Huskers vs. Horns - Game Preview

The Horns are in town to face the #4 Huskers. Can Nebraska get the Texas-sized monkey off their back? Check out our game preview as we break it all down. It's the Huskers vs. the Horns in Lincoln.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Texas Longhorns vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

10/14/10
--by Vince Campisi




October 16th, 2010
2:30 PM CDT
Memorial Stadium
Lincoln, NE
Television Coverage: ABC/ESPN



TEXAS (3 - 2) (1 - 1)
VS
#4 (C)/#5 (AP) NEBRASKA (5 - 0) (1 - 0)


Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Texas vs. Nebraska


Latest Line
Opening: Nebraska by 9.5.
Current: Nebraska by 10.



Schedules/Results

Texas
09/04/10 - at. Rice - W 34-17
09/11/10 - vs. Wyoming - W 34-7
09/18/10 - at. Texas Tech - W 24-14
09/25/10 - vs. UCLA - L 12-34
10/02/10 - at. Oklahoma* - L 20-28
10/16/10 - at. Nebraska
10/23/10 - vs. Iowa State
10/30/10 - vs. Baylor
11/06/10 - at. Kansas State
11/13/10 - vs. Oklahoma State
11/20/10 - vs. Florida Atlantic
11/25/10 - vs. Texas A&M
* - in Dallas, TX

Nebraska
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 - W 48-13
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 14th all-time match-up between Texas and Nebraska, since first meeting in 1933.  Texas holds the series lead (9-4), and is currently enjoying a 5 game win streak in the series.  The Longhorns have won 8 of the 9 meetings since the Big XII formed in 1996.  While the win-loss numbers might look one-sided, the games have been anything but and many meetings have been classics with the Longhorns getting fortunate bounces to go their way late in the game to pull out victory.  Of the 9 games played since forming the Big XII, 6 of them have been decided by 4 or less points.  

The last time these two teams met was in last season's Big XII championship game.  The game was ugly from an offensive standpoint, with both defenses dominating play for all four quarters.  Nebraska really exposed the Longhorn offensive line and gave Colt McCoy one of the worst days of his career.  With just 1:44 remaining in the game, Nebraska's Alex Henery hit a 42 yard field goal to put the Huskers ahead 12-10.  Oddly, on the ensuing kickoff, Adi Kunalic would boot the ball out of bounds, giving the Longhorns excellent field position to start the drive at the UT 40.  A 19 yard pass from McCoy to Jordan Shipley was enhanced by a horse collar call on NU's Larry Asante.  Three plays later on 3rd and 13 at the NU 29, McCoy rolled out, and as the pressure from Ndamukong Suh was closing in, McCoy released the pass high and out of bounds.  The clock ticked to :00, and the Nebraska sideline began celebrating their first Big XII championship since 1999.  However, Texas coach Mack Brown clamored for one second to be added to the clock and the play was reviewed.  The officials claimed the ball hit a railing somewhere on the sideline just before the clock went to :00, put a second back on the clock and allowed Texas to kick a field goal.  Hunter Lawrence would then hit a 46 yarder as time expired to give the Longhorns the Big XII championship and a trip to the national title game.

The last meeting in Lincoln took place in 2006.  In a tightly contested game, Nebraska was leading 20-19 with 2:17 remaining in the 4th quarter. On a critical 3rd and 3 at the Nebraska 36, Zac Taylor completed a pass to Terrence Nunn at the 45, before Texas' Aaron Ross forced a fumble which was recovered by Marcus Griffin. The Longhorns then drove to the Nebraska 5 and hit a 22 yard field goal with 23 seconds left to beat the Huskers 22-20.



Player Breakdowns


TEXAS

Texas Offense

Texas' offense is one that has struggled to find an identity.  They have attempted to build a strong ground game, which has not been successful yet this season.  While the passing game has produced more offense than the running game, it hasn't exactly been lighting up scoreboards either.  There is a lot of talent here, but is underperforming.  It is the statistically worst offense in the Mack Brown era.  The Longhorns are currently ranked 71st nationally in total offense (360.00 ypg), 53rd in passing (230.20 ypg), 90th in passing efficiency (117.48 rating), 82nd in rushing (129.80 ypg), 80th in scoring offense (24.80 ppg), 54th in interceptions thrown (5), 100th in fumbles lost (7), and 92nd in giveaways (12).  

