Game Preview: NU vs KSU

Check out our game preview as the undefeated Huskers travel to Manhattan, KS to take on the also undefeated Kansas State Wildcats.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Kansas State Wildcats

--by Vince Campisi

October 7th, 2010
6:30 PM CDT
Bill Snyder Family Stadium
Manhattan, KS
Television Coverage: ESPN

#6 (C)/#7 (AP) NEBRASKA (4 - 0) (0 - 0)
KANSAS STATE (4 - 0) (1 - 0)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Kansas State

Latest Line
Opening: Nebraska by 12.
Current: Nebraska by 11.5.


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 - W 17-3
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

Kansas State
09/04/10 - vs. UCLA - W 31-22
09/11/10 - vs. Missouri State - W 48-24
09/18/10 - vs. Iowa State* - W 27-20
09/25/10 - vs. Central Florida - W 17-13
10/07/10 - vs. Nebraska
10/14/10 - at. Kansas
10/23/10 - at. Baylor
10/30/10 - vs. Oklahoma State
11/06/10 - vs. Texas
11/13/10 - at. Missouri
11/20/10 - at. Colorado
11/27/10 - at. North Texas
* - in Kansas City, Mo.

Historically Speaking

Saturday will mark the 95th all-time meeting between Nebraska and Kansas State, dating back to 1911.  This also begins Nebraska's final trek through a Big XII conference season before they join the Big Ten next season.  The Huskers have dominated the series (77-15-2) with the Wildcats over the years, and are currently enjoying a 5 game winning streak.  Last season, this game was in November and decided the North division participant in the Big XII title game.  Despite outgaining Nebraska 293-267, Kansas State couldn't find the endzone.  The then anemic Husker offense managed to put together a couple of scoring drives to take down the Wildcats by a score of 17-3.  The last time these teams met in Manhattan was in 2008, with Nebraska gaining 610 yards on the Wildcats en route to a 56-28 victory.  Kansas State was unable to stop the Nebraska rushing attack, which rammed it right at the Wildcats 53 times for 340 yards.  Kansas State got 14 of their 28 points from Special Teams and Defense, with Cortney Herndon returning an interception for touchdown and Brandon Banks taking a kickoff return for a score.

Player Breakdowns


Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's spread offense was full of big plays in their first three games of the season.  Things changed in game four against South Dakota State, however.  Nebraska came out flat and sloppy while SDSU was fired up, creating the perfect storm where anything that could go wrong did go wrong.  The Huskers managed to pull through, despite the lackluster effort, but will need to be much sharper heading into Big XII play.  Nebraska currently ranks 14th nationally in total offense (471.25 ypg), 102nd in passing (162.00 ypg), 34th in pass efficiency (144.73 rating), 4th in rushing (309.25 ypg), 11th in scoring offense (40.00 ppg), 25th in interceptions thrown (3), 113th in fumbles lost (7), and 86th in giveaways (10).  

QB: RFr. Taylor Martinez (34 for 57, 532 yds, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) starts at quarterback for the Huskers.  Martinez is the fastest of the QB's and is an explosive playmaker on the ground, rushing the ball 53 times for 496 yards and 8 touchdowns (lost 41 yards on sacks) this season.  He struggled last week against SDSU both on the ground and through the air.  He started the game on the wrong foot by losing a fumble on the first play from scrimmage.  It didn't get much better following that.  Martinez rushed for just 75 yards on 13 carries, with a bulk of that coming from a 33 yard run.  He needs to make better reads in the zone-read option, as there have been a number of plays this season that would have gone for big gains had he either handed off or kept it, depending on the situation.  His decision making just needs to get better in all facets of the game, something that should improve as he gains experience.  Martinez hasn't thrown too much this season, and looked awful last week, going 6 for 14, 140 yards a touchdown with 2 interceptions.  His arm can be quite erratic, has shaky footwork in the pocket, and stares down his receiver.  His field vision needs to improve, as on one play last week he missed receiver Niles Paul sprinting downfield wide open, deciding to check down to a short route.  This has happened numerous times this season.  His arm strength is questionable right now because while throws at a high velocity, he consistently under-throws open receivers.  So. Cody Green (6 for 9, 71 yds, 1 TD) is the second option.  After looking excellent in the season opener, he showed an issue with fumbling, losing 2 of 3 fumbles in the two games following the opener.  Last week against SDSU, Green threw just two passes and was wildly off the mark.  On one throw, he missed an open receiver that would have likely taken it for a score.  Green has carried the ball 11 times for 36 yards this season.  Green has all the tools to be a very good quarterback for Nebraska, but lacks the extra burst of speed that Martinez possesses.  Sr. Zac Lee (3 for 4, 45 yds), last year's starter, is the third QB on the depth chart.  He has a strong arm, and can be successful when he has protection.  Lee has decent speed and has rushed for 21 yards on 3 attempts this season.  He has not played since the season opener.  

RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is deep and talented.  They are led by Sr. Roy Helu Jr. (43 carries, 305 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 really is a complete running back.  The top back-up to Helu Jr. is So. Rex Burkhead (41 carries, 304 yds, 3 TDs), an impressive 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 be more dangerous to defend.  The duo of Helu Jr. and Burkhead is one of the best in the Big XII, and are more of a 1A and 1B option rather than a clear 1 and 2 in the depth chart.  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 when he has a fullback in front of him.  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.  Jones has looked solid in his limited carries, albeit the carries came late in games against tired defenses.  In the passing game, Helu Jr. and Burkhead (6 catches, 97 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 at fullback.  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, however, but some of the depth receivers need to step up.  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 (17 catches, 215 yds).  Kinnie has great measurables (6'3, 220 lbs) and is Nebraska's best wide out.  He is a physical receiver, throwing some big blocks to open big runs downfield.  Sr. Mike McNeill (4 catches, 105 yds, 1 TD) is the top receiver in the slot this year after switching from tight end in the off-season.  McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone.  He had a nice 64 yard catch last week that set up the game's first score.  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 (2 catches, 37 yds, 1 TD).  Cotton is a better blocker than Reed, but Reed is a better athlete.  Reed played a large role last week, getting the game's only touchdown catch.  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 two weeks ago against Washington, but followed that up with one of their weakest performances in recent memory against South Dakota State.  It wasn't an issue with talent, but want-to.  When they want to, they can do a great job of taking on  defenders and imposing their will on them.  They can't afford to be as lackadaisical as they were last week now that they are moving into Big XII play.  The splits on the line this season are a bit wider than in years past, as Nebraska has transformed into more of a spread option team.  SDSU did a good job against these splits last week, blowing up the gaps and slowing the run game.  Starting at left tackle could be either RFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) or Jr. Jermarcus Hardrick (6'7", 320 lbs).  Both looked pretty good in the first three games, with Sirles starting both games and Hardrick coming off the bench.  Neither was particularly impressive against SDSU.  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.  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 has struggled with a back injury all season, and should finally be ready to go 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.  When he's not committing penalties, he's the line's top pancake blocker.  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 Blackshirt defense has been pretty solid this season, however, there is room to improve against the run (giving up 45.61 more yards on the ground vs. last season).   While the rush defense has looked a little soft this season, few defenses in the nation are as good against the pass.  The Huskers are currently ranked 11th nationally in total defense (265.00 ypg), 3rd in pass defense (126.25 ypg), 1st in pass efficiency defense (74.65 rating), 53rd in rush defense (138.75 ypg), 7th in scoring defense (12.75 ppg), 5th in interceptions (10), 85th in fumbles recovered (2), and 15th in total takeaways (12).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line play has been fair this season, as the loss of Ndamukong Suh has been glaring at times.  As a whole, they need to do a better job of getting off their blocks and making plays behind the line of scrimmage.  The group is talented, but needs to show more consistency snap to snap, especially in controlling the A and B gaps if they want to be a great unit.  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 (17 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 4 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (14 tackles, 3 QBH) on the left.  Allen is a great athlete that does well against the run and also as a pass rusher.  Meredith has a good first step and enough strength to power by opposing tackles.  So. Josh Williams (6 tackles, 1 FF, 1 QBH) 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 (20 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Thaddeus Randle (4 tackles, 1 QBH) providing back-up.  Crick is big, strong, and has good speed to get into the backfield and cause problems for opposing offenses.  Randle has a great motor and a good first step, but still has a ways to go in terms of beating his blocks.  Starting at nose tackle is So. Baker Steinkuhler (13 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 QBH), with Jr. Terrence Moore (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR) backing him up.  Steinkuhler has had some trouble getting off his blocks early this season, but will get better with experience.  Moore had a close race with Steinkuhler in fall camp, and like many on the line, just lacks consistency.

