|Nebraska vs Iowa State Game Preview|
Check out our latest game preview as the Huskers head to Ames, Iowa to take on the Iowa State Cyclones. The Huskers will be trying to halt a three-game skid and get back to their early-season winning ways.
Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Iowa State Cyclones
--by Vince Campisi
October 18th, 2008
11:30 AM CT
Television Coverage: Versus
NEBRASKA (3 - 3) (0 - 2)
IOWA STATE (2 - 4) (0 - 2)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Iowa State
Latest Line - Nebraska by 7.5.
08/28/08 - vs. South Dakota State - W 44-17
09/06/08 - vs. Kent State - W 48-28
09/13/08 - at. Iowa - L 5-17
09/20/08 - at. UNLV - L 31-34 OT
10/04/08 - vs. Kansas - L 33-35
10/11/08 - at. Baylor - L 10-38
10/18/08 - vs. Nebraska
10/25/08 - vs. Texas A&M
11/01/08 - at. Oklahoma State
11/08/08 - at. Colorado
11/15/08 - vs. Missouri
11/22/08 - at. Kansas State
08/30/08 - vs. Western Michigan - W 47-24
09/06/08 - vs. San Jose State - W 35-12
09/13/08 - vs. New Mexico State - W 38-7
09/27/08 - vs. Virginia Tech - L 30-35
10/04/08 - vs. Missouri - L 17-52
10/11/08 - at. Texas Tech - L 31-37 OT
10/18/08 - at. Iowa State
10/25/08 - vs. Baylor
11/01/08 - at. Oklahoma
11/08/08 - vs. Kansas
11/15/08 - at. Kansas State
11/10/08 - vs. Colorado
Iowa State Offense
Iowa State's offense hasn't been great this season, but is slightly improved over last season. After playing six games, they rank 79th nationally in total offense (335.83 ypg), 73rd in passing (204 ypg), 65th in passing efficiency (122.42 rating), 74th rushing (131.83 ypg), 50th scoring offense (28.50 ppg), and 11th in turnover margin (+1.17 mrg).
QB: So. Austin Arnaud (102 of 169, 1087 yds, 8 TDs, 4 INTs) has good size (6'3", 222 lbs.), a solid arm, and good mobility. Nationally ranked in the upper half of some categories, he is lost in the shuffle of the many great quarterbacks in the Big XII. He has a strong arm, but hasn't aired it deep much as his longest completion is for 49 yards. Completing 60.40% of his passes, he has gotten many receivers involved. Arnaud struggled to get his offense moving last week against Baylor, scoring just one touchdown on a late pass in the 4th quarter after the Bears had the game well in hand. Solid in the zone-read, he has rushed the football for 147 yards and 4 touchdowns on 45 carries, showing his dual-threat capability. There isn't any experience behind Arnaud since So. Phillip Bates left the team a couple of weeks ago. Back-ups include TFr. Jerome Tiller and TFr. Bret Bueker. Both are 6'4" tall, while Tiller was known for his foot-speed in high school. Neither quarterback has seen and snaps at the college level.
RB: So. Alexander Robinson (62 carries, 230 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Jason Scales (28 carries, 58 yds, 2 TDs), and Sr. J.J. Bass (28 carries, 100 yds, 1 TD) have all been active in the running game this season. Robinson is the fastest of the group, while Scales is the power runner, and Bass is the more balanced back. The trio averages just 3 yards per carry, and the longest rush has been for just 18 yards. Not exactly eye catching numbers, but they are serviceable backs that are having issues behind the offensive line. Losing QB Phillip Bates is also likely to hurt the run game totals. The Cyclone running backs aren't a big part of the passing game, but Robinson (6 catches, 57 yds), Scales (3 catches, 22 yds), and Bass (3 catches, 11 yds) have all caught passes this season. At Fullback are So. Taylor Mansfield and Jr. Brian Ekweldunu. Neither player has touched the ball this season, being utilized exclusively as blockers so far.
WR/TE: The Cyclones' receiving corps isn't one of the better groups in the Big XII. While there are a few solid receivers, as a whole, the group lacks great speedsters as well as experience. Starters are Sr. R.J. Sumrall (27 catches, 402 yds, 5 TDs) and Jr. Houston Jones (20 catches, 218 yds). Sumrall is the best receiver on the team, leading in catches, yards, touchdowns, and average yards per catch. Jones is turning into a solid contributor after switching from quarterback last year. Top reserves at receiver include Jr. Marquis Hamilton (14 catches, 148 yds, 2 TDs), TFr. Sedrick Johnson (8 catches, 83 yds, 2 TDs), and TFr. Darius Darks (19 catches, 168 yds, 1 TD). Hamilton and Johnson are the team's tallest targets at 6'4" each. Darks has emerged as a legitimate threat recently, picking up 13 of his 19 catches in the past two games against Baylor and Kansas. At tight end is Jr. Derrick Catlett (6 catches, 52 yds) and So. Collin Franklin (4 catches, 43 yds). Neither has been used much as a pass receiver, instead spending almost all of their time blocking.