QB: So. Garret Gilbert (114 of 180, 1151 yds, 4 TDs, 5 INTs) starts at quarterback for the Longhorns.  After building some hype for playing well at times in last year's national title game against Alabama, expectations were fairly lofty for Gilbert this season.  The high pre-season expectations were unfair for a player that hadn't started a game since high school, but that isn't to say that he hasn't played well.  He's been fair, but not unexpectedly, there has been a drop-off from Colt McCoy's numbers from last year.  Gilbert possesses a strong arm and will typically deliver a nice ball, though he is inconsistent.  He'll start throwing some great passes and hitting guys in stride, but he has a tendency to get off track and begin throwing high.  As with most young quarterbacks, when he is under pressure, he has not looked very good.  Although he can throw a pretty good intermediate and deep ball, Gilbert is asked to throw countless bubble screens to his receivers that have not been wildly successful against fast defenses.  The team speed of Oklahoma caused a lot of problems, especially early in the game for the Longhorns.  If Gilbert can find a way to get his game on a more even keel, he has the potential to grow to be a great Big XII quarterback.  He has some scrambling ability and will gain a handful of yards here and there, but he isn't a runner by any means.  He has rushed for a net of 14 yards on 24 carries (lost 61 on sacks) this season.  Behind Gilbert are TFr. Case McCoy (0 of 1) and TFr. Connor Wood.  Only McCoy has played this season, and he didn't get a chance to show much.

RB: The Longhorns have struggled with injuries at RB and have plugged a number of different backs into the offense, hoping to find a guy that makes everything click.  They haven't found him yet, but even last year this unit was by committee.  Jr. Fozzy Whittaker (47 carries, 234 yds, 2 TDs) looks to be the top guy for now, but not by a big margin.  Whittaker is a fast back that has doesn't shy away from contact and has surprising power, despite coming in at less than 200 pounds.  His lateral quickness is decent, but he does have good north-south speed.  He takes a lot of runs to the outside, and when he turns up-field can turn on the jets.  He just isn't able to do it consistently.  Backs that are also likely to see carries include So. D.J. Monroe (11 carries, 130 yds, 1 TD), So. Tre Newton (27 carries, 97 yds, 3 TDs), and Jr. Cody Johnson (43 carries, 146 yds, 3 TDs).  Monroe has excellent speed and had a great 60 yard touchdown run against Oklahoma, on a fake reverse pitch.  He blew by the speedy Oklahoma defense along the sideline.  Newton was a starter last season, but has struggled with a hip pointer injury this year.  He's not quite as fast as Whittaker or Monroe, but is a solid back and a better blocker than the other two smaller backs.  Johnson is a pounder at 250 pounds, but has struggled with an ankle injury this season.  The ankle injury has hampered Johnson's cutting ability and his acceleration, which has helped push him down the depth chart.  He had an impressive touchdown run against Oklahoma, dragging defenders with him while the Longhorns attempted a 4th quarter comeback.  The backs are a key component in the passing game, with Whittaker (17 catches, 76 yds), Newton (3 catches, 2 yds), and Johnson (2 catches, 35 yds) all contributing catches this season.  Whittaker has very good hands and is dangerous in the open field after the catch.  At fullback is So. Ryan Roberson (2 carries, 5 yds), with Sr. Jamison Berryhill backing him up.  The fullbacks have done little this season, other than coming in occasionally as a blocker.