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 might be back in November.  With those losses, it thrust a couple of guys into starting roles that were not quite ready.  The group continues to improve week by week, but continues to have issues with misreading the play and hitting the wrong gap.  This should get better as the unit gets more experience.  Starting at middle linebacker is So. Eric Martin (17 tackles), with So. Alonzo Whaley (8 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.  He had his blackshirt taken away this week after a subpar performance against SDSU last week.  It will be interesting to see how he responds.  Whaley started the opener but struggled with communication and has worked as Martin's back-up since.  Jr. Lavonte David (44 tackles, 1 sack, 3 QBH, 5 PBU) starts at weakside linebacker, with Jr. Matt May (4 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 four 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/safety the "Peso", and starting at that spot is Sr. Eric Hagg (7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 3 PBU), with Jr. Austin Cassidy (5 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.  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 9 interceptions and returning 3 for scores in just 4 games.  Sr. Prince Amukamara (14 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 isn't quite ready to face the better receivers around the country.  Jr. Alfonzo Dennard (12 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 QBH, 3 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 outstanding plays on the football and is a very solid tackler.  He came up big in the fourth quarter of the SDSU game by leaping high in the air and picking off a pass at the 1 yard line when the Jackrabbits were driving the ball.  Behind Dennard are So. Antonio Bell and RFr. Dijon Washington.  Starting at free safety is Sr. Rickey Thenarse (25 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU), with So. P.J. Smith (15 tackles, 3 INTs) battling him for that starting spot.  Thenarse missed most of last season with a knee injury and has brought 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 is tied with Dennard for the team lead with three interceptions and should continue to improve as time goes on.  At strong safety is Sr. Dejon Gomes (30 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.  They have some of the top kickers in the nation, and the return men have the ability to break free on any given return.  The Huskers are currently ranked 53rd in net punting (36.56 yd avg), 12th in kickoff returns (26.33 yd avg), 47th in punt returns (9.92 yd avg), 62nd in kickoff coverage (21.07 yd avg), and 72nd in punt coverage (10.56 yd avg).

K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  This season, he is 2 for 2 with a long of 30.  He has made 37 of his last 38 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 12 of 28 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 69.1 yard average, kicking between the goal line and 1 yard line.

P: Sr. Alex Henery is averaging 43.8 yards on his 16 punts with a long of 62 this season.  7 of his 16 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 (4 kick returns, 26 yd avg, 39 yd long).  Kinnie lacks burner speed, but does a good job of navigating quickly though his blockers.  Sr. Niles Paul (2 kick returns, 18.5 yd avg, 20 yd long) has also worked with the kick return unit.  At punt returner is Sr. Niles Paul (11 punt returns, 10.9 yd avg, 31 yd long).  Paul has had issues with ball control, as has Marlowe.  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 teams with good return units, this could be a problem.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 21.1 yards on 15 kickoff returns (29 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 10.6 yards on 9 punt returns (19 yd long).  The punt coverage team allowed SDSU's Cole Brodie a 12 yard average on 5 returns last week.  