OL: Iowa State's offensive line has been fairly good this season, but is not a dominant group. So far this season, they are allowing for an average of 4 yards per carry and have given up 6 sacks and 31 tackles for loss in six games. Starting at tackle is Sr. Doug Dedrick (6'4", 301 lbs) on the left and TFr. Scott Haughton (6'4", 335 lbs) on the right. Dedrick has started in each of the last 18 games, he's a consistent blocker. Haughton is a rare true freshman starter on a Big XII line. So. Hayworth Hicks (6'3", 330 lbs) and So. Matt Hulbert (6'7", 286 lbs) are the top reserves at tackle. Starting at guard is Jr. Reggie Stephens (6'4", 313 lbs) on the left and So. Ben Lamaak (6'5", 315 lbs) on the right. Both are very experienced, with both starting the last 18 games (Lamaak at RT last season). Top back-ups at guard are RFr. Kelechi Osemele (6'5", 330 lbs) and Sr. Brandon Johnson (6'4", 322 lbs.). Johnson was last season's starter at center, but has switched to guard this year. At center is Jr. Mike Knapp (6'3", 272 lbs), with So. Alex Alvarez (6'2", 291 lbs) backing him up. Knapp is back after an appendectomy and is a very solid blocker when healthy.
Iowa State Defense
Iowa State's defense is struggling this season, despite mediocre competition. They have given up a lot of yards and points, however, do a nice job of creating turnovers. Through six games, they rank 88th nationally in total defense (387.50 ypg), 78th pass defense (218.50 ypg), 113th pass efficiency defense (148.99 rating), 86th rush defense (169 ypg), 88th in scoring defense (28.2 ppg), 6th in fumbles recovered (9), and 25th in interceptions (8).
DL: Iowa State's defensive line is one of the top units on the team. All four starters are experienced upperclassmen that have been solid for the defense, however, have still had their troubles. They are doing a great job of getting into the backfield and getting pressure on the QB. Through six games, they are allowing 4.4 yards per carry while also earning 11 sacks. Starting at defensive end is Jr. Rashawn Parker (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) at weak end and Sr. Kurtis Taylor (24 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 3 QBH) on the strongside. Taylor leads the team with 8 tackles for loss, and is the most stable player on the line. Top reserves on the ends are Jr. Christopher Lyle (22 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 FR, 1 QBH), Sr. Travis Ferguson (6 tackles, 1 FF), and Sr. Nick Frere (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH). Lyle is a solid rusher off the edge, leading the team in sacks and is second in tackles for loss. Starting at nose guard is Jr. Nate Frere (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH), with So. Austin Alburtis (4 tackles, 1 INT), and RFr. Jerrod Black (2 tackles) performing back-up duties. Frere hasn't been quite as good as expected in the middle this season. Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. Michael Tate (16 tackles), with Sr. Chris Weir (3 tackles, 1 QBH), and TFr. Stephen Ruempolhamer (2 tackles) serving as the top reserves. Tate is the tallest of the starters at 6'4", and gets his hands up in the passing lanes. He tipped a pass against Iowa that was intercepted.
LB: Iowa State's linebacking corps is a veteran unit, is all upperclassmen, yet returned just one starter from last season. Not a great group of athletes, but does a good job of making tackles. Starting at middle linebacker is Jr. Jesse Smith (39 tackles, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), with Jr. Derec Schmidgall (8 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR) providing back-up. Smith is a solid player that leads the team in total tackles as well as assisted tackles. At weakside linebacker is Jr. Fred Garrin (33 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 PBU), while TFr. Ernest Ferguson (7 tackles) backs him up. Garrin has been a tackling machine lately, picking up 11 against UNLV and 9 against Baylor. Sr. Michael Bibbs (29 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT, 2 FF, 1 QBH) starts as the strongside linebacker, with So. Cameron Bell (6 tackles) and Jr. Josh Raven (17 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR) serving as his top reserves. Bibbs is the top playmaker of the unit and leads the team in interceptions with 2.
