The match-up: Arkansas State is coming off a 33-28 win over Memphis, a game that was expected to be a blow out but the Red Wolves needed a fourth-quarter comeback for the win after giving up two touchdowns on special teams. Nebraska wasn't so lucky with the Huskers' offense managing only six points during the second half in a 36-30 loss to UCLA. This will be the second meeting between the two teams with Nebraska taking a 38-9 decision in 2009 in Lincoln. Both teams enter the game with 1-1 records.
At Stake: Arkansas State is one of the top teams in the country in offense, but defensively is among the worst, giving up 85 points, an average of 42.5 points per game that ranks 113th nationally. Opponents have averaged 449 yards of total offense against the Red Wolves and it's an area that must improve. Similarly, special teams breakdowns are a concern and need improvement before the Red Wolves move into a more manageable area of the schedule which includes Sun Belt conference teams.
Keys to the Game: 1) Keep the offense rolling. The offense hasn't missed a beat with Gus Malzahn taking over from Hugh Freeze as star quarterback Ryan Aplin continues to excel. Aplin must have his typical outstanding game for the Red Wolves to hang with the Huskers. 2) The defense must step up. A-State lost 16 starters from last season, with many being on the defensive side, but entering the third game of the season, the defense must show improvement. 3) Special teams. Nothing is more demoralizing to a team than to give up cheap scores, and the Red Wolves have a big enough challenge stopping Nebraska without giving up points through blocked punts or long returns.
Arkansas State rushing versus the Nebraska ground defense: Arkansas State is ranked 16th in the country in rushing offense going for an average of 262 yards a game. Three Red Wolves have run for more than 100 yards this season with David Oku picking up 211 yards in two games and Alpin going for 110. A-State may have an opportunity to continue the ground assault this weekend, even against the high powered Huskers. Nebraska has struggled in defending the run and is ranked 115th among the 120 FBS teams in rushing defense and averages giving up 264 yards a game.
Advantage: Arkansas State
Arkansas State passing versus the Nebraska secondary: A-State is ranked 19th in the country in passing, throwing for an average of 312 yards a game. Aplin, who ranks fourth nationally among all active quarterbacks with 9,445 yards of career total offense and an average of 262 yards per game. He also ranks fifth with 74 career total touchdowns and 11th with 222 career passing yards per game. Red Wolves will face a Nebraska team that has given up only 384 yards in two games and is ranked 41st in the county in pass defense. However, they are starting a couple of young linebackers that the Red Wolves may be able to exploit.
Nebraska rushing versus the Arkansas State ground defense: Nebraska in ranked 15th in rushing offense averaging around 270 yards a game on the ground. Star running back Rex Burkhead is listed as doubtful for the game and his absence could be a big plus for A-State. The Red Wolves are ranked 101st in rushing defense and average giving up 218 yards a game on the ground. Even without Burkhead, the Red Wolves are likely to be challenged in defending the run.
Nebraska passing versus the Arkansas State secondary: Nebraska is ranked 45th in passing offense going for almost 270 yards a game. The Red Wolves are ranked 71st in pass defense and have given up 462 yards through two games. While this area appears even, the edge may go to Nebraska if they get the running game going and are able to go to play action passes.
Special Teams: Arkansas State has also struggled with special teams, as the Red Wolves rank 81st nationally in kickoff returns, 114th in net punting and 118th in punt returns.
Weather forecast: Weather for Saturday calls for a sunny day with high of 75 degrees and a low of 55.
Broadcast information: The game willl be televised on ESPN2 with kickoff set for 11 a.m. (CDT).
Prediction: Nebraska 42 Red Wolves 38