Breakdown: Nebraska

Cyclone Nation editor-in-chief Steve Deace breaks down this week's showdown with the Big Red and thinks the time is now for a watershed moment in the evolution of the Iowa State program.

Iowa State rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

The Cyclones are averaging a solid 156.6 yards rushing per game. But that statistic is somewhat misleading. Against Troy State, Iowa State, and Florida State -- the three best rushing defenses ISU has faced this season -- they have gained a combined 283 yards on the ground. That shakes out to a paltry average of 94 yards a game. That won't cut it against Nebraska, and that's exactly why offensive line coach Marty Fine is shuffling the lineup up front again. Collin Menard will get his first career start, but expect to see a lot of Luke Vander Sanden as well. Meanwhile, Nebraska's rush defense isn't as imposing as it traditionally is. The Huskers are allowing 131.2 yards rushing per game. That's a solid number, but not anywhere near what we're used to seeing from Black Shirt defenses in the past. Frankly, if the Cyclones can run the ball for 130 yards, combined with Seneca Wallace's customary heroics, they'll be in pretty good shape. However, based on what we've seen so far from the Iowa State offensive line, that's a big if right now. Advantage: Nebraska.

Iowa State pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

This is the matchup Steve Brickey and Wallace will look to exploit in favor of the Cyclones. When you look at the Nebraska defensive statistics, one thing becomes readily apparent: their defense lacks playmakers. The Huskers have intercepted six passes thus far, but four of those picks belong to All-American candidate DeJuan Groce. The Black Shirts have 12 sacks, but end Chris Kelsay is the only player with more than one. To really gauge how Nebraska stacks up here, take a look at the Penn State game. That's a good barometer because Penn State also has a mobile quarterback in Zach Mills guiding an offense with an effective fleet of receivers using multiple formations. In that game, the Huskers surrendered 24 first downs and 476 yards of total offense. In fact, in three of its last six games dating back to last season, the Black Shirts are surrendering an average of 29.6 points per game. Needless to say, Iowa State has to feel confident. We could spend more of your valuable time explaining why Seneca Wallace is good, but you already know that. So let me leave you with this note. On third and fourth down this season Wallace has a passer rating of 213.59. Umm…that's pretty good, by the way. Advantage: Iowa State.

Iowa State rush defense vs. Nebraska rush offense.

There's no question Nebraska is going to have the advantage here. But in order to win the game it must dominate, not just win, this battle. Quietly, the Cyclones rank 29th in the nation in scoring defense; they were 70th in that category just two years ago when they finished 9-3. So clearly great progress has been made under coordinator John Skladany. However, just to illustrate the physical advantage a program of Nebraska's stature has over a still-evolving Iowa State look at this number: the Huskers have gained a combined 695 yards rushing in the past two meetings. And those weren't the Jim & Jim defenses of Criner & Walden they were doing that against. You're talking about Iowa State teams that have won more games than Ohio State during that time span. The key for Iowa State is not to get blown off the ball here. The number to watch for is 250. If the Huskers run the ball for more than 250 yards, which would be far under its normal average against ISU, I can't see a way the Cyclones can win unless they're plus-3 in the turnover ratio. However, given its ineptness throwing the ball consistently, I can't see a way that Nebraska can win if it doesn't run for more than 250 yards, either. Advantage: Nebraska.

Iowa State pass defense vs. Nebraska pass offense

There was lots of hot air coming from Lincoln this week about how their bigger receivers would dominate the dwarfish Iowa State secondary. Size doesn't matter if you don't have a quarterback in the backfield that can get them the ball consistently. The Huskers are averaging a miniscule 88.2 yards passing per game. Granted, Nebraska isn't BYU, but given their effectiveness running the ball you'd think they'd be able to do better than 5.9 yards per pass attempt. For instance, the Huskers big-play receiver was supposed to be the lanky Wilson Thomas, but he averages just 8.3 yards per catch. Watching the Huskers attempt to come back against Penn State using the option and iso-run plays from the I-formation was almost laughable. The Husker offense needs the play-action passing game to produce big plays, but that's tough to do when Jammal Lord is only completing 48 percent of his passes. Advantage: Iowa State.

Special Teams

Nebraska is outstanding here. Punter Kyle Larsen averages 47.2 yards per punt. Kicker Josh Brown is perfect on field goals, including three-for-three from 40-49 yards. Groce is averaging 24 yards per punt return and has already run two back for touchdowns. Meanwhile, Adam Benike has brought some consistency to Iowa State's tumultuous kicking situation. He's an effective six-for-eight, but the Cyclones have only converted one attempt over 40 yards this season. Iowa State has the ability for some big plays on punt returns as well with Todd Miller. This is an area where Iowa State is improving, but Nebraska boasts one of the nation's elite units. Advantage: Nebraska.


There's frankly not enough HTML on our web page to chronicle just how far the Cyclone program has come under Dan McCarney. Still, there's one thing missing from his resume that a win here would provide. That would be a win over a ranked opponent. Iowa State's streak of 30 consecutive losses to ranked foes is the biggest reason it's still lacking some national respect. Under Frank Solich, the Huskers haven't fared much better against ranked foes, especially on the road. Nebraska has just one road win against ranked opposition in Solich's tenure, and that was an overtime win in 2000 against a Bob Davie-coached Notre Dame team. Solich is also under fire for his uninspiring play-calling and defensive coordinator Craig Bohl isn't exactly making anyone forget about Charlie McBride. Another interesting thing to note is that three players expected to be key contributors for Iowa State on Saturday -- Nick Leaders, JaMaine Billups, and Bob Montgomery -- are each native Nebraskans recruited to Ames right from underneath Solich's nose. And that doesn't even count Steve Hicks, who is redshirting this season. Advantage: Iowa State.


Both teams have something to prove. A loss here would likely drop Nebraska from the rankings for the first time in over 300 weeks, the longest current streak in the nation. The Huskers are smarting after a 33-point loss to Penn State and the odds-makers actually installing Iowa State as a favorite in the game. This is a program with a lot of well-deserved pride and it will come out feeling as if its manhood has been directly challenged. However, any emotional edge they may have had evaporated when they began running their ill-timed smack to the Lincoln and Omaha papers. The Cyclones wanted this win enough without Nebraska running its mouth about guaranteed wins and not respecting Seneca Wallace. This is going to be a physical, brutal football game. A key here could be the fans, if you can keep the Big Red out of the stadium and turn this into a snake-pit. Advantage: Even.

Bottom Line:

The story line is almost exactly the same as it was before the Iowa game. Nebraska has a physical edge, especially in the run game. However, just like it was against the Hawkeyes, turnovers by an inexperienced opposing quarterback and the exploits of Seneca Wallace will be the difference. Hopefully, Bruce Van De Velde has enough money in the budget to re

AllCyclones Top Stories