WR/TE
: The Longhorns' have a talented group of receivers, but lack a playmaker of Jordan Shipley's ilk.  The passing game this season has really been predicated on short throws to the receivers and looking for chunks of yards after the catch.  Unfortunately, the receivers haven't done a very good job of doing much after the catch.  Starting at the receiver spots are Sr. James Kirkendoll (23 catches, 288 yds, 1 TD) at "Z", Jr. Malcolm Williams (14 catches, 204 yds) at "X", and So. Marquise Goodwin (17 catches, 171 yds) at "Sub B".  Kirkendoll has been the go-to guy in the passing game for Garrett Gilbert, and for good reason.  He is very quick and a clean route runner that doesn't drop many passes.  He needs to do a better job of getting past the sticks before cutting off his route on third downs, though, as this has been an issue a few times this season.  He's the favored receiver in the bubble screens, because of his ability to be slippery after the catch.  Williams has been the team's top deep threat with his great size (6'3"), hands, and speed.  Goodwin, the Sub-B, replaces the TE or FB in three receiver sets.  Goodwin is a pretty solid receiver with excellent speed, but needs to have more consistent hands.  He'll make some outstanding catches while getting clobbered, and then drop a couple of uncontested ones.  Reserves in the rotation at receiver include TFr. Mike Davis (16 catches, 183 yds, 2 TDs), Sr. John Chiles (8 catches, 123 yds), and TFr. Darius White.  Davis is a big time prospect that made an impact almost immediately after arriving in Austin.  When he is on the field, he is a guy defenses have to account for and can really stretch the field.  He has been struggling with an injury since the UCLA game, but when does get fully healthy, could end up as the top receiver by the end of the year.  Chiles is a former QB and good athlete.  White should have gotten his first catch of the year against Oklahoma but dropped a pretty easy pass.  At tight end is So. Barrett Matthews (8 catches, 38 yds, 1 TD), with Sr. Greg Smith (5 catches, 26 yds) backing him up.  There is a real lack of playmaker at the tight end.  Matthews isn't much of a blocker, but does have decent hands.  At H-Back is Sr. Greg Smith, with RFr. Chris Whaley as the top reserve.  Smith does a nice job blocking for the running backs, and has shown pretty good hands as well. Whaley is a converted talented running back that has put on some weight and should do well at H-back, when given the opportunity.  

OL: Texas' offensive line has had a disappointing start to the season.  Expectations were high and the ability is there, they just haven't been able to put it all together.  Starting at tackle is Sr. Kyle Hix (6'7.5", 325 lbs) on the left and Sr. Britt Mitchell (6'5", 305 lbs) on the right.  Hix and Mitchell have struggled mightily this season against quick ends in pass protection.  Neither has great swivel in their hips, causing difficulty in keeping opposing ends from getting to the QB.  Hix has had problems maintaining his blocks and has been frustrating due to his pre-snap penalties.  The top reserves at tackle are RFr. Paden Kelley (6'7", 285 lbs) and So. Mark Buchanan (6'6", 305 lbs).  Starting at guard is Sr. Michael Huey (6'5", 310 lbs) on the left and RFr. Mason Walters (6'6", 300 lbs) on the right.  Huey was expected to lead the way and be a strong run blocker this season, but so far has only been fair.  He seems to have regressed from a season ago.  Walters was pushed into a starting role after the summer injury to Sr. Tray Allen.  His inexperience has shown, but should get better as the season goes along.  Top back-ups at guard include TFr. Trey Hopkins (6'4", 297 lbs) and RFr. Thomas Ashcraft (6'5", 315 lbs).  Hopkins plays quite a few snaps, but looks a step slow.  He was embarrassed against Oklahoma by a linebacker blitz, as he pretty much watched the defender fly right by him.  Starting at center is Jr. David Snow (6'4", 300 lbs), with RFr. Garrett Porter (6'6", 305 lbs) backing him up.  Snow has been decent this season, but hasn't made Longhorn fans forget about last year's starter Chris Hall.  As a whole, this line must get much better and as soon as possible.  There are a number of solid defensive lines still on the schedule and the blocking has to improve.


Texas Defense

Texas' defense is one of the nation's top defenses statistically this season.  Despite the great numbers, against UCLA, the rush defense was exposed by a trio of misdirection, zone-read option, and straight ahead rushing plays that went for big gains.  This was especially troubling because it was run by a fairly slow QB in Kevin Prince.  The play was better against Oklahoma, however, not consistently.  The Sooners were able to give Texas trouble with their up-tempo offense.  The Longhorns are currently ranked 6th nationally in total defense (254.20 ypg), 8th in pass defense (150.20 ypg), 39th in pass efficiency defense (117.03 rating), 19th in rush defense (104.00 ypg), 36th in scoring defense (20.00 ppg), 92nd in interceptions forced (3), 54th in fumbles recovered (4), and 85th in total takeaways (7).

