Jayhawks in Corn Country

It's been a tale of two Nebraska Cornhusker teams this year. Nebraska (5-4, 2-3) blew out Iowa State in Ames and beat a Baylor team that put a scare into Missouri by double-digits. The ‘Huskers also came within a breath of beating undefeated Texas Tech in Lubbock, pushing that game into overtime. But that same team lost to Virginia Tech in Lincoln and was blown out by Missouri and Oklahoma.

The offense has been strong, averaging 33 points and 443 yards per game, but has turned the ball over too many times. At the helm is quarterback Joe Ganz (6-1 210), who has quietly put together a nice year. Often forgotten about when talking about Big 12 quarterbacks, the senior is completing close to 69 percent of his passes, boasts a two-to-one touchdown to interception ratio and averages close to 280 yards passing per game. He’s most at home when he can get into a rhythm and fling the ball around the lot, though he can also scare defenses with his legs and make plays on the run. Occasionally though, he tries to do too much.

Marlon Lucky (6-0 215) will likely be back at running back this week after missing time because of injury. When healthy, he’s among the best and most versatile backs in the conference. Lucky has run for 463 yards and seven touchdowns on the year, while catching 20 passes for 272 yards. The Cornhuskers have depth beyond Lucky at running back – sophomore Ray Helu Jr. (6-0 215) would start for a lot of teams. Like Lucky, he’s a guy who can hurt a team running the ball or catching passes out of the backfield. Quentin Castille (6-1 245) offers a big, change-of-pace back who is strong in short-yardage situations. He has four rushing touchdowns on the year. Thomas Lawson (6-0 250) is the fullback when the Cornhuskers use one.

Nate Swift (6-2 200) has been Nebraska’s most reliable receiver, hauling in 47 passes for 690 yards and seven touchdowns. Todd Peterson (6-4 215) isn’t far behind with 45 catches for 527 yards and two touchdowns, while Niles Paul (6-1 210) gives the Cornhuskers another speedy option. Nebraska will also likely get a boost this week with the return of Menelik Holt (6-4 220) from injury. Tight end Mike McNeill serves as a nice safety valve.

Nebraska’s offensive line has played well at times, allowing just 14 sacks and paving the way for Cornhusker backs to average 4.5 yards per carry. The interior of the offensive line is strong, with right guard Matt Slauson (6-5 320), center Jacob Hickman (6-4 290) and left guard Keith Williams (6-5 305). Mike Smith (6-6 285) is the man at left tackle while usual starter Lydon Murtha (6-7 315) will miss the game to injuries. Into his place will step Marcel Jones (6-7 310), a redshirt freshman.

Defensively, the Cornhuskers have struggled to get to the quarterback at times, collecting just 16 sacks. Zach Potter (6-7 285) may be the best player on the defensive line. He’s stout against the run and has nine tackles for loss, including three sacks. Ndamukong Suh (6-4 300) can also cause problems. The active nose tackle has 48 tackles, including eight in the backfield. Ty Steinkuhler (6-3 280) is a solid player at defensive tackle, while sophomore defensive end Pierre Allen (6-5 265) has filled in nicely for injured defensive end Barry Turner.

The Cornhuskers will be without their best linebacker in Phillip Dillard, and may replace him in the middle with a true freshman in athletic Will Compton (6-2 230). Cody Glenn (6-0 235) has seen a smooth transition from a crowded backfield to the Will linebacker spot. He has 47 tackles, including six for loss on the year. Tyler Wortman (6-3 236) should get the start at Buck linebacker. Overall the unit has some talent, but has had to fight through injuries.

The defensive backs have been shaky. Armando Murillo (6-0 190) and Anthony West (6-0 200) are solid at best at cornerback, while the safeties have struggled in their coverage assignments. Strong safety Larry Asante (6-1 210) leads the team with 55 tackles, while free safety Matt O’Hanlon (5-11 195) has 38. Neither has made a lot of plays in the passing game.

Alex Henery has been a decent kicker, hitting on nine of 12 field goals. He has some range as well – Henery is 5-5 on field goals between 40 and 49 yards. Punter Dan Titchener averages 39 yards per punt. Both Paul, at kick returner, and Swift, at punt returner, give the Cornhuskers big-play potential in the return game.

The Cornhuskers have the talent to make a run in the Big 12 North, and they aren’t quite out of it just yet. But to take home the title, they’ll have to find some consistency.

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