The return game hasn't been very good this year, due to a lack of game-breaking talent. The Cyclones currently rank 5th in net punting (41.26 yd avg), 74th in kickoff returns (21.03 yd avg), 98th in punt returns (5.19 yd avg), 6th in kickoff coverage (17.53 yd avg), and 5th in punt coverage (1.29 yd avg).
K: So. Grant Mahoney has made 9 of his 14 field goal attempts with a long of 50 this season. He has struggled as of late, missing both field goals and extra points. Last week against Baylor, he was just 1 for 4, missing from 30, 35, and 50, respectively. Mahoney also works as the kickoff specialist, pushing just 1 of his 37 kickoffs for a touchback this season. He is averaging 62.6 yards per kickoff, kicking to between the 7 and 8 yard line.
P: Sr. Mike Brandtner is averaging 43.5 yards on his 31 punts with a long of 64 this season. 9 of his 31 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Cyclones is So. Leonard Johnson (15 kick returns, 21.1 yd avg, 35 yd long) and Jr. David Sims (12 kick returns, 24.5 yd avg, 60 yd long). The top punt return man is TFr. Josh Lenz (13 punt returns, 4.2 yd avg, 44 yd long). More production is needed from this group to improve field position for the offense.
Coverage: The Cyclones' kick and punt coverage units have been excellent this season. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 17.5 yards on 36 kickoff return attempts, with a long of just 32. The punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 1.3 yards on 7 punt return attempts, with a long of just 7.
Nebraska's offense is a strange one. They were dynamic against the likes of their Sun Belt Conference opponents, but in games against Virginia Tech, Missouri, and Texas Tech looked very impotent. Quarterback and Offensive Line play have been the two most glaring problems. The Huskers currently rank 57th nationally in total offense (384.67 ypg), 45th in passing (233 ypg), 38th in pass efficiency (137.82 rating), 55th in rushing (151.67 ypg), 25th in scoring offense (32.33 ppg), 26th in interceptions thrown (4), 10th in fumbles lost (3), and 12th in giveaways (7).
QB: Jr. Zac Lee (98 for 160, 1213 yds, 10 TDs, 3 INTs) has been an efficient QB that looked great against Sun Belt opposition, but has not looked good against BCS conference teams. He went 11 for 30 (37%) and threw 2 interceptions against Virginia Tech, was 14 of 33 (42%) at Missouri, and was abysmal against Texas Tech last week (16 for 22, 128 yds, 4 sacks). He seems to be unwilling to throw downfield, instead choosing to check down to much shorter routes. He doesn't have great pocket presence, and when pressured chooses to run to the perimeter instead of stepping up into the pocket. This has been an issue because he just isn't great throwing on the run. When Lee has been "on", he's shown great arm strength and accuracy. The only question is whether or not he can turn it around and perform well against a major school. He has pretty good foot speed, but hasn't been running the ball much lately. He has rushed for 68 yards on 37 attempts (has lost 50 yards on sacks). Behind Lee are TFr. Cody Green (19 for 33, 185 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and Jr. LaTravis Washington. Green has a lot of potential to be a big-time dual-threat QB. He can run well, and has shown a very strong arm. He saw a lot of action last week in the loss to Texas Tech and was willing to take chances downfield, unlike Lee. He was picked off once, but could have easily been picked four total times. He was trying to force big plays to get his team back in the game, so you can write some of that off. He has carried the ball 8 times for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns (lost 6 yards on sacks). It will be a game time decision as to who the starter will be, but the odds are pretty good that Lee will get the nod.
RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (107 carries, 620 yds, 6 TDs). Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability. He can beat defenders by running around them, by them, and over them. He has really turned into a complete back over the past season. He is being bothered by an injured shoulder and hasn't been 100% for at least a few weeks. When healthy, he's the best back in the Big XII. The top back-up to Helu Jr. was TFr. Rex Burkhead (23 carries, 118 yds, 1 TD), an impressive, young back that has had some nice rushes this season. He broke his foot in practice last week and could miss the remainder of the season. A #2 back must emerge from the group of RFr. Lester Ward (1 carry, 8 yds), So. Marcus Mendoza (2 carries, 2 yds), So. Austin Jones (4 carries, 11 yds), RFr. Collins Okafor (1 rush, 9 yds), and TFr. Dontrayevous Robinson. The coaches were hoping to redshirt Robinson, but he played special teams last week, so look for him to get in the mix starting this week at RB. There's potential in the reserve group, but nothing really proven yet. Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, and should become a bigger part of the offense as Big XII play gets rolling. Helu Jr. (12 catches, 118 yds) and Burkhead (8 catches, 66 yds, 1 TD) have each caught passes, both having great ability to break a few tackles after the catch and motor downfield. Mendoza (5 catches, 32 yds) and Jones (1 catch, 2 yds) have caught passes since the injury to Burkhead. At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate (2 catches, 14 yds, 1 TD) is the top guy and but doesn't see much time on the field.
WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps needs to be more consistent if they want this offense to be successful. There are still too many instances of dropped passes and lackadaisical play at this point in the season. Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (17 catches, 216 yds, 3 TDs). He has a great combination of size, quickness, and route running skills. In addition to being able to catch the ball, he is also a solid blocker. He wasn't very good against Texas Tech last week, dropping a lateral and allowing a Tech defender to return it 82 yards for a score without chase. Starting at "X" will be Sr. Menelik Holt (13 catches, 158 yds, 1 TD), who has great size as well as speed. He has potential to turn into a great target, but continues to drop passes and hasn't been a very good blocker. Reserves include So. Curenski Gilleylen (13 catches, 281 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (13 catches, 177 yds, 1 TD), RFr. Khiry Cooper (6 catches, 55 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Brandon Kinnie (1 catch, 5 yds), TFr. Antonio Bell (1 catch, 3 yds), Jr. Will Henry (1 catch, 1 yd), and Sr. Wes Cammack (1 catch, 2 yds). Gilleylen is a speedster and has developed into Nebraska most dangerous deep threat. Brooks is turning into a solid possession receiver this year, appearing to have the best hands of the entire group. Cooper is a solid looking talent that got his first touchdown last week. Kinnie has great measurables, but can't seem to hold onto the football. Henry is a big body (6'5") and if he puts it all together, could be an excellent threat. Nebraska's top TE is Jr. Mike McNeill (14 catches, 160 yds, 3 TDs), with So. Dreu Young (2 catch, 61 yds), So. Ryan Hill (1 catch, 7 yds), RFr. Ben Cotton (2 catches, 10 yds), and RFr. Kyler Reed (4 catches, 30 yds) competing behind McNeill. McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone. This is a deep and talented group of tight ends that is a big strength for the Huskers' offense, however, seems to have a diminishing role recently.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line has a long way to go in terms of being a good unit. The group is far too inconsistent at this stage in the year. At times, the front 5 looks capable of being very good, but most other times they are committing costly penalties and getting beat by opposing linemen. Starting at tackle is Jr. Mike Smith (6'6", 295 lbs) on the left and So. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) on the right. Smith is typically among the best linemen for the Huskers, but has had his share of issues as well. Jones is the largest of the linemen, and has great potential to be a rock on the right side. He's young and has made a number of mistakes, however. Jr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 315 lbs) is listed as a co-starter with Marcel Jones, even though Marcel sees more snaps. D.J. doesn't have great torque in the hips and gets beat often by athletic linemen. TFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) is another possibility to see in a reserve role at tackle. Starting at left guard is Jr. Keith Williams (6'5", 315 lbs), while Jr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 300 lbs) starts at right guard. Williams is a great blocker and should only get better. He does very well as the pulling guard, plowing through his man and opening holes. Henry is a player known for his strength and his nasty streak, which has caused a few personal foul flags this year. Sr. Andy Christensen (6'3", 305 lbs) and Sr. Derek Meyer (6'5", 315 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. Christensen is a former starter that missed last season mostly due to a suspension. Sr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with So. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) backing him up. Hickman is the leader of the group and a solid center.