DL: The Longhorns' defensive line h
as, for the most part, been a stifling force up front.  They do a good job in stuffing the run as well as disrupting the opposing QB on passing downs.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Sam Acho (23 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 5 QBH) at left end and Sr. Eddie Jones (31 tackles, 4 sacks, 7 QBH) at buck end.  Acho is the definition of a defensive playmaker.  He's a physical end with a great motor and outside linebacker-like athleticism.  He's tough against the run and has a nice swim move to get after the opposing QB.  Jones is also an excellent pass rushing end that doesn't miss tackles.  He has been caught out of position on occasion, though, and tends to bite hard on misdirection.  Top reserves at end include TFr. Jackson Jeffcoat (13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 6 QBH, 1 PBU), and TFr. Reggie Wilson (5 tackles).  Jeffcoat is a pass rush specialist and will come in on obvious passing downs.  When he does, Acho moves to d-tackle, increasing speed along the front.  Against Oklahoma, Jeffcoat committed a costly personal foul penalty on a 3rd and 20 in the 4th quarter when the score was 21-10.  The fresh set of downs helped the Sooners extend the lead to 28-10 just a few plays later.  Jr. Kheeston Randall (18 tackles, 1 sack, 3 QBH, 2 PBU) starts at nose tackle, with TFr. Ashton Dorsey and RFr. Calvin Howell (2 tackles) performing back-up duties.  Randall is another good pass rusher, but from the inside.  He's tough to beat 1-on-1 for most offensive linemen and leads the team with 8 tackles for loss.  Consistency has been an issue, though, as he does occasionally get stuck to the blocker.  Starting at defensive tackle is So. Alex Okafor (9 tackles, 0.5 sack, 4 QBH), with Jr. Tyrell Higgins (11 tackles) backing him up.  Okafor is a converted d-end that is a bit undersized to play inside at 250 pounds, and doesn't break through into the offensive backfield like the other 3 starters on the line, but should eventually become a solid tackle.  Higgins has started two games this season, but was unable to stick either time, with Okafor getting the nod.

LB: The Texas' linebacking corps has been very good, with the exceptions of the UCLA game and some first half issues in the Oklahoma game.  Jr. Emmanuel Acho (40 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 4 QBH, 4 PBU) starts at strongside linebacker, with So. Dravannti Johnson (10 tackles, 3 QBH) backing him up.  Against the run, Acho is great at firing on his gap and wrapping up the ball carrier.  He also does a great job in pass coverage, ranking third on the team in passes broken up.  Acho can play all three linebacker positions and excel at each.  He has started 4 games at middle, but is expected to stay at strongside, for the most part.  Johnson is a converted defensive end that is tough against the run and has good speed to be a pass rushing threat.  Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Dustin Earnest (10 tackles, 1 PBU), with Sr. Jared Norton (10 tackles) backing him up.  Earnest isn't particularly fast, with only average speed, and has struggled in pass coverage.  He's had trouble matching up against quick receivers.  He is stingy against the run, however, tackling very consistently.  Norton isn't a speedster either, but like Earnest, is good in filling gaps and stopping the run.  At weakside linebacker is Jr. Keenan Robinson (50 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 PBU), while E. Acho backs him up.  Robinson is an excellent athlete.  He's quick to get into the offensive backfield and a tremendous hitter.  He will have occasional problems with not staying on his gap and has played soft coverage, although he usually will make a quick tackle after the receiver catches the ball.


DB: The Longhorns' defensive backfield has been very good this season, but have only forced 2 interceptions as a group.  They are smart defenders that make great plays by challenging receivers' routes, but will still have periods of lackadaisical play.  They gave up a lot of yards and some points to Oklahoma, but many of the big plays in the passing game were more the product of some incredible passes and catches by the Sooners, rather than poor play from the Longhorns.  The exception was on the Sooners' third touchdown of the game, in which there appeared to be a lot of confusion in the endzone and the defensive backs badly out of position.  Starting at cornerback is Sr. Curtis Brown (13 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PBU) at left corner and Jr. Aaron Williams (20 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FF, 7 PBU) at right corner.  Curtis Brown is speedy and a solid tackler, but will sometimes get caught playing a little too soft of coverage against the opposing receiver, allowing some easy catches.  Williams is a phenomenal cover corner that has a nose for the football.  He's broken up a team-high 7 passes this season and is will lay the wood to those that come near him.  Players in the reserve rotation at corner include Sr. Chykie Brown (15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 6 PBU), TFr. A.J. White (2 tackles), and TFr. Carrington Byndom (6 tackles).  Chykie Brown is a heady player, very physical, and makes a lot of plays on the ball while it is in the air.  He has had a history of mediocre coverage and getting burned by opposing receivers, however.  White and Byndom haven't seen much action this season, but have looked good in their limited play.  Starting at the safety spots are Jr. Christian Scott (15 tackles) at left safety, with Jr. Blake Gideon (27 tackles, 1 INT) at right safety.  Scott had the unenviable task of replacing Earl Thomas this year and as expected, it hasn't all been roses.  Against Oklahoma, he was the last line of defense on an eventual touchdown run that he whiffed on the tackle attempt.  That's not typical, however, as he usually is a dependable tackler.  Gideon is hard hitting safety that does a great job in run support.  His coverage skills are usually solid and overall he is a very capable safety.  Top reserves at safety include So. Kenny Vaccaro (28 tackles, 3 PBU) and TFr. Adrian Phillips (5 tackles).  Vaccaro is a talented defensive back that is very good in coverage coming off the bench.  