Kansas State Offense

Kansas State's offense is built on a strong ground game.  While they have a pair of great running backs, the passing game leaves something to be desired.  For the most part, they've been able to win by just jamming the ball at opposing defenses, but there will come a time, possibly this week, when they'll need to throw to win.  The Wildcats are currently ranked 65th nationally in total offense (377.75 ypg), 103rd in passing (161.75 ypg), 28th in passing efficiency (147.20 rating), 22nd in rushing (216.00 ypg), 50th in scoring offense (30.75 ppg), 10th in interceptions thrown (2), 26th in fumbles lost (3), and 10th in giveaways (5).  

QB: Starting at quarterback for Kansas State is Sr. Carson Coffman (46 of 76, 639 yds, 5 TDs, 2 INTs).  Coffman has been adequate so far this season, but there is some concern if his arm is needed to win the Wildcats a game.  Coffman does not possess a tremendously strong or accurate arm.  His footwork isn't great as he throws off his back foot a lot, with his deep ball often resembling a punt.  He tends to throw a lot of low percentage passes, and probably should have more interceptions to his name right now.  He has a habit of throwing a bit high, which has left his receivers in precarious positions and open to be hammered by a defender.  For all of his faults, he'll still impress with the occasional strike.  Against UCF he delivered a few passes that you wouldn't think he'd be capable of after watching him for the first 3 quarters.  Coffman does a pretty good job running the option and though he doesn't have great speed, he has good enough wheels to be an occasional threat on the ground.  He has rushed for a net of 60 yards and 2 touchdowns on 36 carries (lost 51 on sacks) this season.  Last week he scored the game winning touchdown on an option keeper from a few yards out.  Behind Coffman are So. Collin Klein (2 of 2, 8 yds) and Jr. Sammuel Lamur.  It has been interesting that despite Coffman not lighting the world on fire that Klein and Lamur really haven't seen much of any action this year.  Of the two, Klein has a better arm, while Lamur has the athleticism that could make for a dangerous option QB.  

RB: The Wildcats' potent rushing attack is led by workhorse Sr. Daniel Thomas (105 carries, 628 yds, 6 TDs), possibly the best back in the Big XII this season.  Thomas is a scary good rusher that has all the tools to be a successful back at the next level.  He's a big body (6'2", 228 lbs) and will truck defenders, but also has good top end speed and quickness.  He doesn't necessarily have track speed, but given his size he has plenty of speed to beat you.  What makes him even more difficult to defend is his vision in the backfield.  He always seems to find the slightest of holes and burst through without hesitation, and rarely does the first guy to touch him bring him down.  Often, you'll see would-be tacklers being dragged behind him.  He did struggle last week against UCF, however, failing to eclipse 100 yards (76 yards gained).  As soon as he touched the ball, UCF typically had a couple of guys in the backfield ready to wrap him up.  His fourth quarter fumble gave UCF the ball at midfield and helped set up a go-ahead field goal.  Thomas will run a lot of plays out of the wildcat formation, and he is a special case, because he was a former QB, he can actually be a threat to throw the ball.  Sr. William Powell (12 carries, 134 yds, 2 TDs) is the only other back to see any significant carries this season, and has been dynamic with the ball in his hands.  He's 5 inches shorter and 21 pounds lighter than Thomas, but you wouldn't know it by watching him when he has the ball.  He runs with similar authority that Thomas does, with great power in his legs and slightly better agility.  The backs have not been used much in the passing game this season, with only Thomas (4 catches, 16 yds) catching a few passes.  At fullback is So. Braden Wilson (2 catches, 31 yds), with Sr. Lucas Hamm backing him up.  Wilson has good hands and is a very capable blocker, helping to open holes for the backs.  