Nebraska's defense has been excellent this season, much better than they have performed in years. They have been keeping their team in games while the offense has been sputtering. The Huskers are currently ranked 12th nationally in total defense (271 ypg), 23rd in pass defense (174.50 ypg), 10th in pass efficiency defense (96.10 rating), 16th in rush defense (96.50 ypg), 6th in scoring defense (11.83 ppg), 67th in interceptions (5), 62nd in fumbles recovered (5), and 77th in total takeaways (10).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line is one of the best in the nation. They're big, strong, athletic, and just make plays. Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (28 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (21 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FR, 6 QBH, 1 PBU) on the left. Both Allen and Turner have excellent athleticism, but have been fairly inconsistent this season. If they can reach the level of play they've been at in the past, they'll be tough for opposing tackles to control. RFr. Cameron Meredith (9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) and RFr. Josh Williams (3 tackles) are the top reserves at defensive end. Meredith has been impressive in his back-up role, and is pushing for more playing time. Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Ndamukong Suh (36 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 9 QBH, 7 PBU), with So. Terrence Moore (2 tackles) backing him up. Suh is an elite tackle that has a motor that doesn't quit, flies to the ball and forces turnovers. He very rarely comes off the field, yet still has the energy to bring it in the fourth quarter. So. Jared Crick (28 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 FR, 7 QBH, 1 BLK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler (14 tackles) providing back-up. Crick is counted on to make plays with Suh being doubled up, and currently leads the team in sacks.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is young and has seemed to really gel over the past month. With two of the three starters being redshirt-freshmen, they should continue getting better each week. Starting at weakside linebacker is Sr. Phillip Dillard (23 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU). Dillard is a former starter at MIKE that didn't play in the first two games, but is doing a great job at WILL. He brings athleticism and experience to the field that has been invaluable. Behind Dillard is So. Matthew May (8 tackles). May has not seen much action this season. Starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Will Compton (27 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), while Sr. Colton Koehler (5 tackles) is the top reserve. Compton works hard to get after the ball carrier, but is still learning the defense and will make mistakes. Starting at buck linebacker is RFr. Sean Fisher (20 tackles, 1 FR. 3 QBH), with TFr. Eric Martin (7 tackles) and RFr. Micah Kreikemeier providing back-up. Fisher stands at 6'6", and like Compton, will get better each week as they learn how to quickly read and react to the opposing offense. Martin has the ability to be a force for the Huskers, when he gets the mental aspect of the game down to match his physicality, he'll be a good one. In nickel and dime situations, Compton and/or Dillard are the Huskers' options at LB.
DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield has played very well this season, and kept up a pretty high level of play, even against the pass-happy offense of Texas Tech last week. Other than a couple of big plays given up, they have done a nice job in coverage and making solid tackles. Jr. Prince Amukamara (34 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 4 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (15 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and TFr. Andrew Green listed as the top reserves. Amukamara has been pretty solid and has great athleticism, and getting better at consistency in coverage. Gomes actually started last week at RCB, but that change hasn't been reflected in the depth chart. Jr. Anthony West (7 tackles, 1 PBU) has typically started at RCB, but looks to have been replaced by Gomes and So. Alfonzo Dennard (8 tackles, 1 PBU). So. Lance Thorell (5 tackles, 1 PBU) is another reserve at corner that occasionally sees time. West has been average, and needs to play more with his head on a swivel. Dennard has been playing a lot in place of West and has looked very good. He makes plays on the football and is a solid tackler. At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (32 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 5 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (18 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH) and RFr. P.J. Smith (6 tackles) backing him up. Asante has great athleticism and is a big hitter. He's probably the best of the defensive backfield, with Amukamara coming a close second right now. Hagg is used often as a blitzing safety, and also as a nickel back. Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (28 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR) starts at free safety. O'Hanlon is often picked on and susceptible to being burned, however, has made some big plays in his career as well. He is usually a dependable tackler and blitzes well. Behind O'Hanlon is Hagg, So. Austin Cassidy (5 tackles, 1 PBU), and RFr. Courtney Osborne (1 tackle).
