Game Preview: Nebraska hosts South Dakota St

Check out our game preview as the Huskers finish non-conference play as they host the South Dakota State JackRabbits.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
South Dakota State Jackrabbits vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

--by Vince Campisi

September 25th, 2010
6:10 PM CDT
Memorial Stadium
Lincoln, NE
Television Coverage: FSN PPV

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (0 - 2) (0 - 1)
6 (AP)/#7 (C)
NEBRASKA (3 - 0) (0 - 0)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for South Dakota State vs. Nebraska

Latest Line
Opening: Nebraska by 38.
Current: Nebraska by 44.


South Dakota State
09/11/10 - at. Delaware - L 3-26
09/18/10 - vs. Illinois State - L 14-24
09/25/10 - at. Nebraska
10/02/10 - at. Northern Iowa
10/09/10 - vs. Western Illinois
10/16/10 - at. Southern Illinois
10/23/10 - vs. Youngstown State
10/30/10 - at. Indiana State
11/06/10 - vs. Missouri State
11/13/10 - at. North Dakota State
11/20/10 - vs. North Dakota

09/04/10 - vs. Western Kentucky - W 49-10
09/11/10 - vs. Idaho - W 38-17
09/18/10 - at. Washington - W 56-21
09/25/10 - vs. South Dakota State
10/07/10 - at. Kansas State
10/16/10 - vs. Texas
10/23/10 - at. Oklahoma State
10/30/10 - vs. Missouri
11/06/10 - at. Iowa State
11/13/10 - vs. Kansas
11/20/10 - at. Texas A&M
11/26/10 - vs. Colorado

Historically Speaking

Saturday will mark the second ever meeting between South Dakota State and Nebraska.  Nebraska holds a 1-0 record over the Jackrabbits, winning their 1963 match-up 58-7.  The Huskers are 2-0 against all current Missouri Valley Conference football members, most recently defeating Western Illinois 56-17 in 2004.  South Dakota State is currently 0-7 against Big XII conference members, with their last meeting coming in a 44-17 loss to Iowa State in 2008.

Player Breakdowns


South Dakota State Offense

South Dakota State's offense hasn't had many positives this season.  Putting together scoring drives has been rare through two games, and when the team moves into scoring position, has found ways to keep themselves off the board with missed field goals, turnovers, and penalties.  Third down conversions have also been a big problem, converting on just 21.43% (109th out of 117 FCS teams).  The Jackrabbits are currently ranked 78th nationally in total offense (312.00 ypg), 31st in passing (235.00 ypg), 103rd in passing efficiency (91.68 rating), 101st in rushing (77.00 ypg), 109th in scoring offense (8.50 ppg), 97th in interceptions thrown (5), 14th in fumbles lost (1), and 78th in giveaways (6) at the FCS level.  

QB: Starting at quarterback for the Jackrabbits is So. Thomas O'Brien (47 of 87, 470 yds, 1 TD, 5 INTs).  He is a fair QB at times, but is very inconsistent and hasn't been able to get his team moving downfield.  He doesn't have a great arm, with a decent short to intermediate game and mediocre deep ball.  He seems to panic under pressure, rushing a bad throw.  O'Brien had a particularly rough season opener against Delaware, showing bad decision making abilities, often throwing into double and triple coverage.  He also often throws errant passes, a number of them getting picked off.  He led two consecutive great drives in the fourth quarter last week against Illinois State, going for a combined 10 of 12 for 110 yards, with both drives ending with touchdowns.  He had an opportunity to get his team back in the game, but threw a pick on the following drive that all but ended their chances.  O'Brien wasn't the reason the Jackrabbits lost the game, but certainly could have played better in the first three quarters.  O'Brien is not really a threat to run, although he does scramble around some, and has lost 24 yards on 3 sacks this season.  Behind O'Brien are Jr. Jordan Thomas and TFr. Austin Sumner.  