DB: The Cyclones' secondary is not one of the better groups in the Big XII. They are 113th in pass efficiency defense after playing six games, despite not playing a very tough schedule. Opponents are completing a very high 64.3% of their passes with an average completion of 11.6 yards per completion. Starting at cornerback is TFr. Leonard Johnson (22 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) on the left, and TFr. Ter'ran Benton (17 tackles, 1 FR) on the right. Benton is getting ready for his first start this week, while Johnson is trying to get back to his Kansas performance two weeks ago rather than his showing against Baylor last week. So. Devin McDowell (7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU), Sr. Chris Singleton (14 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR), and Jr. Allen Bell (7 tackles, 1 PBU) are the top reserves at corner. Singleton has started 28 consecutive games for the Cyclones, but was demoted after last week's poor performance against Baylor. Starting at strong safety is Sr. Brandon Hunley (25 tackles, 1 FF, 2 PBU), with Jr. Steve Johnson (13 tackles, 1 PBU) and So. Zac Sandvig (9 tackles, 1 FF) serving as his top back-ups. Hunley is pretty decent and is a hard hitter, but like the rest of this bunch, really had a tough time last week. At free safety is Jr. James Smith (39 tackles, 1 PBU), while So. Michael O'Connell (13 tackles) and Sr. Chris Brown (2 tackles, 1 FR) serving as the top reserves. Smith is tied for the team lead in tackles, making a lot of run-support stops.
Iowa State Special Teams
Iowa State's special teams units have been average this season. The Cyclones currently rank 67th in net punting (34.55 yd avg), 58th in punt returns (9.69 yd avg), and 30th in kickoff returns (23.27 yd avg).
K: TFr. Grant Mahoney handles field goals, extra points, and kickoffs for Iowa State. He has made 10 of his 14 field goal attempts with a long of 48. On kickoffs he has pushed 2 of his 31 kickoffs for touchback and a 66 yard average.
P: Jr. Mike Brandtner is averaging 41 yards on his 29 punts with a long of 60. 12 of his 29 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: Iowa State's top kickoff returners are So. Devin McDowell (2 kick returns, 32 yd avg, 33 yd long) and TFr. Leonard Johnson (13 kick returns, 26.5 yd avg, 41 yd long). The top punt returnmen are So. Devin McDowell (2 punt returns, 6.5 yd avg, 13 yd long) and TFr. Leonard Johnson.
Coverage: The Cyclones' kick and punt coverage units have been fair this season. They are allowing an average of 20.2 yards on 32 kickoff return attempts. The punt coverage team has allowed an average of 17.4 yards per return, as well as a touchdown on 5 punts.
Nebraska's offense has had some ups and downs this season, struggling with consistency. After six games, Nebraska ranks 30th nationally in total offense (420.67 ypg), 12th in passing (285.30 ypg), 13th in pass efficiency (156.51 rating), 68th in rushing (135.33 ypg), 30th in scoring offense (33 ppg), and 92nd in turnover margin (-0.67 mrg).
QB: Sr. Joe Ganz (129 for 186, 1636 yds, 11 TDs, 6 INTs) is a quality quarterback that has done some great things for the Huskers this year. He also has a tendency to keep plays alive too long, forcing throws that aren't there and turning the ball over. Last week against Texas Tech, he played his best football of the season in regulation, making heady decisions for four full quarters. In overtime, however, he made his one mistake of the game on second down; waiting until he was being dropped to throw a pass, which was picked off ending the game. Ganz continues to average one interception per game, and in the past three losses those mistakes have loomed large. His offensive line has caused problems for him as well, forcing him to rush decisions. He is at his best when on the roll-out. He can run the football, but hasn't done much of that against the faster defenses the past three weeks. He has rushed for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns on 34 carries (9 sacks) this season. Behind Ganz is RFr. Patrick Witt (4 for 6, 40 yds) and So. Zac Lee (1 for 2, 5 yds). Neither has seen meaningful snaps, but Witt has shown a problem taking snaps in the two games he played in this season.
RB: Nebraska crew of running backs can be excellent when they have holes to run through. There hasn't been much of a push up-front this season, however, last week's performance was a bit better. Sr. Marlon Lucky (72 carries, 298 yds, 4 TDs), So. Roy Helu Jr. (42 carries, 222 yds, 2 TDs), and So. Quentin Castille (40 carries, 127 yds, 2 TDs) are co-number 1's on the depth chart, with Lucky getting a majority of the carries this season. Lucky is solid when the blockers are working hard for him, but when they aren't, he doesn't do a great job of getting something out of nothing. He is at his best when catching the ball out of the backfield. Helu Jr. has a good combination of hard running, leaping and cutting ability. He is the best of the group at finding the hole, but has also had some issues with this as well. Castille is the strongest runner of the group, likes contact, and is the top option inside the 5. Lucky (15 catches, 174 yds, 1 TD) is fourth all-time in total offensive yards in Nebraska history, due to his great hands out of the backfield. He was finally a big part of the offense last week, catching 7 passes for 80 yards. Castille (4 catches, 61 yds) and Helu Jr. (9 catches, 110 yds) have also caught passes this season. At FB, Sr. Thomas Lawson (1 catch, 4 yds) starts, however, is used as little more than a blocker. Sr. TE Hunter Teafatiller has also played the position.
WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps stepped up last weekend after a few weeks of lackluster play. Dropped passes are becoming a rarity and the unit is starting to do a solid job of getting open for QB Joe Ganz. Sr. Nate Swift (25 catches, 374 yds, 3 TDs) starts at "X", and is the top playmaker in the bunch. He has great hands, good speed, and excellent balance, which has helped him average 15 yards per catch. Starting at "Z" is Sr. Todd Peterson (30 catches, 345 yds, 1 TD), a dependable receiver with great hands. He had 8 catches last week for 77 yards and a touchdown. Top back-ups at "X" are Jr. Menelik Holt (19 catches, 225 yds, 1 TD), So. Will Henry, and Jr. Chris Brooks. Holt has a good frame at 6'4", 220 lbs., and caught 6 passes last week against Texas Tech for 55 yards. Top reserves at "Z" are So. Niles Paul (8 catches, 83 yds) and RFr. Curenski Gilleylen (1 catch, 5 yds). Paul and Gilleylen are Nebraska's speedsters, and need to see more passes in their direction. At TE is So. Mike McNeill (11 catches, 187 yds, 3 TDs) and So. Dreu Young (5 catches, 86 yds, 1 TD), with Sr. Hunter Teafatiller (3 catches, 27 yds) and RFr. Ryan Hill (2 catches, 3 yds) as the top pair of back-ups. McNeill has emerged as a good TE for the Huskers, something Nebraska has really struggled to find for the past few seasons.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line improved their level of play last week against Texas Tech, however, are still far from where they need to be. This unit continues to pile up false start and holding penalties, which are stalling drives. This season the line is allowing 4.1 yards per carry, which is still an inflated number from playing New Mexico State's poor rush defense. Starting at tackle is So. Jaivorio Burkes (6'5", 325 lbs) on the left and Sr. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) on the right. Burkes is getting the starting nod this week, after having a better outing in the second half of last week's game than Mike Smith had in the first half. So. Mike Smith (6'6", 285 lbs) is the top reserve at LT, while RFr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) is the top back-up at RT. Smith will likely still see a number of snaps despite being demoted this week. Starting at left guard is So. Keith Williams (6'5", 305 lbs), while Sr. Matt Slauson (6'5", 320 lbs) starts at right guard. Guard play hasn't been very good this season, but Slauson has easily been the best of them. So. D.J. Jones (6'5", 305 lbs) and Sr. Mike Huff (6'4", 300 lbs.) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. Williams and Huff will share time at the LG spot. Jr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs.) backing him up. Hickman is an adequate center, but not a dominant force by any means.
Nebraska's starters on defense will likely not be awarded Blackshirts this season. There has been some improvement over last season's group, but as the saying goes, you can't coach speed, and this unit lacks it. After playing six games, the Huskers rank 84th nationally in total defense (383.67 ypg), 99th pass defense (254.17 ypg), 100th pass efficiency defense (138.61 rating), 55th rush defense (129.50 ypg), 85th scoring defense (27.8 ppg), 113th in fumbles recovered (1), and 72nd in interceptions (5).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line has been the strength of the defense this season, however, struggled mightily against Missouri last week. Opponents average 3.9 yards per rush this season, after allowing Missouri to average 5.7 per carry and Texas Tech to average 6 per carry the past two weeks. Starting at defensive end is So. Pierre Allen (29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Zach Potter (21 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 2 PBU, 1 BK) on the left. Potter is the best player on the line, while Allen is also playing well with just 4 starts under his belt. TFr. Cameron Meredith and Sr. Clayton Sievers (5 tackles, 1 QBH) are the top reserves at defensive end. Neither has made much of an impact this season. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Ndamukong Suh (31 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with Sr. Shukree Barfield (7 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Terrence Moore (7 tackles, 2 sacks) backing him up. Suh is a great athlete and makes a lot of tackles for a nose tackle. However, he has been making some untimely mistakes and drawing a lot of penalties as well this season. Sr. Ty Steinkuhler (30 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Jared Crick (1 tackle, 1 PBU) listed as his top back-up. Steinkuhler is having a solid season after suffering through many injuries throughout his career.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps has been struggling with some injuries this season, which has hurt the group's overall performance. The unit isn't exactly a deep pool of proven players, and injuries are something they just can't have. They haven't been particularly good in coverage and have also had issues with taking improper angles to the ball carrier. Jr. Phillip Dillard (32 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH) starts at middle linebacker, with TFr. Will Compton and Jr. Colton Koehler (2 tackles) backing him up. Dillard was injured last week, but is expected to be near 100% for Saturday's game. Sr. Cody Glenn (35 tackles, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at WLB after converting from RB in the off-season. He flies to the ball and is the team's top tackler this season. He is also struggling with an injury, still not 100%. So. Blake Lawrence (4 tackles) and TFr. Matt Holt (13 tackles) have seen action as Glenn's back-up, with Holt playing much of last week's game. Starting at buck is Sr. Tyler Wortman (4 tackles), with TFr. Sean Fisher and So. Latravis Washington serving as his back-ups. Don't expect to see Fisher or Compton this season as Nebraska hopes to red-shirt them this season. This unit lacks lateral speed which hurts the defense, especially when it comes to misdirection plays and spread offenses in general.