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units, like the Husker offense, have really fallen off the map the past two weeks. The Huskers rank 93rd in net punting (33.57 yd avg), 67th in kickoff returns (21.27 yd avg), 44th in punt returns (10.57 yd avg), 49th in kickoff coverage (20.55 yd avg), and 66th in punt coverage (9.27 yd avg).
K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation. He has made 9 of his 11 attempts this season, with a long of 46. He's made 22 straight kicks from under 50 yards, but has missed both attempts from 50+ this season. Jr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and is arguably the best kickoff specialist in the nation. Kunalic has pushed 18 of 40 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 68.4 yard average, kicking to the 1 to 2 yard line.
P: Jr. Alex Henery has averaged 40 yards on his 27 punts with a long of 76 this season. 11 of his 27 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20 so far this year. He added punting duties to his repertoire this season, and one has to wonder what effect this is having on his placekicking duties.
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (8 kick returns, 24.2 yd avg, 32 yd long), and TFr. Rex Burkhead (1 kick return, 15 yds). With Burkhead out with injury, others that could possibly return kicks are RFr. Tim Marlowe (3 kick returns, 20.3 yd avg, 30 yd long), So. Curenski Gilleylen and So. Alfonzo Dennard (1 kick return, 25 yds). At punt returner is Jr. Niles Paul (18 punt returns, 9.7 yd avg, 55 yd long). TFr. Rex Burkhead (4 punt returns, 18.2 yd avg, 33 yd long) has also had some returns, but with his injury, RFr. Tim Marlowe could now see time returning punts. These units have been great at times, but the past two games have been less than stellar.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been pretty good this season, but have had occasional tackling problems. Last week in the fourth quarter against Texas Tech, the Huskers brought the game back to a 14 point difference, but on the ensuing kickoff, there were numerous missed tackles, as the Red Raiders earned a 40 yard return. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 20.5 yards on 22 kickoff returns (76 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 9.3 yards on 11 punt returns (27 yd long).
Nebraska's Offense vs. Iowa State's Defense
Nebraska's offense is in a quandary at this point in the season. The Huskers don't appear to know if they want to run a spread, a west coast offense, or if they'd like to incorporate a power running game. Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson talks about all of these things in interviews, about being a hybrid offense, about being multiple, but one simply has to watch last week's game against Texas Tech and see this is an offense that lacks self-awareness. Because of this, the team has no bread-and-butter plays, nothing to hang their hat on.
Behind QB Zac Lee, the Husker offense is having great struggles moving the football on the ground or through the air. Lee appears indecisive and timid to make mistakes, so instead of going for an open receiver downfield, he opts to check down to a running back, or another receiver within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. That made them easily defendable by the Red Raiders a week ago. He appears to have lost some confidence, which hasn't helped his performances. After two poor offensive showings in a row, Lee and the Nebraska offense need to get the ship righted - and soon.
Lee is likely to start on Saturday, no doubt having a small margin of error before freshman Cody Green sees the field. Green provides a little more mobility and a stronger arm, while Lee has more knowledge of the system. The QB position for Nebraska will definitely be an interesting one to watch this week and going forward. The Cyclones' defense has allowed their opponents to complete 60.8% of their passes this season, while Nebraska QB's Zac Lee and Cody Green have combined to complete 60.6% of their attempts on the year.
