Huskers vs Cowboys

The 13th ranked Huskers head down to Stillwater to take on the 15th ranked and undefeated Oklahoma State Cowboys. Check out our game preview as we break it all down.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

--by Vince Campisi

October 23rd, 2010
2:30 PM CDT
Boone Pickens Stadium
Stillwater, OK
Television Coverage: ABC

#13 (C)/#14 (AP) NEBRASKA (5 - 1) (1 - 1)
#15 (C)/#17 (AP) OKLAHOMA STATE (6 - 0) (2 - 0)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State

Latest Line
Opening: Nebraska by 6.
Current: Nebraska by 6.


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 - L 13-20
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

Oklahoma State
09/04/10 - vs. Washington State - W 65-17
09/11/10 - vs. Troy - W 41-38
09/18/10 - vs. Tulsa - W 65-28
09/30/10 - vs. Texas A&M - W 38-35
10/08/10 - at. Louisiana-Lafayette - W 54-28
10/16/10 - at. Texas Tech - W 34-17
10/23/10 - vs. Nebraska
10/30/10 - at. Kansas State
11/06/10 - vs. Baylor
11/13/10 - at. Texas
11/20/10 - at. Kansas
11/27/10 - vs. Oklahoma

Historically Speaking

Saturday will mark the 43rd all-time match-up between Nebraska and Oklahoma State, since first meeting in 1960.  Nebraska holds a large series edge of 36-5-1, but has lost 3 of the last 4 to the Pokes.  Nebraska's last win in Stillwater was all the way back in 1995, however, only two games have been played at home for Oklahoma State since then.  This is the first time since 1988 that both teams are ranked in the AP poll heading into the game (Nebraska was 7th, Oklahoma State at 10th).  The last time these two teams met was in 2007 in Lincoln, NE.  2007 is remembered for being Nebraska's worst football team since the 1950's and the Cowboys went into Lincoln and took advantage early.  They jumped out to an early lead and went into halftime up 38-0.  Much of Memorial Stadium cleared out at that point, disgusted by what they were seeing by their team in red as Dantrell Savage ran all over the Blackshirt defense.  The Cowboys let up on Nebraska in the second half and finished with a 45-14 victory in Lincoln, their first win in Lincoln since 1960.  The last meeting in Stillwater took place in 2006.  Nebraska looked great early, taking a 16-0 lead by the middle of the second quarter.  It was all downhill from there for the Huskers, however, as Oklahoma State woke up and would outscore Nebraska 41-13 from that point forward, taking the game 41-29.

Player Breakdowns


Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's spread option offensive attack has looked outstanding for most of this season, but continually shot themselves in the foot last week against a great Texas defense.  The Huskers fumbled the ball 5 times in the game, and although they lost only 1 of those, the other 4 hurt as well.  The biggest problem, however, was the 8 drops by Nebraska receivers, with at least 3 and potentially 5 of those going for touchdowns.  Nebraska currently ranks 24th nationally in total offense (445.67 ypg), 111th in passing (143.50 ypg), 47th in pass efficiency (135.14 rating), 4th in rushing (302.17 ypg), 14th in scoring offense (36.83 ppg), 7th in interceptions thrown (3), 104th in fumbles lost (8), and 54th in giveaways (11).  

