at Lincoln • Nov. 26 • 10 a.m. (MT, ABC-TV)
Head Coach: Bill Callahan (1st year)
2004 Record: 5-5/3-4
As expected, Nebraska's transition to the West Coast offense has not gone smoothly. First-year head coach Callahan hitched his wagon to quarterback Joe Dailey, despite Dailey's early season struggles in the passing game. The Cornhuskers have simplified their offense as the season has progressed, and Dailey has improved, as well.
I-back Cory Ross has been solid and averages over 5 yards a carry. The bye week should help him recover from a turf-toe problem.
Nebraska will be without tight end Matt Herian Friday, who is out with a fractured leg. Herian burned the Buffs for a touchdown reception early in last season's game.
Though they've moved far away from their trademark option attack and to a more pass-oriented offense, Nebraska has still rushed the ball (389) more than they've passed the ball (267) this fall.
I-back Cory Ross, pictured here from a game in 2003, is from Denver, and is fifth in the Big 12 in rushing through 10 games.
Photo by AP
Player to watch: At 5-6 and 195 pounds, Ross is the kind of back who is difficult to find running behind and among the Nebraska offensive line that averages 6-foot-3, 297 pounds. He comes into Friday's contest with three-consecutive 100-yard rushing days. He had his most productive day, a 194-yard rushing effort, in Nebraska's biggest win of the year, a 24-3 decision over Missouri.
KEYS for COLORADO
Colorado has to determine the tempo from the defensive side of the ball by playing aggressively, as they have the past two games. CU can afford to try and force turnovers from the NU offense. Nebraska has fumbled 24 times, giving up possession 10 of those times. And they've thrown 19 interceptions. If CU plays aggressively, there's no reason to think that trend will end Friday.
Take the Crowd Out of the Game
Nebraska fans will be out in force Friday for the nationally televised game. But the fan base has not taken this Cornhuskers team to heart as they have in past years. If Colorado can force turnovers, and keep from giving up the kind of big play that fires up a crowd, the Buffalo offense can work in a more docile setting than you'd expect with 74,000 fans at Memorial Stadium.
When you look inside the numbers that Nebraska has given up in the rushing department, you realize there are mixed results. They've given up just 946 yards on the ground, which is impressive. But opponents have lost 155 yards in sacks, which counts against rushing totals. And the Nebraska run defense has been able to pad its numbers against the likes of Western Illinois (-3 rushing yards), Texas Tech (72) and Baylor (100). NU's most impressive performances in the category have come against Oklahoma (98 rushing yards), Missouri (51) and Pittsburgh (30). But Kansas State put up 294 yards on the Nebraska rushing defense.
What's changed in the Nebraska defense is its pass coverage. NU corners end up in man coverage more than in the past. Teams have taken advantage, and opponents have averaged 272 yards through the air.
Player to watch:Six-foot-2, 240-pound senior linebacker Barrett Ruud is a smart, physical player who has been on a tear this season and leads the Big 12 in tackles (134). What's more impressive, in the era of liberal situational substitutions, Ruud broke the Nebraska career tackles mark this fall.
KEY for COLORADO
Mix it Up
If Colorado goes vanilla on offense, the Buffs will lose. If the Buffs get behind and panic, they could lose. If Colorado gets ahead and turns conservative, the strategy will probably backfire. The Buffs need to show some imagination on offense, and utilize as many looks and weapons as they have. The Nebraska defense is used to practicing against a Colorado-like offense every week, but the WCO is designed to keep a defense off-balance. If Colorado comes out aggressively and plays with confidence on offense as they did against Kansas State, the Buffs will send the Cornhuskers home for the holidays.
On paper, Colorado has a distinct advantage here. NU returners are averaging 19 yards on kickoffs and just 6 yards on punt returns. Punter Sam Koch has a good leg, while placekicker Sandro DeAngelis has struggled from beyond 40 yards this fall, which means David Dyches will probably see the field at PK.
NU STATISTICAL LEADERS
Passing: Joe Dailey, 124-255-1,719, 15 TD, 15 INT
Rushing: Cory Ross, 196-1,067/5.4, 6 TD
Receiving: Matt Herian, 24-308/12.8, 3 TD
Kickoff returns: Tierre Green, 24-464/19.3
Punt returns: Santino Panico, 21-71/3.4
Punting: Sam Koch, 57/41.0
Tackles: Barett Ruud, 134
Tackles for loss: Ruud 17
Sacks: Benard Thomas, 4
Interceptions: Bullocks, 5