DB: Nebraska's secondary continues to give up a large number of big plays, struggling with coverage. Tackling has also been a problem, with a few of the big plays being sprung by a missed tackle or two. Sr. Armando Murillo (24 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PBU) is the starter at LCB, with So. Eric Hagg (24 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard backing him up. Murillo has been the best of the group, but made a coverage error on a 4th and 4 last week that resulted in a 47 yard play. Hagg has played well, just not with great consistency. So. Anthony West (11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Prince Amukamara (20 tackles, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) and So. Lance Thorell (19 tackles) serving as his back-ups. West and Amukamara have played fairly well, but have also each given up big plays this season. At safety, Jr. Larry Asante (30 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) starts at SS, with Jr. Major Culbert (6 tackles) backing him up. Asante is a good athlete and had his best game of the season last week against Texas Tech after really having a tough first 5 games. He had a chance for a possible game changing interception last week late in the 4th quarter of a tied ball game, but came up just short of bringing it in. Jr. Rickey Thenarse (6 tackles, 1 PBU) and Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (28 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) share the top spot at FS on the depth chart. Both have made mistakes in coverage this season, but Thenarse is the harder hitter and better athlete. Thenarse has struggled with injuries this season and having a hard time staying healthy.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units have been pretty solid in the kicking and return game. The punting and coverage units, however, have been very poor. The Huskers rank 117th in net punting (27.89 yd avg), 13th in punt returns (15.90 yd avg), and 18th in kickoff returns (24.63 yd avg).
K: So. Alex Henery (8 for 10, 48 yd lng) is a dependable kicker with a solid leg. He missed his first 50+ yard attempt last week, coming up just short on the 53 yarder into a stiff breeze. So. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs and possibly on extra-long field goals due to his leg strength. Kunalic has pushed 16 of 36 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 67.2 yard average.
P: Sr. Dan Titchener averages an poor 35.2 yards on his 16 punts with a long of 54. 4 of his 8 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He hasn't done nearly as well as he did last season when he averaged over 41 yards per punt. He was benched two weeks ago for Sr. Jake Wesch, who has now punted twice, averaging 47.5 yards, with a long of 55 that went for a touchback last week.
KR/PR: Nebraska's kick return team is made up of So. Niles Paul (20 returns, 27.7 yd avg, 1 TD, 85 yd long), Jr. Larry Asante (2 returns, 15.5 yd avg, 20 yd long), and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (3 returns, 10.7 yd avg, 12 yd long). At punt returner is So. Niles Paul (5 returns, 9.8 yd avg, 28 yd long) and Sr. Nate Swift (5 returns, 22 yard avg, 1 TD, 88 yd long). The return game has really been a bright spot for the Huskers this season.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have struggled with missed tackles at times this season, leading to a few big returns. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 24.4 yards on 22 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing an average of 11.1 yards on 8 punt returns.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Iowa State's Defense
Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz had an outstanding game last week, performing to near perfection for four quarters. His costly interception in overtime negated all of his good, at least in the wins and loss column, however, his great play should not be overlooked. He has struggled all season long with consistency from quarter to quarter and even drive to drive. Last week he threw just about every pass where it needed to be, completing 87.5% of his 42 passes in regulation. Those are incredible numbers for any quarterback at any level. He was able to move in and around the pocket well, and also rolling out to buy more time for his receivers to get open. If this is the Joe Ganz that will be appearing the rest of the season, Nebraska will be competitive in every outing. The Cyclone secondary as a whole is putting up decent numbers, ranking 6th in the Big XII in passing defense. Much of that apparent success though is due to teams running the ball effectively against them. While the Cyclone defense is in the upper half of the conference in passing yards given up, they are at the bottom when it comes to pass efficiency defense, which is a more relevant statistic to take a look at. Last week, the Cyclone defense allowed Baylor's mobile TFr. QB Robert Griffin to complete 87.5% of his passes for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns. Two weeks ago, Kansas QB Todd Reesing was able to complete just under 70% of his passes for over 300 yards and 3 scores as well. On the season, Iowa State is allowing opponents to complete 64.3% of their passes, while Joe Ganz is completing 69.5% of his attempts.