WR/TE: The Wildcats' receiving corps has some good talent in the group, but no one has really established himself as a big time playmaker.  They certainly could be helped by Coffman being more consistent in getting them the ball.  Starting at the receiver spots are So. Brodrick Smith (14 catches, 191 yds, 3 TDs), Sr. Aubrey Quarles (10 catches, 164 yds, 2 TDs), and RFr. Tramaine Thompson (10 catches, 154 yds).  Smith has quickly turned into the top receiver in the group after transferring from Minnesota.  He's an excellent athlete that will make some outstanding catches.  Against UCF, he caught a terribly thrown ball that probably should have been picked off.  It was only a 6 yard gain, but still an impressive catch.  Because of his quickness, he'll also be used in end-around plays.  Quarles is a quality deep threat with good wheels.  He caught a 58 yard touchdown reception against UCF early in the fourth quarter that tied the game.  Thompson is a small receiver at 5'7", built in the Brandon Banks mold.  He hasn't proved himself as that caliber of player yet, but is speedy and does have very good hands.  Late in the third quarter against UCF, Thompson took a pass 73 yards which helped set up a field goal, KSU's first points of the game.  Reserves in the rotation at receiver include So. Chris Harper (3 catches, 37 yds), Sr. Adrian Hilburn (1 catch, 10 yds), and Sr. Sheldon Smith.  At tight end is So. Travis Tannahill (2 catches, 21 yds), with RFr. Andre McDonald (2 catches, 23 yds) backing him up.  Tannahill and McDonald really couldn't be more opposite of one another.  Tannahill is an average sized (6'3", 249 lbs), athletic pass catching tight end while McDonald is an offensive line sized (6'8" 277 lbs) road grater.  

OL: Kansas State's offensive line is coming off their weakest run blocking performance of the season a week and a half ago to Central Florida.  The line struggled with the Knights' pair of freshman defensive tackles, getting out-physicaled play after play.  The second half performance was better, but the line failed to open lanes necessary to get Daniel Thomas over 100 yards.  Starting at tackle is Jr. Manase Foketi (6'5", 300 lbs) on the left and Jr. Zach Hanson (6'8", 305 lbs) on the right.  Foketi is a JUCO transfer that has immediately jumped into a starting role.  He's a physical blocker with surprisingly quick feet.  Hanson's size doesn't lend to being terribly athletic, and he does lack good swivel in his hips, often getting beat by athletic linemen.  The top reserves at tackle are Jr. Clyde Aufner (6'5", 300 lbs) and Jr. Kaleb Drinkgem (6'5", 281 lbs).  Aufner is listed as an "OR" on the depth chart with Hanson, and has a similar issue handling quick ends as Hanson does.  Starting at guard is Sr. Zach Kendall (6'2", 317 lbs) on the left and Sr. Kenneth Mayfield (6'4", 349 lbs) on the right.  Kendall is a typically solid run blocker, but has struggled at times in pass protection.  Against UCF, Kendall was driven back by an opposing defensive tackle, allowing Carson Coffman to be hit as he was throwing the ball.  Mayfield is the largest of the KSU lineman that can be difficult to deal with, especially for undersized defensive linemen.  Top back-ups at guard include Jr. Colten Freeze (6'4", 294 lbs) and RFr. Keenan Taylor (6'4", 280 lbs).  Starting at center is Sr. Wade Weibert (6'4", 303 lbs), with Sr. Trevor Viers (6'5", 292 lbs) backing him up.  Weibert is an athletic lineman that didn't play up to his standard last week against UCF.  He had trouble going up against the opposing tackles, often whiffing on blocks and not being able to sustain blocks as plays were made in the backfield.  

Kansas State Defense

Kansas State's defense has been solid in keeping opposing offenses from scoring too much, but they do give up quite a few yards between the 20's.  In their last game, against Central Florida, the Wildcats gave up 252 yards to the Knights, most of which on zone-read options and various forms of misdirection plays.  KSU struggled to stop UCF's freshman QB Jeff Godfrey on the ground throughout the first half, but adjusted and slowed him down in the second half.  The Wildcats are currently ranked 57th nationally in total defense (349.25 ypg), 13th in pass defense (153.75 ypg), 5th in pass efficiency defense (95.48 rating), 102nd in rush defense (195.50 ypg), 39th in scoring defense (19.75 ppg), 61st in interceptions forced (4), 61st in fumbles recovered (3), and 70th in total takeaways (7).  