RB: The Jackrabbits' running game is led by Sr. Kyle Minett (32 carries, 152 yds), one of the best in South Dakota State history.  He was named a pre-season third team FCS All-American and is also on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award, which is given to the top offensive player in the FCS.  He's a tough runner that breaks a lot of tackles.  He doesn't have elite speed, but has good acceleration and enough speed to run away from a good percentage of FCS defenders.  A new wrinkle to the offense this year has been the "flash" formation, which bears a striking resemblance to the "wildcat".  In the "flash", Minett assumes the role of the QB and runs a speed option out of it.  So far, the play has been successful, with some big gains picked up in the first two games.  Last week against Illinois State, he picked up 120 yards on 18 carries, nearly 7 yards per attempt.  Backs in the reserve rotation include Sr. Tyler Duffy (5 carries, 22 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Dominique Clare, and RFr. Mason Winterboer.  Duffy is similar to Minett, a hard running, tough back that fights for yards after contact.  He does appear to be a half a step slower than Minett, however, but does show a decent burst through the hole.  The backs are used occasionally in the passing game, with Minett (7 catches, 39 yds) and Duffy (2 catches, 28 yds) each getting involved this season.  Both have good hands coming out of the backfield.  Minett caught a 2-point conversion pass last week against Illinois State.

WR/TE: The Jackrabbits' receiving corps has been a mixed bag this year.  There's some decent talent here, but most of the receivers are struggling with dropped passes.  Starting at the receiver spots are So. Tyrel Kool (12 catches, 142 yds) at "X", So. Aaron Rollin (8 catches, 88 yds) at "Z", and Sr. Matt Hylland (3 catches, 29 yds) at "W".  Kool has shown to be a versatile receiver.  He has the hands to be a quality possession receiver, yet also has the speed to stretch the field.  After picking up 9 catches in the opener, Kool was held to just 3 grabs last week.  Rollin was the team's leading receiver last week, gaining 74 yards on 6 catches, many of the yards picked up after the catch.  Hylland has really struggled with catching the football this season.  He dropped a critical pass on 3rd down of the opening drive last week at the 15 yard line, the Jackrabbits came away without any points on what was a promising drive.  He had a bobbled ball a little later in the game, bobbling it right into the defender's hands for an interception.  Reserves in the rotation at receiver include RFr. Brandon Hubert (7 catches, 63 yds, 1 TD), RFr. Trevor Tiefenthaler (4 catches, 59 yds), Jr. Brad Iverson, Sr. Justin Mitchell, and Jr. Brandon Gant.  Hubert looks like he is going to be a good receiver for the Jackrabbits, showing good hands and an ability to get open.  He has the team's only receiving touchdown this season.  Tiefenthaler isn't a speedster, but is a pretty consistent possession receiver.  Most of his catches came on a late drive against Delaware.  At tight end is Sr. Colin Cochart (4 catches, 22 yds), with Sr. Alex Beyer backing him up.  Cochart won't outrun many defenses, but he is a good blocker that can be counted on in the passing game as well.

OL: South Dakota State's offensive line has struggled to replace 3 starters from last year's line.  They have been unable to get the same consistent push up-front that they got last season.  Starting at tackle is RFr. Bryan Witzmann (6'7", 300 lbs) on the left and So. Jon Fick (6'4", 310 lbs) on the right.  Fick is one of the two returning starters and is the strongest and one of the more athletic of the men on the line.  He holds offensive lineman records at SDSU for the power clean, bench press, and standing long jump.  Witzmann has been fair in his first two starts, but does play a little high.  It will be a much tougher assignment this week for the young lineman, against Nebraska's defensive ends.  The top reserves at tackle are Jr. Alex Dominguez (6'4", 290 lbs), So. Tyler Luethje (6'4", 285 lbs), and RFr. Josh Kage (6'4", 290 lbs).  Starting at guard is Sr. Jacob Ludemann (6'6", 315 lbs) on the left and Jr. Zach Buchner (6'4", 300 lbs) on the right.  Ludemann is an experienced lineman that has been granted a sixth year of eligibility after a series of injuries earlier in his career.  Buchner and Ludemann have opened a few holes up in the running game in the first two games, but it has been spotty, with little consistency.  Top back-ups at guard include So. Alex Olinger (6'3", 290 lbs) and RFr. Alex Parker (6'5", 300 lbs).  Starting at center is Sr. Ryan McKnight (6'1", 295 lbs), with So. Will Castle (6'2", 315 lbs) backing him up.  McKnight is the other of the two returning starters from a season ago, and has some lofty expectations, being named a pre-season first team FCS All-American this fall.  

South Dakota State Defense

South Dakota State's defense has not gotten off to a very good start this season.  They have shown to be an overall soft defense, not doing a very good job in coverage and missing many tackles.  They also have not looked particularly fast against their early competition.  The Jackrabbits are currently ranked 72nd nationally in total defense (382.00 ypg), 23rd in pass defense (160.00 ypg), 66th in pass efficiency defense (131.11 rating), 104th in rush defense (222.00 ypg), 52nd in scoring defense (25.00 ppg), 105th in interceptions forced (0), 77th in fumbles recovered (1), and 109th in total takeaways (1) at the FCS level.  