As for Ganz's receiving threats, a few fresh faces became an integral part of the offense last week, while a few old faces continued to be workhorses for the team. WR's Menelik Holt and Niles Paul are two of the receivers that came to life last week in Lubbock, TX. They each had their season high's for receptions and were able to help the offense control the clock. WR's Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, the Huskers' top pair of receivers, continue to be the top assets for Ganz to throw to. Iowa State is going to struggle to match-up with these Husker receivers. Physically speaking, the starting four DB's average at just under 5'11" while the top 4 receivers for the Huskers come in at nearly 6'3" each. Add in Nebraska TE Mike McNeill at 6'4", and Nebraska definitely has an advantage in the size category. The Cyclone secondary is pretty speedy, and will have to use that speed to overcome their height disadvantage Saturday.
Nebraska's offensive coordinator, Shawn Watson changed his approach last week and made the talented Nebraska running backs become a bigger part of the passing attack. Marlon Lucky nearly doubled his total season output last Saturday, showcasing his excellent hands and good speed in the open field. It is crucial for Nebraska's success to continue to feed their running backs the ball in a number of ways.
The Nebraska running game showed that it has some life in it last week against Texas Tech. While it wasn't a big day stat-wise on the ground, the Huskers were able to get a decent push up front which had been missing for weeks. Nebraska rushed for 114 yards last week after rushing for a very low combined 134 yards in their previous two games. Again, while it wasn't a huge day for the Huskers, it was something the Red Raider defense had to account for, allowing other areas of the offense to click at a higher rate. The Iowa State rush defense has been pretty solid as of late, and will try to shut down a possibly resurgent Nebraska run game. If the Cyclones want to win the game, they'll have to likely keep Nebraska under 2.5 yards per carry like Virginia Tech and Missouri did. They have been pretty decent against the run in the last two weeks, but on the season, it has been a problem for the Cyclones.
The Nebraska backfield is hoping their line continues to get better so that they can see more carries. While the 114 yards gained against Texas Tech was an improvement, these backs are capable of much more if given the chances by the line. One issue the backs have had this season, though, is an occasional problem in finding the hole and hitting it. There are usually a handful of run plays through the course of a game that if they hit the right hole it is a big gain, but missing the hole has resulted in a minimal pickup. Keep an eye on all three linebackers for Iowa State and how they attack the Huskers', as Head Coach Gene Chizik doesn't mind leaving his defensive backs all alone in coverage.
The Cyclones' defense is allowing their opponents to convert 38.9% of their third downs (67th nationally), and allowing them to score on 76% of their red-zone chances (10 touchdowns, 3 FGs) (39th nationally). Six games into the season, Nebraska is converting 46.1% of their third downs (25th nationally), and is scoring on 85% of red-zone opportunities (18 touchdowns, 4 FGs) (47th nationally).
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 311 lbs, while Iowa State's average defensive lineman is 6'2", 269 lbs. This would appear to be a big advantage for Nebraska, but Iowa State's defensive ends Rashawn Parker, Christopher Lyle, and Kurtis Taylor are very fast off the edge and like to create havoc in the backfield. It will be up to offensive tackles Jaivorio Burkes, Lydon Murtha, and Mike Smith to keep them from getting to QB Joe Ganz. Nebraska has given up 9 sacks and allowed 38 tackles for loss on the year, while Iowa State has picked up 11 sacks and 37 tackles for loss through six games this season. Iowa State's defensive front has been pretty stable against the run the last two weeks, allowing Kansas just 3 yards per rush and Baylor just 2.9 yards per rush. On the season, however, Nebraska averages 4.1 yards per carry while Iowa State is giving up 4.4 yards per carry. If the Husker offensive line plays well this week, it could be difficult for the Cyclones to stop the run or the pass on Saturday.
