Auburn 155.0 rushing / 177.8 pass / 332.8 total / 25.4 PPG
Nebraska 175.6 rushing / 253.2 pass / 428.8 total / 31.8 PPG
Auburn 125.8 rushing / 171.7 pass / 297.5 total / 13.9 PPG
Nebraska 120.4 rushing / 223.3 pass / 343.7 total / 18.4 PPG
Auburn 68th offense / 49th scoring offense / 25th defense / 7th scoring defense
Nebraska 9th offense / 13th scoring offense / 70th defense / 30th scoring defense
According to the NCAA, Auburn has competed against the 33rd most difficult schedule and Nebraska is ranked at No. 17.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers are completing their third season under head football coach Bill Callahan. The Cornhuskers continued to improve on their regular season record from 7-4 in 2005 to 9-3 this season. That was good enough to propel the team into the Big XII title game before losing to the Oklahoma Sooners.
A primary reason for Nebraska's success this season was a vast improvement on offense. Big Red averaged more than 100 additional yards on offense per game compared to last season. Led by quarterback, Zach Taylor, Nebraska averaged nearly 430 yards per game despite the changes in the clock rules. Taylor's grasp of the West Coast Offense has resulted in new school records in passing. Taylor is the 19th rated passer in the country with 25 touchdown and 3,071 yards.
Wide receivers Terrence Nunn and Maurice Purify are the two leading receivers for the Huskers, leading a group of receivers responsible for 57 percent of the team's receptions. Running backs Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky have combined for 57 receptions. Taylor's progression with his passes has been his receivers, running backs and finally the tight ends.
This is not the Nebraska team of old that rushed for 350 yards per game, pounding their opponents into the ground, but the Cornhuskers do average a very respectable 175 rushing yards per game. Brandon Jackson is the Huskers' leading rusher with 951 yards, averaging 5.3 per carry.
Marlon Lucky is the second leading rusher with 640 yards rushing, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Those backs have combined for 13 rushing touchdowns for the season.The Cornhuskers have four different backs who have rushed for 100 yards during a game this season with a total of eight 100-yard games.
Last season the Tigers were 37th in the country in total offense. Combating injuries and the loss of key starters, the offense dropped to 68th in the country this season. Quarterback Brandon Cox hobbled his way to a 141.3 rating this season, while passing for 2,087 yards and 13 touchdown passes. With the additional time off, Cox should be as healthy as he was before he took the field against LSU.
Courtney Taylor (48 catches) and Rod Smith (26 catches) are the leading receivers for Auburn. Much like Nebraska, the Tigers are not a vertical passing team. Instead, the Tigers have been relying on their receivers to keep the chains moving rather than hitting the homerun ball on one play. A total of 63 percent of Auburn's passes have gone to the receivers, 22 percent to the running backs and 15 percent to the tight ends.
The running game took a hit after tailback Brad Lester was suspended for the bowl game. Starting tailback Kenny Irons will have to carry the majority of the load, but it's a role he is familiar with. Irons has 821 yards rushing from 10 games, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. These are not the numbers the senior running back was hoping for, but Irons has been plagued with injuries this season and is stil not expected to be full speed for the bowl game. Look for Ben Tate and Tre Smith to play a more expanded role against Nebraska with the loss of Lester.
As much as the Nebraska offense improved this season, the Cornhuskers have had issues on the defensive side of the ball. The last time a Nebraska defense allowed more than five yards per play was in 1983 (5.07) and the 2006 Nebraska defense has allowed 5.4 yards per play. For the season Nebraska has sacked the opposing quarterback 26 times while compiling 23 forced turnovers. The Husker defense has made 80 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, averaging 6.2 per game.
Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan
Cornerback Andre Jones leads the Huskers in tackles this season with 58 stops on the season. Safety Andrew Shanle leads all Huskers with four interceptions on the season to go along with 47.5 tackles. Defensive end Adam Carriker leads the Nebraska defense with six sacks, part of his 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. At 6-6, 295 pounds, Carriker is a very imposing player capable of stuffing the run and applying pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Nebraska has found better success at stopping the run than their opponents' passing game. The Husker secondary has allowed 223 yards per game and 16 touchdown passes on the season. Like Auburn, Nebraska has been exposed with the deep passing game, which Auburn might find difficult to expose with its current personnel.