Texas Special Teams

Texas' special teams units have been struggling this season, especially in the return game.  The Longhorns currently rank 57th in net punting (36.54 yd avg), 104th in kickoff returns (19.06 yd avg), 42nd in punt returns (9.75 yd avg), 48th in kickoff coverage (20.80 yd avg), and 104th in punt coverage (15.25 yd avg).  

K: Jr. Justin Tucker has made 9 of his 11 field goal attempts with a long of 51 this season.  Tucker has been very good, taking over for the graduated Hunter Lawrence.  He possesses a strong leg, and has made his last 8 attempts.  Tucker is also the kickoff specialist, pushing 7 of his 28 kickoffs for a touchback with a 64.0 yard average, kicking to about the 6 yard line.  

P: Sr. John Gold has a typically solid leg and is averaging 42.8 yards on his 13 punts with a long of 62 this season.  2 of his 13 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  Jr. Justin Tucker has also punted this season, averaging 38.3 yards on his 10 punts with a long of 48 this season.  6 of his 10 punts were downed inside the opponents' 20.

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Longhorns consists of So. Marquise Goodwin (3 kick returns, 17 yd avg, 26 yd long) and So. D.J. Monroe (9 kick returns, 22.1 yd avg, 32 yd long).  Sr. Curtis Brown (7 punt returns, 12.4 yd avg, 22 yd long) and Jr. Aaron Williams (9 punt returns, 7.7 yd avg, 25 yd long) work as the top punt return men.  While the group is talented, fumbling has been a real problem.  In the kick return game, Monroe has lost a fumble, while in the punt return game Williams has lost two and Brown has lost one.  This is unacceptable from these talented athletes.

Coverage: The Longhorns' kick and punt coverage units have been mediocre, giving up some big returns in very inopportune times.  Through five games, the kick coverage unit has allowed an average of 20.8 yards on 20 kickoff return attempts with a long of 45.  The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 15.2 yards on 4 punt return attempts with a long of 24.  



NEBRASKA

Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's spread option offensive attack has been, for the most part, one of the more dynamic offenses in the nation this season.  They don't throw the ball often, but really haven't had to yet.  The ground game has been phenomenal, frequently producing long touchdown runs.  Nebraska currently ranks 7th nationally in total offense (494.40 ypg), 106th in passing (156.80 ypg), 26th in pass efficiency (152.62 rating), 2nd in rushing (337.60 ypg), 9th in scoring offense (41.60 ppg), 15th in interceptions thrown (3), 100th in fumbles lost (7), and 62nd in giveaways (10).  