Iowa State's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Iowa State's offense hasn't been great this season, and like Nebraska's has struggled with consistencies across the board. QB Austen Arnaud has to get the Cyclones out to a fast start this week. Last week against Baylor, Iowa State gained just 17 yards on their first 10 plays through 3 possessions. Against Kansas two weeks ago, he led the Cyclones to 95 yards and 14 points on 17 plays in their first 3 possessions. In that Kansas game, however, Iowa State couldn't keep momentum going in their direction and ended up having very little success in the second and third quarters. Arnaud has an accurate arm and he will have to be on top of his game for his team to pull the upset. He has enough mobility to keep the defense interested in spying him, which is necessary for a QB that has rushed nearly has many times as the team's top RB. Arnaud has completed 60.4% of his passes this season, while Nebraska's defense is allowing opponents to complete 63.1% of their passes. Nebraska's number is as high as it is mostly because of playing two of the nations' best QB's the past two weeks in Missouri's Chase Daniel and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell.
Nebraska's pass defense has been lit up the past few weeks, struggling with two of the top spread offenses in the country. Missouri and Texas Tech combined to throw for 545 yards on just 39 completions, an average of 14 yards per catch. Missed tackles, poor angles, and blown coverages continue to be a big problem for them. They have given up far too many big plays, even against less than excellent offenses such as Virginia Tech. While the Iowa State offense isn't as prolific as Missouri or Texas Tech's, Arnaud has a capable arm that could also find a great deal of success against the Huskers if they aren't ready.
Iowa State doesn't possess many top talented receivers, but there are a good number of serviceable players with good hands and speed. The one thing that Iowa State is really lacking right now is a great deep threat. Instead, the Cyclones throw many more short passes than intermediate or long passes. WR R.J. Sumrall is the best weapon the offense has, and is one of the better receivers that Iowa State has ever had in Ames. Houston Jones and Darius Darks have been bright spots this season, while Marquis Hamilton and Sedrick Johnson need to be more involved in the offense with their 6'4" frames. Nebraska's secondary gets a boost this week getting FS Rickey Thenarse back, which should help out the defense with his speed and hard hitting.
Iowa State has some decent running backs, but they aren't one of the better groups in the conference. Alexander Robinson, J.J. Bass, and Jason Scales haven't had many opportunities the past two games, as the Cyclones chose a more pass oriented attack in each of those contests. None of the top three running backs for the Cyclones average more than 3.7 yards per carry, and between the three of them they average just 3.28 yards per rush. Iowa State will want to keep Nebraska's offensive possessions to a minimum, so it will be important for the run game to improve. Having back-up QB Phillip Bates leave the team a week ago will hurt the run game this season, but the Cyclones can't dwell on that. Arnaud can run the zone-read effectively, just not as well as Bates did.
Nebraska did a nice job in their first four games this season against the run. However, in the past two games against Missouri and Texas Tech, they have been shredded for 338 yards and 6 touchdowns on 57 carries. Missouri's RB Derrick Washington averaged 9.9 yards per carry while Texas Tech's Baron Batch averaged 9.7 against the struggling Nebraska defense. Some of the big plays given up were caused by too little attention paid to prolific passing offenses' run games, but also due to poor tackling and a lack of lateral speed. If Nebraska players are out of position, many just don't have the speed to react and get back into the play in time.
One of the Cyclones' biggest problems is on third down conversions. Passing has not been very good on third downs, making it difficult for them to pick up anything more than 3rd and short. Iowa State is converting a poor 32.9% of their third downs (96th nationally), with an 80% red-zone scoring average (13 TDs, 7 FGs) this season (67th nationally). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert a high 43.9% of their 3rd down attempts (98th nationally), and has allowed a fair 79% red-zone scoring percentage (15 TDs, 7 FGs) this season (50th nationally).
Up front, Iowa State's average offensive lineman is 6'4", 307 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'5", 283 lbs. Nebraska's defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Ty Steinkuhler are some of the better ones in the Big XII, especially getting in on tackles. They will help to work on keeping Arnaud in containment as well as slowing down the Cyclone run game. One match-up to watch will be left tackle Doug Dedrick against left end Zach Potter, two of most experience guys for either line going head-to-head. Iowa State is averaging 4 yards per carry, while Nebraska is allowing 3.9 yards per carry this season, similar numbers. The Cyclones have allowed 31 tackles for loss and just 6 sacks, while the Huskers have accumulated 39 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in six games this season.