Nebraska's receivers need to help out the quarterbacks by doing a better job of getting open, catching passes, and getting yards after catch. There's some talent in the group, but a real game-breaker has yet to emerge. WR Niles Paul has probably been the best of the unit this season, but is very inconsistent week-to-week. He needs to be more aware of what is going on around him to turn into a complete receiver. Last week he dropped a lateral which was returned for a Texas Tech touchdown, extending their lead to 14 points, and Nebraska really had a tough time coming back from that. Receivers like Menelik Holt and Curenski Gilleylen need to step up their level of play as well. Chris Brooks, who started to look like the best receiver in the group, is struggling with a back injury, this could hurt Nebraska, especially if the rest of the receivers continue with their lack of production. One of the big questions involving this group is why the tight ends, possibly the best group in the conference, have not been a bigger part of the offense. TE Mike McNeill and company are great assets to have, but can't do anything for you when they aren't being utilized. Whether this is due to Watson's game planning or Lee's inability to get them the ball is yet to be determined. Last week
One thing that stands out when you look at Iowa State's secondary is that they are a pretty small group. None of the starters stand taller than 5'10", even at the safety spots, and the only 5'10" d-back is CB Leonard Johnson. They gave up 442 yards to the explosive Kansas Jayhawks' offense two weeks ago, having constant troubles with the taller receivers the Jayhawks possess. While Nebraska may not have the passing attack that Kansas has, they still do have capable guys that will make plays if the Cyclones play similar soft zones and struggle defending the perimeter. The Cyclones played pretty well in pass defense last week against a Baylor team that has to go with their third string QB due to some injuries, but that isn't a really great test for obvious reasons. In pass coverage, the Iowa State's secondary ranks 87th, allowing a rating of 133.33, while Nebraska's QB's rank 38th nationally in pass efficiency (137.82). The Cyclones are 10th in the Big XII this year in pass defense and 11th in passing touchdowns given up (15), but are also tied with Texas for the most interceptions in the league at 10. Despite the struggles the Nebraska passing game has incurred over the past few weeks, you have to like their chances to bounce back this week against a very average Iowa State secondary.
Nebraska's running game is floundering a bit with injuries to starter Roy Helu Jr. and top reserve Rex Burkhead. Helu suffered a shoulder injury two weeks ago, and has not been able to carry the load like he was before the injury. Burkhead has a broken foot and is likely to miss most of the remaining games this season. While Helu hasn't missed a game, he isn't quite the same back as he was when healthy. There are a number of young backs eager to get that #2 spot, but no one jumped out of the pack to separate himself. It is going to be by committee until someone does step up in a big way. Who that will ultimately be is anyone's guess. The main thing for Nebraska is that Helu must get healthy, and being able to lighten his load for a short time would help. The problem is that he is far and away the best playmaker the Nebraska offense has and can't afford to have him sit.
Iowa State's rush defense has been pretty porous this season, giving up over 140 yards per game and ranking near the bottom (81st) in the nation in tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Much of this is because of the defensive line's inability to get the better of opposing offensive lines, forcing the linebackers to collect a majority of the tackles in run support. LB's Jesse Smith and Fred Garrin pick up a majority of those stops, and are going to be key for the Cyclones to make Nebraska as one-dimensional as possible, forcing their QB to beat them with his arm. Iowa State held Baylor to just 89 yards rushing on 21 carries last week (averaged 30 carries per week entering game), however, Baylor got out of their game plan mid-way through the game, trying to get back in the game through the air.
Focusing on third downs and red zone play, Nebraska is converting a solid 45.78% of their third downs (24th nationally), and scoring on an average 84% of red-zone opportunities (15 TDs, 6 FGs) (52nd nationally). The Huskers were 2 of 5 in the red zone last week, which dropped their overall percentage from 95% to 84%. The Cyclones' defense is allowing their opponents to convert 36.17% of their third downs (50th nationally), and have allowed those opponents to score on just 74% of their red-zone chances (16 TDs, 1 FG) (22nd nationally). Iowa State limited Baylor last week to convert just 5 of their 14 3rd down attempts last week.