DL: The Wildcats' defensive line has been fairly good this season, but does have difficulty getting off their blocks.  This has resulted in opposing ball carriers getting into the second level often.  Starting at defensive end is So. Brandon Harold (26 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 2 PBU) at left end and Sr. Antonio Felder (13 tackles, 1 FR) at right end.  Harold is the star of the line, using his great athleticism to his advantage.  He's a talented end that will stand up and play coverage on occasion and does a very good job of getting his hands up.  Felder has been pretty inconsistent tackler this season.  At times he is tough against the run, but he's also missed easy tackles and had the defense get gashed for sizeable gains afterward.  He's a versatile defender that has played LB in the past.  Top reserves at end include Jr. Jordan Voelker (2 tackles), Jr. Kadero Terrell (7 tackles, 2 PBU), and Sr. Josh Berard.  Terrell had a solid game against UCF last week, totaling 3 tackles and a pass broken up.  Jr. Raphael Guidry (20 tackles) starts at nose tackle, with Jr. Ray Kibble (7 tackles, 1 PBU) performing back-up duties.  Guidry was pushed around quite a bit last week and allowed some big holes to open within the defensive line.  Kibble is a JUCO transfer and since moving up to this level, has had some trouble getting stuck to his blocker.  Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. Prizell Brown (19 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 PBU), with Jr. Payton Kirk (3 tackles) backing him up.  Brown put on some weight in the off-season and has become a more complete tackle because of it.  He's still quick on his feet, but has additional power that has allowed him to bully his way into the opposing backfield to lead the team in sacks.  He rarely misses tackles, and gets his hands up into passing lanes well.  

LB: The Wildcats' have a hard hitting linebacking crew, but the group has had some trouble tracking down quick ball carriers.  Starting at the two top linebacker spots are Jr. Alex Hrebec (39 tackles, 4 PBU) and So. Jarell Childs (12 tackles, 1 PBU).  Hrebec is a stout linebacker at 5'11", 247lbs. and hits as hard as any linebacker in the Big XII.  He's tough as nails, and has improved his play in pass coverage this season.  His one area of weakness would be his acceleration and top speed, which are pretty average.  Childs is a former running back that brings much needed speed to the linebacking corps.  Top reserves at linebacker include So. Blake Slaughter (23 tackles, 1 sack), TFr. Tre Walker (1 tackle), and Sr. Kevin Rohleder (2 tackles).  Slaughter has played a lot and is listed as an "OR" with Childs as a possible starter.  It's very possible that he could solely own that spot very soon with the way he is playing.  He led the team in stops last week with 13, really providing a spark in the second half.  Sr. Troy Butler (10 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PBU) starts at the hybrid linebacker-safety spot, with So. Thomas Ferguson (5 tackles) backing him up.  Butler is probably the fastest of the group, and is used often as the blitzing linebacker.  He is a defensive back at heart and defends the pass well.

DB: The Wildcats' defensive backfield has been much better than they were a year ago, but has yet to really face a good passing attack.  They won't face one this week either, though, so they shouldn't be tested much.  One thing to keep in mind was a play against UCF in which coverage broke down and the receiver was wide open streaking towards the endzone.  The ball was thrown well, and if the receiver doesn't suffer a sudden cramp while running and fall down, the Wildcats would have found themselves down 14-3 and changed the complexion of the game.  Plays have been there for opponents to make, and the Wildcats have been fortunate to not see them be executed.  Starting at cornerback is Sr. Terrance Sweeney (16 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 6 PBU) at left corner and Sr. Stephen Harrison (5 tackles, 3 PBU) at right corner.  Sweeney is undersized at just 5'9", but he is a surprisingly hard hitter that has excellent athleticism.  He came up with the interception with just seconds remaining last week to clinch the win over UCF.  Harrison has been inconsistent in his career that will have ups and downs throughout a game.  Players in the reserve rotation include Jr. David Garrett (20 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 3 PBU), and Jr. Matthew Pearson.  Garrett is only fair in coverage, but has made some nice plays in run support this year.  Starting at strong safety is Jr. Tysyn Hartman (21 tackles, 1 PBU), with RFr. Ty Zimmerman (15 tackles) backing him up.  Hartman is a hard hitting, sure tackler that is also typically solid in coverage.  Jr. Emmanuel Lamur (14 tackles, 1 INT) starts at free safety, with Jr. Logan Dold (1 tackle) serving as the top back-up.  Lamur is a very good athlete that has excellent hands and with his 6'4" frame can be dangerous to try and beat deep.  