DL: The Jackrabbits' defensive line has had difficulty getting off their blocks this season.  Opposing offensive lines have had their way with SDSU's defensive front, often pushing the Jacks around at will.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Zacharia Bowers (6 tackles) at left end and Jr. Jake Steffen (7 tackles, 2 PBU) at right end.  Steffen is tied for second among returning sack leaders with three, but has been unable to create much in the backfield in the first two games this season.  Steffen showed good hands a year ago, picking off a pair of passes, very good from the defensive end spot.  This season, he is tied for team best in passes broken up (2), as he does a good job of getting his hands up into throwing lanes.  Bowers is a JUCO transfer that has been easily kept at bay by opposing offensive tackles thus far.  Top reserves at end include Sr. Tony Thompson (5 tackles) and Jr. Eric Wood (5 tackles).  Thompson and Wood come off the bench often to get a good share of snaps.  Sr. Ross Basham (6 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 BK) starts at nose tackle, with So. Andy Mink (10 tackles) performing back-up duties.  Basham had a solid 2009 campaign for the Jacks, and has started 2010 off fairly well.  He picked up a blocked field goal in the season opener against Delaware, and has notched the defensive line's only quarterback hurry.  Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. Brian Fischer (14 tackles, 1 sack), with RFr. Chase Douglas (3 tackles) backing him up.  Fischer has looked like the best player on the line so far.  Showing good strength, he has powered over a few opposing linemen, and picked up a nice sack last week against Illinois State.  He's been able to get some penetration into the backfield, has good footwork, but isn't terribly fast, having trouble recovering from overpursuit.   

LB: The Jackrabbits' linebacking corps has been struggling with inexperience, only returning one starter from last season.  As a unit, they lack the lateral speed to track down fast ball carriers.  Starting at middle linebacker is Jr. Mike Lien (11 tackles), with So. Chris Tracy (7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR) backing him up.  Lien has played little more than special teams before this season, and has made some first-year starter mistakes.  Most of his issues come in pass coverage, having difficulty keeping up with the opposing receiver.  He should get better as the season goes along, but for now, it is a weakness in his game.  He's been fairly solid against the run, however, wrapping up well.  At weakside linebacker is Jr. Dirk Kool (7 tackles), while So. Ross Shafrath (1 tackle) and RFr. Doug Peete back him up.  Kool has settled in at the weakside after spending the majority of his career playing special teams.  Peete is one of the faster linebackers on the team, and comes in for blitzing situations.  Sr. Derek Domino (21 tackles, 1 PBU) starts at strongside linebacker, with Jr. Erich Feller (4 tackles, 2 PBU) backing him up.  Domino is the only returning starter in the bunch, and was named a pre-season second-team FCS All-American.  He was all over the field last season with a team-high 100 tackles.  He is on pace to eclipse that number this season with 21 stops in 2 games.  Domino has very good hands and had 5 interceptions last season, 2 of which were returned for touchdowns.  Feller has broken up 2 passes this season, but hasn't been great in coverage.  He's a good tackler, but often will take poor angles to the ball carrier.  Last week, a bad angle by Feller on an opposing receiver after a catch resulted in a touchdown for Illinois State.

DB: The Jackrabbits' defensive backfield has been fair this season, but is allowing opponents to complete 62% of their passes and have yet to intercept a pass.  With three returning starters from a year ago in the two-deep, this should be the top unit of the defense this year.  There would have been four returning starters, however, Sr. Conrad Kjerstad (81 tackles, 5 INTs, 1 FR, 6 PBU in 2009), a very talented SS, decided to end his career due to a degenerative spinal condition that worsened over the summer and fall months.  Kjerstad was the best player in the secondary a season ago, so his loss is a big one.  Starting at cornerback is Jr. Rodkem Matthews (3 tackles) at left corner and Sr. Cole Brodie (10 tackles, 1 PBU) at right corner.  Matthews' side of the field hasn't been targeted much in the first two games, and hasn't had to do much.  He's a good athlete that has had plenty of playing experience despite only starting a handful of games.  Brodie has been a solid corner over the past couple of seasons, and a dependable special teams performer.  Players in the reserve rotation include Sr. General Parnell (1 tackle), Jr. Darryl Jackson (3 tackles), and RFr. Winston Wright (3 tackles).  Parnell was a starter last year, but suffered an injury and missed the final five games.  He's the shortest in the secondary at 5'9", but has great jumping ability.  Starting at strong safety is Jr. Corey Jeske (12 tackles), with So. Skyler Luxa (7 tackles) backing him up.  Jeske is replacing Kjerstad, a tall task, but has performed admirably thus far.  Luxa missed a key tackle last week against Illinois State on a receiver that went for a touchdown.  So. Anthony Wise (23 tackles) starts at free safety, with So. Bo Helm (3 tackles) serving as the top back-up.  Wise leads the team with 23 stops, 16 of which came in the opener against the Blue Hens of Delaware.  Helm whiffed trying to tackle a receiver that went in for a touchdown just before halftime last week against Illinois State.