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Iowa State's average defensive lineman is 6'2", 260 lbs. On the season, Nebraska has averaged 5.2 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Iowa State is giving up 4.5 yards per carry. Nebraska has allowed 9 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in six games this year, while Iowa State has picked up 10 sacks and 36 tackles for loss in seven games this season. Nebraska's offensive line continues to play undisciplined football, committing devastating penalties which have killed promising drives. In addition to the penalties, the Husker line has also been wildly inconsistent in both pass protection and rush blocking. For the offense to improve, the front 5 must live up to their potential. The Cyclones' d-line has been quite average this year and does not put forth a consistent pass rush. The front four has not been particularly good at stopping the run this year either, so it will be an interesting match-up in the trenches. Iowa State's line is among the smallest Nebraska has seen this year, so you would expect Nebraska to be able to run on them, but again, the Husker offensive line needs to show great improvement.
Iowa State's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Iowa State's offense under new coordinator Tom Herman is a run-heavy spread-option offense. Herman ran a spread attack in his previous position as Rice's offensive coordinator, but that was geared more towards the pass than the ground game. You call plays to your strengths, and the Cyclones' strength is definitely their running game, which is why Iowa State ranks 1st in rushing and 11th in passing in the Big XII.
QB Austen Arnaud has done a nice job this season running this offense. He doesn't have an exceptional arm or elite foot speed, but he is more than serviceable in both areas, giving the Cyclones a quality leader on the offensive side of the ball. While his 9 passing touchdowns to 5 interceptions aren't going to impress many, 4 of those 5 interceptions were thrown in a single miserable game against Iowa early in the season. Last week against Baylor, Arnaud was 18 of 28 for 166 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Most of those throws happened after injuring his throwing hand in the first quarter. He's expected to be at or near 100% on Saturday, and will be needed. Back-up Jerome Tiller might actually be a more naturally gifted QB, but he isn't quite ready to take over the offense just yet. Playing in seven games, Arnaud is completing 56.8% of his passes, while Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 51.6% of their passes this season.
Iowa State's receiving corps, overall, does a nice job of getting open and catching the football. There really aren't any top-flight athletes in this group that you would consider to be game-breakers, but there are some dependable receivers in the group. WR Marquis Hamilton is the go-to guy in this offense, and averages nearly 70 yards per game this season, good enough for 10th in the conference. With the emphasis in this offense being on the run game, the receivers don't get as many catches as many other Big XII teams. One surprise is that Darius Darks, who had 49 catches last year, has just 7 so far this season. While the offense was focused more on passing the ball last year, it is still a big drop for a talented receiver to take without missing any games. TE Darius Catlett is the most complete receiver in the group, thanks to his ability to make big catches as well as block very well downfield.
Nebraska's pass defense is solid this season, much improved from a year ago. Nebraska does not have to blitz a linebacker to get pressure this year, thanks to their front four, and because of this there are more bodies in coverage. Against Texas Tech last week, the Huskers held the Red Raiders to one of their lowest offensive outputs since head coach Mike Leach was hired. With the amount of pressure Nebraska's front four can get on a quarterback, you would think Nebraska should have more turnovers, especially interceptions than they have, but they have been facing some efficient offenses this season. One of Nebraska's best d-backs, Alfonzo Dennard was hurt in last week's game, but should be ready to go on Saturday. He has really strengthened the unit since getting more playing time. In pass coverage, the Huskers' secondary ranks 10th nationally, allowing a rating of just 96.10, while Austen Arnaud ranks 72nd nationally in pass efficiency (123.98).