Kansas State Special Teams

Kansas State's special teams units have been pretty good so far this season, but not quite as good as in years past.  The kickers and kick return team are the areas that stand out the most, but return coverage has been sloppy.  The Wildcats currently rank 26th in net punting (38.70 yd avg), 11th in kickoff returns (26.73 yd avg), 94th in punt returns (6.09 yd avg), 81st in kickoff coverage (22.63 yd avg), and 57th in punt coverage (9.17 yd avg).  

K: Sr. Josh Cherry has made all 3 of his field goal attempts with a long of 42 this season.  He possesses a strong leg, and has looked like a more consistent kicker this season (12 of 20 in 2009) after missing the first two games with injury.  So. Anthony Cantele is the kickoff specialist, pushing 8 of his 23 kickoffs for a touchback with a 66.9 yard average, kicking between the 3 and 4 yard line.  

P: So. Ryan Doerr has a solid leg and is averaging 42.5 yards on his 19 punts with a long of 55 this season.  3 of his 19 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.    

: The top kickoff return unit for the Wildcats consists of Sr. William Powell (7 kick returns, 20.7 yd avg, 41 yd long) and Sr. Aubrey Quarles (3 kick returns, 18.7 yd avg, 21 yd long).  Powell has deceptive speed, does a nice job of following his blockers and breaking tackles.  RFr. Tramaine Thompson (6 punt returns, 8.8 yd avg, 22 yd long) works as the top punt return man.    

Coverage: The Wildcats' kick and punt coverage units have .  Through four games, the kick coverage unit has allowed an average of 22.6 yards on 16 kickoff return attempts with a long of 34.  The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 9.2 yards on 6 punt return attempts with a long of 24.  Consistency from both units is needed as they have shown the ability to gang tackle and have good pursuit of the returner, just not often enough.

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

Injury Report

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

Kansas State
OL - Ethan Douglas - Knee - Out for Season

Keys to the Game

1.) Slow Down Thomas - Stacking the box and playing a third linebacker could be the ticket to shutting down Thomas and forcing KSU QB Carson Coffman to beat you with his arm - something he hasn't shown the ability to do.  One thing is for sure, the A and B gaps need to be shored up or Thomas could have a field day.
2.) Clean Things Up - Nebraska is fumbling at an astronomical rate.  They have fumbled 16 times already this season and are 113th nationally with 7 lost.  In addition, the number of penalties has been concerning.  The Huskers are 112th nationally in penalty yards per game with 73.50.  These penalties have killed drives while also renewing some for their opponents.  Beginning conference play, this has to be cleaned up or it will cost them games.
3.) Martinez Must Be Sharp - The redshirt freshman QB needs to make better reads on both the option plays and when he's going through his progressions in the passing game.  He's s needs to know when to let his talented RB's do the work and not try and make every play by himself, it's too easy to defend.  In addition to being sharp in his decision making, he needs to deliver a more precise ball and not be all over the place like he has a tendency to be.  