QB: RFr. Taylor Martinez (39 for 64, 660 yds, 3 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 68 times for 737 yards and 12 touchdowns (lost 59 yards on sacks) this season.  He bounced back in a big way last week against Kansas State after struggling against South Dakota State the game prior.  Against KSU, Martinez rushed for an impressive 259 yards on just 15 carries, with 4 touchdown runs.  Through the air, he was 5 of 7 for 128 yards and a touchdown.   With that performance he earned Big XII offensive player of the week.  While he had a tremendous game, consistency still needs to be shown week to week, which is a lot to expect from a freshman.  In terms of consistency, he needs to make the 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 really hasn't had to.  In his limited opportunities to throw the ball, he has been less than impressive.  His arm can be quite erratic; he has shaky footwork in the pocket, and also tends to stare down his receiver.  Quite a few times this season, he has had open receivers downfield, but checked down to a much shorter route.  His arm strength is questionable right now because while throws at a high velocity, he consistently under-throws open receivers.  So. Cody Green (7 for 12, 79 yds, 1 TD) is the second option.  He showed a propensity for fumbling, however, has been fumble free the past two games.  Green has carried the ball 15 times for 64 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. (51 carries, 415 yds, 5 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 (52 carries, 361 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 (11 carries, 12 yds) and Jr. Austin Jones (10 carries, 50 yds, 1 TD) are splitting 3rd back carries this season.  Last season, Robinson has potential to be a quality power back, but really isn't quick enough to produce in the spread offensive sets and is much better suited out of the I-form where he can get some momentum going and has a fullback in front of him.  Jones has looked solid in his limited carries, albeit the carries have come late in games against tired defenses.  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 (6 catches, 97 yds) have good hands and 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 (11 catches, 161 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.  He is a great blocker, however, and has opened some big lanes along the sideline for the backs.  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.  He has great hands and turns up field quickly after the catch.  Sr. Mike McNeill (6 catches, 130 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.  Top reserves at receiver include TFr. Quincy Enunwa (1 catch, 10 yds), So. Khiry Cooper, Sr. Will Henry (2 catches, 32 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 (2 catches, 12 yds) and So. Kyler Reed (3 catches, 116 yds, 2 TDs).  Cotton is a better blocker than Reed, but Reed is a better athlete.  Reed has had a successful last pair of games, pulling in a touchdown in each contest, including a 79 yarder last week.  A possible season ending back injury to Sr. Dreu Young has hurt the depth at TE.  

OL: Nebraska's offensive line, when they want to, can do a great job of taking on defenders and imposing their will on them.  If they are focused, they have shown the ability to dominate the opposition.  However, the lackadaisical play that showed up two games ago against South Dakota State cannot return.  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.  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 good so far this season, with Sirles starting 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.  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, but is finally able to play.  D.J. doesn't have great torque in his hips and also will get beat often by athletic linemen.  D.J. had one of his career best games last week against KSU.  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 is one of the best in the country this season.  They answered the question of whether or not they could shut down a tough running offense with a resounding yes, deflating the KSU's ground attack.  Their defense also showed against KSU that they didn't need to stack the box and get out of their Peso alignment to stop the run.  The real strength of the defense, however, is the secondary.  Few, if any teams in the nation can match what Nebraska has in their defensive backfield.  The Huskers are currently ranked 12th nationally in total defense (275.00 ypg), 1st in pass defense (128.00 ypg), 1st in pass efficiency defense (83.06 rating), 57th in rush defense (147.00 ypg), 4th in scoring defense (12.80 ppg), 4th in interceptions (11), 97th in fumbles recovered (2), and 19th in total takeaways (13).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line play has been pretty solid this season, however, the loss of Ndamukong Suh has been glaring at times.  They play a two gap system, in which the d-linemen line up square with the opposing o-lineman, and attempts to take responsibility for the gaps on either side.  What this does is allow for fewer men in the box and keeps the secondary numbers up, so it doesn't become an opportunity for the offense.  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.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Pierre Allen (21 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 6 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (21 tackles, 0.5 sack, 4 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 (23 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Thaddeus Randle (5 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 (18 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 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 returned to practice this week.  Compton could play Saturday, but don't expect him to be a big part of the game plan.  With those early losses, it thrust a couple of guys into starting roles that were not quite ready.  The group continues to improve week by week, but still has occasional issues with misreading the play and hitting the wrong gap.  This has been getting better as the unit earned more experience.  Starting at middle linebacker is So. Eric Martin (17 tackles), with So. Alonzo Whaley (9 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 (60 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 QBH, 5 PBU) starts at weakside linebacker, with Jr. Matt May (7 tackles) and Sr. Thomas Grove (3 tackles) proving back-up.  David is a JUCO transfer that didn't arrive in Lincoln until the summer, yet quickly proved to be a playmaker.  He leads the Big XII in tackles after five games, and will continue to be a big time player for the defense as he gets more experience in the system.  He earned Big XII defensive player of the week honors after recording 16 tackles and a sack against KSU.  Nebraska is calling their hybrid strongside linebacker/safety the "Peso", and starting at that spot is Sr. Eric Hagg (10 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 3 PBU), with Jr. Austin Cassidy (6 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 were somewhat of a concern coming into the season, 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 10 interceptions and returning 3 for scores in 5 games.  Sr. Prince Amukamara (20 tackles, 6 PBU) starts at LCB, with TFr. Ciante Evans (3 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 away from 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 (13 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.  Behind Dennard are So. Antonio Bell and RFr. Dijon Washington.  Starting at free safety is Sr. Rickey Thenarse (28 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU), with So. P.J. Smith (19 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 (42 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), with Sr. Anthony West (6 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 one weakness shown so far has been kickoff coverage, which has been shaky due to some sloppy tackling and taking poor angles on the return man.  The Huskers are currently ranked 45th in net punting (37.28 yd avg), 37th in kickoff returns (23.75 yd avg), 41st in punt returns (9.92 yd avg), 95th in kickoff coverage (23.90 yd avg), and 79th in punt coverage (10.80 yd avg).