Keys to the Game
1.) Cut down on penalties - Nebraska is 114th in penalties per game at 9, and 107th in penalty yards per game at 71.50 ypg. Many of these penalties have resulted in scoring drives for opponents and shutting down potential scoring drives for the Husker offense.
2.) Don't turn the ball over - the team continues to give up one or two turnovers each week that end up being very costly. Last week it was an overtime interception.
3.) Don't let last week's heartbreaker break concentration - can't allow for a down-game to occur at the tricky Jack Trice Stadium.
4.) Blocking must continue to improve - There were slight improvements last week, and they need to continue for the ground game to keep moving forward.
5.) Get some takeaways - Huskers haven't forced a turnover in the past three games. It is no coincidence that they are 0-3 in those games.
1.) Improve on 3rd downs - Has to be better than current 32.9% average if the Cyclones want to have a chance in this game.
2.) Get pressure on NU QB Joe Ganz - he makes mistakes under pressure, use solid pass rushers to disturb his rhythm.
3.) Cut down on penalties - Iowa State is 76th in penalties per game at 6.67, and 93rd in penalty yards per game at 62.50 ypg. Having 10 penalties against Baylor last week didn't help with the outcome of the game.
4.) Find a running game - someone has to step up and show they are the top tailback.
5.) Control the clock - try to shorten the game, keeping your defense off the field.
Special Teams: Even
CB - Anthony Blue - knee - out for season
DE - Barry Turner - leg - out for season
OG - Andy Christensen - illness - questionable
Saturday will be the 103rd all-time match-up between Nebraska and Iowa State. Nebraska has dominated the series 84-16-2 since first meeting in 1896. Nebraska has won the last three meetings, including last season's 35-17 victory. That may seem like a lopsided score, but Iowa State actually had more first downs (28 to 17) and total yards (415 to 369) than Nebraska, however, 4 turnovers hurt the Cyclones. At Jack Trice Stadium, the Cyclones have been tough to beat, winning 2 of the last three. Nebraska, however, did beat Iowa State 28-14 in the most recent game in Ames (2006).
Top to bottom on the depth charts, Nebraska has more talent than Iowa State. That's the way it usually has been over the years, but that hasn't stopped the Cyclones from playing well with the Huskers. This year the gap isn't maybe as wide as it was in years past, but it still might be too much for Iowa State to overcome. That is, if Nebraska comes to play Saturday with the determination they played with last week against Texas Tech.
One interesting thing on the Nebraska side is that the performance on Saturday has been more or less predicted by what head coach Bo Pelini says during the practice week in terms of how well the team is practicing. He wasn't happy with the practice leading up to the Missouri game and they were blown out. Last week, he was more positive about the week of practice and they nearly upset #7 Texas Tech. This week Pelini has been very pleased with practice, more so than any other week this season. Will that mean this is going to be their best performance of the season on Saturday? Another big question for Nebraska is which game was the real fluke, the non-competitive Missouri loss or the hard fought, near win against Texas Tech last week. We should start finding out these answers on Saturday.
Neither team is having much fun right now, with Nebraska on a 3 game losing streak and Iowa State in the middle of a 4 game winless skid. This is pretty close to a "must-win" for both teams, and someone's streak will end Saturday. If Iowa State pulls the upset, it will be the first time since 1945 that Nebraska will have lost their first three conference games. That's an incredible amount of time and something that dates back to well before Nebraska became a football powerhouse in the 1960's. The Huskers need the win to restore some confidence back into the team with half of the season left to go. A loss for Iowa State all but eliminates them from having a shot at making 6 wins for a bowl game, having to finish 4-1 to get there.
The real problem for Iowa State in this game is going to be their defense. Nebraska's offense made some changes last week and started moving the ball with better consistency against Texas Tech. Iowa State spent last week getting burned badly by Baylor, an offense that doesn't have nearly as many weapons as Nebraska has. If Nebraska's offense is clicking like they should be, there will be a lot of pressure on Austen Arnaud to match score for score. Given how Iowa State's offense has played against some pretty mediocre defenses this season, it's hard to see them matching each point the Huskers put out.
The Cyclones need to start fast, get momentum going on their side, keep the crowd into it and not let up. Nebraska will have to just keep going at a good clip and not allow the windy Jack Trice conditions or the natural grass turf to slow them down. Iowa State will be ready to play and will play hard for four quarters, but it won't be enough. Nebraska's offense has too many weapons for the struggling Cyclone defense to shut down. Because of Nebraska's own defensive struggles and penalty woes, it should be a pretty close game throughout, with Nebraska putting it away late. Nebraska by one to two touchdowns.
Nebraska - 31
Iowa State - 20