Kansas State
1.) Have Offensive Balance - Sure, Daniel Thomas is a tremendous rusher and Powell is a more than capable back-up, but beyond that, the Wildcats must find other big playmakers for the offense.  Can Coffman be a more consistent passer?  If he can, do the receivers have the ability to beat an immensely talented Nebraska secondary?  It's going to be a tough match-up, but one the Wildcats need to do well in.
2.) Need Some Big Special Teams Plays - Possibly a blocked punt, some big returns, fake kicks, etc.  The Wildcats are out-talented and will need to have a number of things go their way Thursday night.  
3.) Can't Get in a Hole Early - The offense isn't built to come from behind and just doesn't have the personnel to recover if Nebraska is allowed a few early scores.  Have to keep this one tight, contain Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez and try to match scores.  This could give them a chance to win the game with a big play or two in the fourth quarter.

Final Outlook

Neither team is coming into Thursday's match-up particularly impressed with their previous game's performance.  Nebraska struggled to fend off a scrappy South Dakota State team in Lincoln, while Kansas State found a way to score with 24 seconds remaining to defeat a Central Florida team that dominated them in every facet of the game.  

Against South Dakota State, Nebraska failed to look interested throughout the entire 60 minute game.  They failed to mount much of an offensive attack, looking nothing like the group that throttled Washington the week before.  Big plays were Nebraska's for the taking, but the lackadaisical attitude the team had combined with the poor decision making of QB Taylor Martinez, it was a game in which nothing seemed to go right.  The Husker defense stayed in their Peso formation and allowed the SDSU RB's to gain 136 yards on 36 carries.  Not good news, gearing up for a game with KSU's RB Daniel Thomas, who is much better than SDSU's Kyle Minett and Tyler Dufy.  Watching the game again, it was clear that Nebraska got caught looking ahead to conference play while possibly buying into some of their own hype.  It's unlikely to happen again with every week meaning something extra as they leave for the Big Ten at the conclusion of this season.  Of course, that added incentive works both ways, as their opponents will also be looking to get in one last victory against the Huskers.  

Kansas State is coming off their weakest performance of the year as well, against UCF.  The Knights defense loaded the box and owned the line of scrimmage, really slowing down RB Daniel Thomas (3.5 ypc avg).  Because they were unable to put together a successful passing attack for most of the game, the Wildcats' offense looked like a mess.  QB Carson Coffman finally got going a bit late in the game and completed some big passes that helped mount a comeback victory.  Defensively, the Wildcats were also shaky, having a multitude of problems shutting down the speedy UCF QB Jeff Godfrey and RB Ronnie Weaver, with the two combining for 229 yards on 39 carries (5.9 ypc).  Although KSU played better defense in the second half, they were far from perfect.  They can't allow that kind of rushing success this week against Nebraska's combination of Taylor Martinez, Roy Helu Jr., and Rex Burkhead because the Huskers will score points where the Knights failed.  

Last year's game was an ugly, offensively inept performance from both schools, with Nebraska coming out on top by two touchdowns.  Kansas State is a similarly skilled team as they were last year, albeit with more experience, but miss guys like Brandon Banks breaking big plays in both special teams and on offense.  Nebraska is a much better team offensively this year, with a weaker front seven on defense, due to the losses of Ndamukong Suh and Phillip Dillard.  This year's game should be a more entertaining game than the 17-3 final we saw last season, but probably won't be a real high scoring affair, either.

Nebraska has some streaks on their side going into this game, starting with the Huskers posting a perfect 5-0 all-time record in Thursday night ESPN games.  They have also not lost a conference road game since falling to Oklahoma on November 1st of 2008.  Over the last season and a half, Nebraska has had a great ability to go on the road and perform at a high level.  Comparing these two teams, Nebraska has more talent all over the field than Kansas State.  Wildcats' coach Bill Snyder will likely pull every trick out of his bag and make sure his team leaves nothing on the field in his last opportunity against Nebraska.  If the Huskers are truly focused and can maintain similar gap control like UCF was able to against the Wildcats, they will defeat Kansas State on Thursday.  Expect a hard hitting game from both schools, but at the end of 60 minutes, Nebraska should take this game by about two touchdowns.

Nebraska - 27
Kansas State - 13


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