South Dakota State Special Teams

South Dakota State's special teams units have been fair this season, outside of some really poor field goal kicking.  The Jackrabbits currently rank 2nd in net punting (44.20 yd avg), 68th in kickoff returns (20.10 yd avg), 44th in punt returns (8.83 yd avg), 46th in kickoff coverage (19.80 yd avg), and 9th in punt coverage (2.00 yd avg).  

K: Jr. Kyle Harris has made just 1 of his 5 field goal attempts (1 blocked) with a long of 20 this season.  His misses have come from 44, 51, 35, and 34, respectively.  Last week against Illinois State, Harris missed all 3 of his attempts, with 1 being blocked.  Harris is also the kickoff specialist, and has not pushed any of his 5 kickoffs for a touchback, with a 65.6 yard average, kicking between the 4 and 5 yard line.  

P: Sr. Dean Priddy has a pretty solid leg and has averaged 45.4 yards on his 8 punts with a long of 72 this season.  3 of his 8 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  His 45.4 yard average is good enough for 3rd best in the FCS.  He has the ability to be a key weapon for the Jackrabbits this year in terms of flipping the field.  

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Jackrabbits consists of Sr. Cole Brodie (7 kick returns, 20.7 yd avg, 41 yd long) and Jr. Dominique Clare (3 kick returns, 18.7 yd avg, 21 yd long).  Sr. Cole Brodie (6 punt returns, 8.8 yd avg, 22 yd long) works as the top punt return man.  Brodie is not a particularly flashy returner, but has good field vision and finds lanes from his blockers.  

Coverage: The Jackrabbits' kick and punt coverage units have .  Through two games, the kick coverage unit has allowed an average of 19.8 yards on 5 kickoff return attempts with a long of 37.  The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 2.0 yards on 4 punt return attempts with a long of 9.  RFr. Brandon Hubert forced a fumble on the 11 yard line in punt coverage against Delaware in the season opener.  The Jackrabbits recovered the fumble and converted it into 3 points, the only scoring of the day for SDSU.


Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's spread offense has been full of big plays in the first three games of the season.  The offense's speed has been impressive, especially in the backfield.  They haven't played against an elite defense yet to be fully tested, however, and they won't be playing one this week either.  Nebraska currently ranks 8th nationally in total offense (513.33 ypg), 95th in passing (169.33 ypg), 24th in pass efficiency (156.04 rating), 4th in rushing (344.00 ypg), 5th in scoring offense (47.67 ppg), 14th in interceptions thrown (1), 117th in fumbles lost (6), and 88th in giveaways (7).  

QB: RFr. Taylor Martinez (28 for 43, 242 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) starts for the Huskers, although the Nebraska coaches still list the top three QBs as "OR's".  Martinez is the fastest of the QB's and is an explosive playmaker on the ground, rushing the ball 40 times for 421 yards and 8 touchdowns (lost 41 yards sacks) this season.  He carried the ball 19 times last week, which is more than he probably should on a weekly basis.  He needs to trust his running backs more in the zone-read option plays instead of trying to make every play himself.  Martinez hasn't thrown too much this season, and just finally got his first career touchdown pass last week.  He needs to show a more consistent arm, though, because he can be quite erratic.  Part of this problem is his footwork in the pocket.  He actually tripped over his own feet in the backfield a time or two against Washington last week.  He'll also run into problems where he holds onto the ball a little too long in the pocket and takes unnecessary sacks.  He has a very strong arm with most of his throws come out at a high velocity, however, he rarely throws deep.  He performed very well in his first road test last week at Washington, a good sign from the freshman.  So. Cody Green (6 for 7, 71 yds, 1 TD) is the second option, and after looking excellent in the season opener, has struggled to hold onto the football the past two games, fumbling three times (lost 2).  He has carried the ball 9 times for 31 yards this season.  Green has all the tools to be a very good quarterback for Nebraska, including a confident and accurate arm, but lacks the extra burst of speed that Martinez possesses.  Sr. Zac Lee (3 for 4, 45 yds), last year's starter, is now the third QB in the depth chart.  He has a strong arm, and when he has good protection, can be successful.  Lee has decent speed and has rushed for 21 yards on 3 attempts this season.  Lee looked great against Nebraska's Sun Belt Conference opposition early last year, but his game fell off the map as soon as they started facing teams with quality defenses.  

RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is deep and talented.  They are led by Sr. Roy Helu Jr. (24 carries, 246 yds, 4 TDs).  Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability.  He can beat defenders by running around, by, and over them.  He has transformed himself into a complete back in his time at Nebraska.  The top back-up to Helu Jr. is So. Rex Burkhead (27 carries, 238 yds, 2 TDs), an impressive young back that does a very nice job running between the tackles.  He hits the hole quickly and breaks tackles well.  He also has the speed to pick up chunks of yards running to the outside.  As his vision continues to improve, he'll only get more dangerous to defend.  The duo of Helu Jr. and Burkhead is one of the best in the Big XII, and each went over 100 yards last week against Washington.  So. Dontrayevous Robinson (10 carries, 7 yds) is the third option at RB.  Last season, he showed a lot of potential in his limited carries, running with a good amount of power and decent quickness.  He has looked sluggish this season, though, and hasn't been able to find many running lanes.  He really isn't quick enough to produce in the spread offense sets and is much better in an I-form, pro set, or ace formation.  Jr. Austin Jones (7 carries, 40 yds, 1 TD), So. Lester Ward (1 carry, 2 yds), and So. Collins Okafor (1 carry, 2 yds) are backs that will likely only see action in blow outs or due to injury.  In the passing game, Helu Jr. and Burkhead (5 catches, 88 yds) could be big contributors this season, but with Nebraska's offense becoming less pass oriented, they'll likely see fewer opportunities than in recent years past.  At fullback, Jr. Tyler Legate is the top guy but hasn't really seen much time on the field.  He's a good blocker, but hasn't had many opportunities to show what he can do with the ball in his hands.  Jr. Ryan Hill (1 catch, 11 yds) is the top back-up.  A former TE, his hands can be an asset for Nebraska at the FB position.

WR/TE: Nebraska's receivers, while talented, have had their share of struggles with consistency and route running.  The unit has been plagued with dropped passes as well as lazily run routes.  There is good potential in the group and they should show improvement over last season.  Starting at "Z" is Sr. Niles Paul (10 catches, 144 yds, 1 TD).  He has a great combination of size, speed, and quickness  He is very inconsistent, though, as it seems for every great catch he makes, he'll drop just as many easy ones.  He also has fumbling problems and concentration issues.  Starting at "X" is Jr. Brandon Kinnie (14 catches, 181 yds).  Kinnie has great measurables (6'3, 220 lbs) and just might be Nebraska's best receiver.  He is also a physical receiver, throwing some big blocks to open big runs downfield.  Last week against Washington, Kinnie had an outstanding game, catching 5 balls for 105 yards, with most of the yardage coming after the catch.  Sr. Mike McNeill (3 catches, 41 yds, 1 TD) is the top receiver in the slot this year after switching from tight end.  McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone.  He got his first touchdown of the season last week on the opening drive for the Huskers.  Top reserves at receiver include TFr. Quincy Enunwa (1 catch, 10 yds), So. Khiry Cooper, Sr. Will Henry (1 catch, 24 yds), and So. Tim Marlowe.  Enunwa shined in Fall camp and saw his first catch in the second half of the season opener.  Cooper has plenty of upside, but needs to be more physical and work to get open.  Henry is a big body (6'5") but has yet to make an impact in his career.  Nebraska's top TE's are So. Ben Cotton (1 catch, 5 yds) and So. Kyler Reed (1 catch, 4 yds).  A possible season ending back injury to Sr. Dreu Young could force McNeill back to tight end if Cotton and Reed can't get the job done.