The 2006 Tiger defense became the fifth Auburn defensive unit to allow over five yards per play over the past 25 years. Auburn allows one touchdown every 37.3 plays, which is the ninth best average since 1981. Under first-year defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, Auburn has shown moments of being dominating, but has consistently struggled getting the opponent off the field.
Linebacker Will Herring leads Auburn in tackles and interceptions this season with 65 tackles and two picks. Defensive end Quentin Groves has registered 9.5 sacks this season, part of his 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Auburn defense has made 71 stops behind the line of scrimmage for an average of 5.9 per game. Cornerback David Irons leads the Tigers with 11 pass breakups and is tied with Herring with two interceptions.
For the season Nebraska has scored nine points more than their opponent normally allows. On defense the Huskers have held their opponents to seven points less than what they normally score. Nebraska's average score this season is 32-18.
For the season Auburn has scored four points more than its opponent normally allows. On defense the Tigers have held their opponents to nine points less than what they normally score. Auburn's average score this season is 25-14.
Nebraska has a decisive edge on offense and Auburn has a slight edge on defense based on both teams' average scoring margins. Take Nebraska's average score (32-18) against Auburn's scoring margins (+4/-9) and Nebraska wins 23-22. Take Auburn's average score (25-14) against the Huskers' scoring margins (+9/-7) and Nebraska wins 23-18. Average the two scores and Nebraska wins 23-20.
Utilizing the same method in games against Division I opponents with a winning record and you have Nebraska at +2 on offense and –9 on defense with an average score of 20-20. Auburn is +1 on offense and –8 on defense with an average score of 17-20.
Take Nebraska's average score against Auburn's scoring margins and Auburn wins 21-12. Take Auburn's average score against Nebraska's scoring margins and Nebraska wins 22-8. Average the scores and Nebraska wins 17-14.
Utilizing the same method in both team's last four games and you have Nebraska at +8 on offense and –5 on defense with an average score of 26-20. Auburn is +1 on offense and –2 on defense with an average score of 22-17. Take Nebraska's average score against Auburn's scoring margins and Nebraska wins 24-21. Take Auburn's average score against Nebraska's scoring margins and Nebraska wins 25-17. Average the two scores and Nebraska wins 24-19.
On paper, Nebraska clearly has the better offensive team this season and Auburn has a slight edge in overall defense. The time off for both teams probably benefited the Auburn Tigers more than the Cornhuskers. Auburn has resembled M*A*S*H unit since the LSU game on offense and this should be the healthiest offense to take to the field since the season opener.
Both teams are similar on offense in that they both want to establish the running game to set up their high percentage passing game. The burden will be more so for the Tigers because of the past history of the passing game struggling without a running game over the past two seasons. Brandon Cox had a horrible outing in Auburn's last bowl game, but he's confident he will bounce back this New Years.
The matchup between Nebraska and Auburn might be one of the best in this season's bowl games. The game is almost too close to call, but Nebraska might hold the edge in terms of production against "quality" opponents. The Cornhuskers averaged 347 yards and 20 points per game against competition with a winning record. Auburn on the other hand, averaged only 238 yards and 17 points per game.
On defense the Huskers allowed 359 yards and 20 points per game while the Tiger defense surrendered 350 yards and 20 points per game against opponents with a winning record. Though Auburn holds a slight edge in total defense, the Cornhuskers hold a decisive edge on offense. Part of the problem for Auburn this season has been the number of injuries to key starters. Coach Al Borges has expressed how it limited his play-calling this season.
I'm tempted to take the Cornhuskers in a close game based on the scoring margins and their level of performance against quality opponents. Looking back at both squads' regular season, Nebraska played well but always came up short against its best competition. Though Auburn laid an egg against Arkansas and Georgia the Tigers did defeat LSU and Florida this season, both playing in a BCS bowl game and ranked in the top five. This would indicate what this team is capable of accomplishing when the players are determined and focused on the task at hand. However, if the same team that played Wisconsin last season arrives in the Cotton Bowl, Nebraska is clearly capable of embarrassing the Tigers.
Picking the outcome of bowl games is more difficult than regular season games because of the extensive layoff from the last regular season game. Both teams should be well rested and game preparation will be the difference in the outcome. I'm expecting a rejuvenated Auburn squad with fresh legs on a mission to end the season with a victory. Auburn 23, Nebraska 20