The Cyclones' rushing game is the best in the Big XII this season, averaging 213.9 yards per game. It all starts with the great play they have been getting out of their offensive line this year. Because of the push up-front, the running backs and quarterbacks have had a much easier time picking up chunks of yards on the ground. Top RB Alexander Robinson has rushed for 100 or more yards in four games this season, but has been struggling mightily with a recurring groin injury. His status for Saturday is up in the air, and although he is likely to play, his carries are probably going to be limited. If he can't go at a good pace, there is a big drop-off behind him. Beau Blankenship and Jeremiah Schwartz will try and take over, with Schwartz getting the look last week against Baylor. He rushed for 42 yards on 8 carries last week, filling in admirably for Robinson, but Baylor's rush defense is not among the best they'll see this year. QB Austen Arnaud has gotten a lot of rushing yards this season in part because of keepers on the zone-read option, but also scrambling around, picking up 4-6 yards a clip in designed passing plays. He's not real shifty, but is a tough runner that ranks 8th in the conference right now, despite being a QB.
Nebraska's rush defense is going to be, by far, the best that Iowa State has seen this year. The Huskers' front four does a great job defending the rush just as well as they get after the QB on passing downs. Nebraska not only ranks as the 16th best rush defense, but also makes many plays in the backfield, averaging over 7 stops behind the line each game (25th nationally). The Husker defense continues to get a great push up-front and the linebackers have been blowing up running lanes, with LB Phillip Dillard being a star of the defense last week against Texas Tech. Although the Cyclones have a great rushing attack, they will likely find it difficult to get anything going consistently against the stingy Husker "D".
Looking at how these teams perform on third downs and red-zone opportunities, Iowa State has converted a solid 44.66% of their third downs (28th nationally), with an average 85% red-zone scoring average (17 TDs, 5 FGs) (45th nationally). The Cyclones were an excellent 66.7% (12 for 18) on 3rd downs last week against Baylor, but scored on just 3 of their 5 red zone opportunities (3 TDs). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert 35.16% of their 3rd down attempts (43rd nationally), and has allowed a decent 83% red-zone scoring percentage (7 TDs, 3 FGs) (67th nationally) this season. Against Texas Tech last week, the Huskers allowed Tech to convert on 43% of their 3rd downs and score on all four red zone opportunities (3 TDs, 1 FG).
Up front, Iowa State's average offensive lineman is 6'3", 327 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'4.5", 279 lbs. On the season, Iowa State is averaging 5.3 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Nebraska is giving up just 3.7 yards per carry. The Cyclones have allowed 29 tackles for loss and 3 sacks in their seven games, while the Huskers have picked up 51 tackles for loss and 17 sacks in their six games. Iowa State's offensive line has really been carrying the offense along so far this season, allowing both their top running back Alexander Robinson and quarterback Austen Arnaud to currently rank in the top 8 of the Big XII's rushers at this point in the year. The Cyclones sport one of the heavier lines in the conference, but that heft does have its disadvantages. As a group, they don't have great torque in their hips, but they do a nice job of paving the way for the backs going straight ahead. Nebraska's defensive line will present the toughest challenge the Cyclones have had to date. This will be strength vs. strength, a match-up everyone will need to keep an eye on. The best line ISU has played to this point was Iowa, and they struggled with their pass rush, and were unable to get their running game going consistently. Nebraska's NT Ndamukong Suh, who is being talked about for Heisman consideration, continues to perform at a level higher than any lineman in the country. Because of his success, it has allowed DT Jared Crick to shine, which is making it difficult on teams that are double teaming Suh, which has been everyone to this point. Cyclone center Reggie Stephens is a talented and experienced lineman, but it will be difficult for him and his fellow guards to contain the Husker tackles.