OL: Nebraska's offensive line played one of their best games in years last week against Washington.  They really did a great job of taking on the defenders and imposing their will on them.  By the beginning of the third quarter, they had completely worn down the Huskies' front seven and were opening up huge holes for the running backs.  The splits on the line this season are a bit wider than in years past, as Nebraska has transformed into more of a spread team.  This has helped give some room to run for the backs, as the line paved the way for three Huskers (Martinez, Helu Jr., and Burkhead) to rush for 100+ yards each.  Starting at left tackle could be either RFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) or Jr. Jermarcus Hardrick (6'7", 320 lbs).  Both have looked pretty good through three games, with Sirles starting both games and Hardrick coming off the bench.  Sirles has picked up the offense quickly, and should turn into a solid lineman, while Hardrick is a JUCO transfer that has the potential to be a force.  Sirles has looked good playing at both left and right tackle this year.  Jr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 315 lbs) and Sr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 310 lbs) are expected to split time at right tackle this season.  Marcel has the potential to be a rock on the right side, however, he has shown a difficulty against athletic defensive ends.  He is currently struggling with injury, and will sit out this week.  D.J. doesn't have great torque in his hips and also will get beat often by athletic linemen.  Starting at left guard is Sr. Keith Williams (6'5", 310 lbs), while Sr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 305 lbs) starts at right guard.  Williams is a solid blocker that has had trouble staying healthy during his career.  He does very well as the pulling guard, plowing through his man and opening holes.  Henry is a player known for his strength and his nasty streak, which often gets the better of him, drawing flags.  So. Brandon Thompson (6'6", 290 lbs) and RFr. Brent Qvale (6'7", 320 lbs), and TFr. Andrew Rodriguez (6'6", 325 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard.  Jr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Cole Pensick (6'2", 270 lbs) backing him up.  Caputo isn't a prototypically sized center, but he has very good technique and use of leverage.  He has been outstanding so far in his first season as a starter.  

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's defense can again be referred to as the "Blackshirts", as the first-team black practice jerseys were handed out this week.  The Blackshirts shut down Washington QB Jake Locker last week, holding him to an unbelievable 4/20 completion rate.  There is room to improve against the run (giving up 44.86 more yards on the ground vs. last season), but few defenses in the nation are as good against the pass.  The Huskers are currently ranked 22nd nationally in total defense (274.67 ypg), 16th in pass defense (136.67 ypg), 4th in pass efficiency defense (80.69 rating), 55th in rush defense (138.00 ypg), 24th in scoring defense (16.00 ppg), 2nd in interceptions (8), 53rd in fumbles recovered (2), and 8th in total takeaways (10).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line play were solid last week against Washington, but not outstanding.  They didn't make many plays behind the line of scrimmage, but they did a nice job of keeping Husky QB Jake Locker in the pocket for as long as possible.  The group is talented, but will just need to show more consistency snap to snap if they want to get close to the numbers from a year ago.  The depth is questionable at this point, as there is a noticeable drop-off when the reserves are in the game.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Pierre Allen (14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 4 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (9 tackles, 3 QBH) on the left.  Allen is a great athlete that does well against the run and also as a pass rusher.  He registered a team high 4 quarterback hurries against Washington last week.  Meredith has a good first step and enough strength to power by opposing tackles.  So. Josh Williams (5 tackles, 1 FF) and RFr. Jason Ankrah are the top reserves at defensive end.  Both were outstanding high school players, and each possesses excellent athleticism and the ability to become great pass rushers.  Williams appears to be a step ahead of Ankrah at this point.  Jr. Jared Crick (16 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Thaddeus Randle (4 tackles, 1 QBH) providing back-up.  Crick turned into a big time defensive tackle last season and should compete for All-American honors this season.  He's big, strong, and has good speed to get into the backfield and cause problems for opposing offenses.  Randle has shown a great motor in camp, and has a good first step.  Starting at nose tackle is So. Baker Steinkuhler (8 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 QBH), with Jr. Terrence Moore (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 FR) backing him up.  It was a very close race throughout camp and both will see the field a lot.  Steinkuhler has had some trouble getting off his blocks early this season, but is getting better at shedding his blocker.