K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  This season, he is 4 for 4 with a long of 40.  He has made 39 of his last 40 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 15 of 37 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 69.4 yard average, kicking between the goal line and 1 yard line.

P: Sr. Alex Henery ranks 19th nationally, averaging 44.4 yards on his 18 punts with a long of 62 this season.  7 of his 18 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 (5 kick returns, 17 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 is likely to be a problem.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 23.9 yards on 21 kickoff returns (52 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 10.8 yards on 10 punt returns (19 yd long).  The kick coverage team allowed Kansas State's William Powell a 31 yard average on 6 returns last week with a long of 52.




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



Injury Report

Texas
WR - Mike Davis - Knee - Probable
WR - John Chiles - Groin - Probable
WR - Gregory Timmons - Neck - Out Indefinitely
TE - Blaine Irby - Neck - Out Indefinitely
TE - Trey Graham - Knee - Out for Season
OL - Luke Poehlmann - Knee - Out for Season
RB - Vondrell McGee - Eligibility - Out for Season

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



Keys to the Game

Texas
1.) Slow Down Martinez and the Nebraska Ground Game - Sound, assignment football against the Huskers' spread option attack will be necessary to keep the score down.  Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez has been dynamic on the ground, but hasn't looked great throwing the ball.  Forcing him to make plays with his arm could prove to be very fruitful for Texas, if he hasn't improved his throwing mechanics and decision making since the South Dakota State game.
2.) Playmakers Have to Step Up on Offense - While there is certainly talent on the offense, most of the guys aren't playing to their potential.  They have been putting up very underwhelming numbers because no one has truly separated themselves from the pack at running back, wide receiver, or tight end.  A guy will make a nice play here or there, but rarely multiple in a single game or even week-to-week.  If Gilbert doesn't get help from the skill positions, it's going to be tough to score points on a defense like Nebraska's.  
3.) Blocking, Blocking, Blocking - In addition to the lack of skill position playmakers, the offense has been having a rough time trying to get things going because of the lack of push up front.  In both pass protection and run blocking, problems continue week after week.  It's hard to get a running game going when there are no lanes to burst through, and just as hard to get a QB in a rhythm when he is under consistent duress.  Things need to get better quickly.

Nebraska
1.) The Sharp, Engaged Nebraska Team Must Show Up - The team that looked unstoppable at times against Washington and Kansas State is the team Nebraska needs to be week in and week out.  The lackadaisical squad that showed up against South Dakota State and at times on offense against Idaho can't show up again if Nebraska wants to go through the Big XII unscathed.  Since they are playing a good football team this week in Texas, they should be focused,  and if they learned their lesson from the South Dakota State game, they should be fine.  Get up early and force Texas' sputtering offense to try and come from behind.
2.) Martinez Has to Make Some Plays with His Arm - Sure, he can make incredible plays with his legs, often running for long touchdowns virtually untouched.  But the real question is still whether or not he can win a game with his arm.  He's only been asked to throw a handful of passes each week, but against a great Texas defense, it's likely he'll have to do more.  
3.) Turnovers Will Be Paramount - Texas and Nebraska are tied at 100th nationally with 7 fumbles lost though 5 games.  Nebraska has fumbled 18 times, though, compared to Texas' 9.  While this is a key in pretty much every game, in a match-up with 2 great defenses, turnovers can be the one true game changer.  In the series between these two teams, turnovers have cost Nebraska many of the close games.  Nebraska cannot afford to be careless with the football, as they have shown to be at times, or an upset could easily happen.