QBs: Iowa State +
RBs: Nebraska +
WR/TE's: Nebraska +
OL: Iowa State ++
DL: Nebraska +++
LB: Nebraska +
DB: Nebraska ++
Special Teams: Nebraska +
Coaching: Nebraska ++
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large
RB - Roy Helu Jr - Shoulder - Probable
CB - Alfonzo Dennard - Probable
WR - Khiry Cooper - Questionable
WR - Chris Brooks - Back - Out for Game
RB - Rex Burkhead - Foot - Out Indefinitely
LB - Blake Lawrence - Concussions - Ended Career
FS - Rickey Thenarse - Knee - Out for Season
CB - Jase Dean - Knee - Out for Season
QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season
QB - Austen Arnaud - Hand - Probable
RB - Alexander Robinson - Groin - Questionable
WR - Houston Jones - Ankle - Questionable
LB - Matt Tau'fo'ou - Suspension - Out Indefinitely
TE - Kurt Hammerschmidt - Suspension - Out Indefinitely
WR - Darius Reynolds - Leg - Out for Season
DL - Rashawn Parker - Knee - Out for Season
Keys to the Game
1.) Force Turnovers - The offense will likely struggle against a very good Nebraska defense. The Cyclone defense must make some plays and get a few turnovers to give the offense some short fields to work with.
2.) Be Healthy - It's no secret the keys to the success of the offense are Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson, both of whom are nursing injuries. Both need to be at or near 100% for the Cyclones to be a formidable threat in this game.
3.) Better Play from Kicking Game - A missed extra point and botched FG hold lost the Kansas game for the Cyclones, and a blocked extra point dashed hopes for overtime against Kansas State this season. On the road against a pretty good Nebraska team, special teams will be important.
1.) Improved Offensive Line Play - This is huge. This unit is underperforming this year. The blocking has been spotty and the frequent penalties are really hurting the offense.
2.) Quick Start Offensively - The past two games, Nebraska has been unable to get things going quickly on offense. This has led to some confidence issues and stagnant play. It's amazing what an opening touchdown can do for a team's psyche.
3.) Shut Down ISU Run Game - If Alexander Robinson isn't near 100%, this shouldn't be terribly difficult. Shutting the run game down will make this team one-dimensional, and put the game on the shoulders of QB Austin Arnaud. With a great pass rush, turnovers should commence.
Saturday marks the 104th all-time meeting between Iowa State and Nebraska. Nebraska has a commanding 85-16-2 lead in the series since first meeting in 1896. The Huskers currently own a four game win streak over the Cyclones, and haven't lost to Iowa State in Lincoln since 1977 (15 home wins in a row). These teams met last year in Ames, with Nebraska dominating the Iowa State for four quarters, earning a 35-7 victory. The lone highlight of the day for ISU was Alexander Robinson's 67 yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter. The last game played between these two in Lincoln was in 2007, the Huskers winning a 35-17 decision.
A game many had probably written off weeks ago as a given victory for Nebraska is suddenly looking a lot more interesting as the Huskers struggle with offensive woes and the Cyclones are just 2 plays away from being (6-1) overall. Despite the offensive struggles for Nebraska, their defense still shines, holding the strong Texas Tech offense to 24 points (an additional 7 came from a fumble return for TD), about half of their season average. Because of this stingy Nebraska defense, it is going to be difficult for an Iowa State team, with injuries to their top 2 offensive playmakers (QB Austen Arnaud and RB Alexander Robinson) to put up many points. 7-10 is probably as much as they will be able to muster, short of Nebraska turning the ball over to the ISU defense.
For Nebraska's offense, there are questions both at offensive line and quarterback. While it seems evident that QB Zac Lee will remain the starter, how soon Cody Green gets worked in largely depends on if Lee can shake off some less than memorable games the past couple of weeks. While Iowa State's defense is not among the best they've faced this season, or in the top half of the Big XII in any category, the Husker offense must produce this week after back-to-back performances that they are not proud of. If they can't get things going against the Cyclones' defense, it puts added pressure on the Nebraska defense to score, and you can't depend on getting defensive scores if you want to be a successful football team.
Look for the Husker offense to start getting things worked out and put a few scoring drives together. The ISU defense doesn't have the team speed that Texas Tech or Missouri has, and should lend to better offensive play for Nebraska. Iowa State will struggle to score due to a tough Husker defense and the groin injury to RB Alexander Robinson. Nebraska wins comfortably.
Iowa State - 7
Nebraska - 31