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is much thinner than it should be, with pre-season injuries to expected starters Sean Fisher and Will Compton.  Fisher is out for the year, while Compton should be back sometime mid-season.  With those losses, it thrust a couple of guys into starting roles that may not have been 100% ready.  After three games, they are still looking for the right duo that can get everyone on the same page on defense every play.  The group continues to improve week by week, but still has issues with misreading the play and hitting the wrong gap.  This will get better as the unit gets more experience.  Starting at middle linebacker is So. Eric Martin (12 tackles), with So. Alonzo Whaley (6 tackles) backing him up.  Martin is a physical linebacker that hits like a freight train, but is still very much learning the position after playing mostly special teams up to this point.  Whaley started the opener but struggled with communication and has worked as Martin's back-up since.  Jr. Lavonte David (25 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at weakside linebacker, with Jr. Matt May (3 tackles) and Sr. Thomas Grove (1 tackle) proving back-up.  David is a JUCO transfer that didn't arrive in Lincoln until the Summer, yet has quickly shown himself to be a player.  He leads the team in tackles after three games, and is going to be a big time playmaker for the defense as he continues to learn the system.  Nebraska is calling their hybrid strongside linebacker/defensive back the "Peso", and starting at that spot is Sr. Eric Hagg (5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 3 PBU), with Jr. Austin Cassidy (3 tackles) backing him up.  Hagg is a great athlete and gets into the backfield quickly on the blitz and making tackles in the open field.  He was named a co-Big XII defensive player of the week after the Washington game last weekend after posting an interception and 2 passes broken up.  After struggling with coverage earlier in his career, it appears he is finally coming into his own.   

DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield is one of the best in the nation, especially on the edges.  The safety sports are somewhat of a concern, but their play as of late is making the entire secondary a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.  This group as a whole spends a lot of time watching film and studying their opposing receivers to the point that they know every route they'll run.  This has resulted in them jumping many routes, picking up 8 interceptions and returning 3 for scores in just 3 games.  Sr. Prince Amukamara (13 tackles, 4 PBU) starts at LCB, with TFr. Ciante Evans (2 tackles) as the top reserve.  Amukamara is a great athlete and an outstanding cover corner.  He is one of the nation's best corners, making it tough on opposing receivers and forcing opposing offenses to game plan around him.  Evans has quickly worked his way onto the field, but struggled two weeks ago against Idaho, getting beat for a late fourth quarter touchdown.  Jr. Alfonzo Dennard (9 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) is the starting RCB and has shown to be a star in his own right across from Amukamara.  He's a physical corner that makes plays on the football and is a very solid tackler.  He took his second career interception last week for a touchdown, erasing any and all hopes of a Washington come back.  Behind Dennard are So. Antonio Bell and RFr. Dijon Washington.  Starting at free safety is Sr. Rickey Thenarse (15 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF), with So. P.J. Smith (12 tackles, 2 INTs) battling him for that starting spot.  Thenarse missed most of last season with a knee injury and brings back his hardnosed, big hitting ability back for his senior year.  He is improving in pass coverage and always makes ball carriers pay with monster hits.  Smith played sparingly last season and looked like a redshirt-Freshman, raw.  Through three games this year, he is tied with Dennard for the team lead with two interceptions.  At strong safety is Sr. Dejon Gomes (21 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with Sr. Anthony West (3 tackles, 1 INT) being his top back-up.  Gomes is solid in coverage, has great ball-hawking ability, but will need to be better at taking down physical running backs.  Gomes works as Nebraska's top dime back and will shift there when the play calls for it.  West is a former starter at corner, but fell down the depth chart due to lackluster play.  He has only been average in his career, and has made a switch to safety for his senior season.    

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams units are some of the best in the nation this season.  They have some of the best kickers in the nation, and the return men have the ability to break free on any given return.  The Huskers are currently ranked 67th in net punting (36.10 yd avg), 16th in kickoff returns (27.75 yd avg), 24th in punt returns (12.89 yd avg), 62nd in kickoff coverage (20.92 yd avg), and 62nd in punt coverage (8.75 yd avg).

K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  This season, he is 1 for 1, kicking in a 24 yarder against Idaho.  He has made 36 of his last 37 kicks from under 50 yards.  Sr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and has been the best kickoff specialist in the nation throughout his four year career.  Kunalic has pushed 10 of 24 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 69.1 yard average, kicking between the goal line and 1 yard line.  He kicked one out of bounds last week, just the second time in his career to make that mistake.

P: Sr. Alex Henery is averaging 41.6 yards on his 10 punts with a long of 62 this season.  5 of his 10 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  He added punting duties to his repertoire last season, and has been a key weapon for the Huskers.  When directional punting or attempting to get the ball downed inside the 10, he is exceptional.

KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of So. Tim Marlowe (3 kick returns, 32 yd avg, 42 yd long) and Jr. Brandon Kinnie (3 kick returns, 29.7 yd avg, 39 yd long).  Sr. Niles Paul (2 kick returns, 18.5 yd avg, 20 yd long) has also worked with the kick return unit.  He returned 2 kicks last week, but didn't provide the big play they hoped he would.  At punt returner is Sr. Niles Paul (9 punt returns, 12.9 yd avg, 31 yd long).  These units can be very good, but can also be very inconsistent.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been inconsistent this season.  Their problems have been missed tackles and taking poor angles to the opposing kickoff return man.  Against a team that actually has a good return unit, this could be a problem.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 20.9 yards on 13 kickoff returns (29 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 8.8 yards on 4 punt returns (13 yd long).  

Position Advantages
QBs:  Nebraska +++
RBs: Nebraska +++
WR/TE's: Nebraska +++
OL: Nebraska +++
DL: Nebraska +++
LB: Nebraska +++
DB: Nebraska +++
Special Teams: Nebraska +++
Coaching: Nebraska +++
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large

Injury Report

South Dakota State
SS - Conrad Kjerstad - Neck - Career Ended

OT - Marcel Jones - Back - Out Saturday
LB - Will Compton - Foot - Out Indefinitely
TE - Dreu Young - Back - Out Indefinitely
LB - Sean Fisher - Leg - Out for Season
RT - Mike Smith - Leg - Out for Season
CB - Anthony Blue - Knee - Out for Season

Keys to the Game

South Dakota State
1.) Have to Win Turnover Battle by Colossal Degree - With the offense struggling and the defense not being very ball-hawkish, this doesn't seem likely, but it has to happen for this game to be in doubt beyond halftime.
2.) Heavy Dose of Minett and Duffy - Nebraska's only question mark on defense is their rush defense.  Pounding Minett and Duffy will shorten the game and possibly give the best chance to move the football.  A passing threat needs to be there though, or there will be plenty of 3 and outs.
3.) Hope Nebraska is Overlooking This Game and Plays Flat for 4 Quarters - The Jackrabbits don't really come close to matching up with Nebraska in any area on the field, and they'll need Nebraska to essentially continuously beat themselves to keep this somewhat close.

1.) Show Up - Although SDSU doesn't match up well with the Huskers, Nebraska still doesn't want to just sleepwalk through this game.  Play hard, put the game out of reach early, and get the reserves plenty of reps.
2.) Don't Give Them Anything Easy - Against Washington last week, Nebraska turned the ball over inside the 10, allowing an easy touchdown for the Huskies.  SDSU shouldn't sniff the endzone if they are forced to earn it, so don't hand them an easy series.  
3.) Work on the Passing Game - Nebraska should have no problem running all over the Jackrabbit defense, if they desire.  But at this point, Nebraska still has some questions in the passing game and this is a great opportunity to work on some things to get Martinez and Co. ready to go for the conference season.

Final Outlook

South Dakota State began the season ranked in the top 10 of both the FCS coaches and media polls, but perhaps that was a bit optimistic.  They may have reached the playoffs last season, but the team is just too inexperienced and not deep enough to contend this year.  Their two losses are to two currently ranked FCS teams, including a solid Delaware team, but neither loss was really a close game.  The Jackrabbits have struggled in nearly every facet of the game on both offense and defense.  If a team can't look formidable against FCS opposition, it's hard to imagine Saturday's game will be anything short of a disaster on the field for SDSU.  The saving grace for the Jackrabbits will be the $375,000 pay day the athletic department receives for making the trip to Lincoln.  

Nebraska is playing far too well offensively and defensively for the Jackrabbits to be competitive for more than a quarter.  Some upper tier FCS teams are good enough to hang with the middle tier FBS programs, but this isn't a mediocre FCS team playing what looks to be an upper tier FBS team this season.  This is a hard game to predict a score for, given that Nebraska could ring up as many points as they wish.  While they might start shutting things down early, simple draw and isolation plays can be broken for big gains against an overmatched Jackrabbit defense.  

Nebraska scores early and often, the Jackrabbits get a late field goal to wipe the goose egg off the board.  Nebraska takes this game easily by eight or so touchdowns.

South Dakota State - 3
Nebraska - 59

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