Final Outlook

In the pre-season, this match-up was looked at to be an epic football battle between a pair of top ten teams.  While this game still has the makings of a great game, a great deal of the luster has tarnished with Texas dropping two games early this season.  Still, Texas is probably the best two loss team in the country right now and is certainly not hurting for talent - just proven game breakers.  Nebraska has plenty of proven playmakers, but hasn't had to face a defense quite like Texas' this season.  

One thing to watch for is how Texas QB Garrett Gilbert responds to his first out of state road test.  It's important to note that the Longhorns have yet to leave the state of Texas this season, and the game in Lincoln will present a very loud environment that Gilbert could have trouble with, especially with how he has a tendency to start slow.  Last season's national championship game as well as this season's Red River Rivalry game was more equal in splitting the fans.  Even the game at Lubbock, TX a month ago had plenty of burnt orange in the crowd.  It will definitely be interesting to see how he keeps his composure, especially early in the game.

Texas' offense has really struggled to find any sort of consistency snap to snap this season.  The Longhorns have averaged just 18.6 points per game against teams from BCS conferences (Texas Tech, UCLA, and Oklahoma).  Considering that they managed just 12 points against a UCLA team giving up 25.67 points per game and they put up just 24 against a Texas Tech defense giving up 31.60 points per game, this has to be concerning.  Garrett Gilbert hasn't had a lot of help from his surrounding cast this year, and there is hope that the bye week may give the group a fresh start with increased production.  Unfortunately, Nebraska's defense is probably the best they've faced this year, as they have appeared to be more talented and more consistent than Oklahoma.  The knock on Nebraska's defense was its rush defense, but after shutting down KSU's Daniel Thomas last Thursday, some of those concerns have been alleviated.  They started slow in that game defensively, but took over from the second quarter on.  Texas' offensive line is the biggest problem for their offense, and going up against a very good Nebraska defensive line could spell trouble.  The Longhorns are going to have to get great performances out of speedy guys like RB D.J. Monroe, and the return of WR Mike Davis will help as well.  But even with that help, it will likely be difficult to put many scoring drives together.

Nebraska, meanwhile, has averaged 52 points per game against their BCS conference foes (Washington and Kansas State), nearly double the average points per game given up by both opponents.  Nebraska's offense has been electrifying so far this season, with the only slip up being a game they sleepwalked through against South Dakota State.  Other than that, QB Taylor Martinez with RB's Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead has been a nightmare to game plan against.  Texas' defense, though, is stronger and faster than anyone Nebraska has faced this season, and it's unlikely the Huskers will pull off plays of 40+ with any sort of regularity.  The Longhorns did give up 6.3 yards per carry to UCLA on designed running plays.  While they did perform better against Oklahoma the following week, they still allowed nearly 4 yards per carry on designed running plays (3.9 ypc).  Nebraska has the second ranked rushing offense nationally, so this should be a fantastic battle throughout the game.  This will be a game that Nebraska has to show they can put lengthy scoring drives together with Martinez having to sprinkle in more passes - and complete them.  They'll score more than they did against the Longhorns in the Big XII championship game, but don't expect anything gaudy like they got against Washington and Kansas State.

In the simplest terms, Nebraska has been a better, more consistent team this season than Texas.  While the full bye week Texas had should help them scheme for the Nebraska offense and defense as well as work on their own problems, the Huskers also had a couple of extra days thanks to playing Kansas State on a Thursday a week ago to do the same for their team.  Make no mistake, this game means a lot to both Nebraska and Texas.  Whether Texas came into this game 5-0 or 0-5 wouldn't have mattered for Nebraska.  And for Texas, they're ego has taken a big hit after getting knocked out of the Top 25 and they will be hungry to get back in.  Emotions will be riding high as kickoff approaches, but after that, it's down to business as usual.  

The defenses should control much of what happens on Saturday afternoon.  The big difference is in the talent and success of the offenses, as Nebraska's has just been much, much better.  The reason some may feel compelled to take the Longhorns at this point would be due to the success of squeaking out close games against Nebraska.  Also, many probably can't imagine Mack Brown losing 3 games in a row for the first time in his career at Texas.  The problem is that many of Texas' problems, including their offensive line woes, would be very difficult to suddenly fix in a bye week.  Expect a fairly low scoring affair with the field goal kickers getting most of the action.  Nebraska's ability to break the occasional big play and their ball hawking defense should be the difference.  Nebraska by 7-10


Texas - 13
Nebraska - 23

 


Big Red Report Top Stories