QB: RFr. Taylor Martinez (43 for 76, 723 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 81 times for 758 yards and 12 touchdowns (lost 77 yards on sacks) this season.  He had a very rough game last week against Texas, rushing for just 21 yards on 13 carries, failing to reach the endzone.  Through the air, he was just 4 of 12 for 63 yards.  Many of those incompletions, however, were passes that should have been caught, a few for touchdowns.  There is room to improve in all facets of the game for Martinez.  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, something that should improve as he gains experience.  Martinez hasn't done much damage through the air this season, and 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 because while throws at a high velocity, he consistently under-throws open receivers.  This wasn't a big issue last week against Texas, as he delivered a number of nice passes, only to have them dropped by his receivers.  It should be noted that Martinez has been pulled in two of the last three games.  So. Cody Green (7 for 12, 79 yds, 1 TD) is among the top two backups.  Green has the tools to be a very good quarterback for Nebraska, but lacks the extra burst of speed that Martinez possesses.  He has shown a propensity for fumbling, however, that was earlier in the season.  Green has carried the ball 15 times for 64 yards this season.  Sr. Zac Lee (7 for 13, 59 yds), last year's starter, is listed as co-number two at QB with Green 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 46 yards on 13 attempts this season.  He played most of the second half against Texas last week and performed well.  However, despite his delivering the ball well through the air, the receivers also dropped his passes.  His decision making in the zone-read play was better than Martinez's, but he doesn't have the speed to make defenses fear him.

RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is deep and talented.  They are led by Sr. Roy Helu Jr. (62 carries, 458 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.  He committed his first fumble of the year last week against Texas, setting up a very short field for Texas that led to a touchdown.  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.  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 (7 catches, 104 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.  Burkhead dropped an uncontested, perfectly placed touchdown pass last week against Texas.  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, Hill's 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 in catching passes 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 (17 catches, 227 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.  Against Texas, he dropped a number of passes, many hitting him in stride right in the hands.  At least two of his drops would have likely been touchdowns.  Paul also has had 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 (18 catches, 219 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 typically has great hands and turns up field quickly after the catch.  He dropped a sure touchdown pass late in the 4th quarter against Texas last week.  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's athleticism makes him a tough match-up for linebackers and safeties, but isn't targeted nearly enough.  Against Texas last week, he made an outstanding catch on a 3rd down that would have given Nebraska a big first down near mid-field, but was incorrectly called out of bounds by the official.  A possible season ending back injury to Sr. Dreu Young has hurt the depth at TE.  

OL: Nebraska's offensive line, when they are fully engaged, can do a great job of taking on defenders and imposing their will on them.  When they are focused, they have shown the ability to dominate the opposition.  However, they have yet to dominate a quality defense.  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 pretty 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.  Sirles had a tough game against Texas last week, and committed a costly holding penalty in the 4th quarter on a 4th down that was converted without the penalty.  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.  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 one of the best in the country this season.  Dating back to last year, the Huskers have played 14 straight games allowing no more than 21 points.  While the run defense has looked suspect, many of their problems can be cleaned up with better tackling.  Last week against Texas, the Huskers missed a total of 28 tackles, simply unacceptable at this level of football.  Few, if any teams in the nation can match what Nebraska has in their defensive backfield.  The Huskers are currently ranked 9th nationally in total defense (274.33 ypg), 1st in pass defense (117.00 ypg), 1st in pass efficiency defense (80.41 rating), 74th in rush defense (157.33 ypg), 9th in scoring defense (14.00 ppg), 8th in interceptions (11), 107th in fumbles recovered (2), and 31st in total takeaways (13).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line play has been up and down this season and 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.  They are allowing 4.5 yards per carry when taking sacks out of the equation.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Pierre Allen (27 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 8 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (26 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 (27 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 to 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 (26 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 PBU), with Jr. Terrence Moore (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR) backing him up.  Steinkuhler has had some trouble getting off his blocks this season, but should get better with more 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 got a little stronger last week with the return of the injured Will Compton.  With Sean Fisher out for the season, this unit is as strong as it will be all season.  The group has some issues with misreading running plays and hitting the wrong gap.  This should be getting better as the unit earns more experience, but it is slow going.  Starting at middle linebacker is So. Will Compton (1 tackle), with So. Alonzo Whaley (9 tackles) and So. Eric Martin (17 tackles) backing him up.  Compton brings more game experience into the game after starting a season ago.  His return to the lineup should help the rush defense tremendously.  Whaley started the opener but struggled with communication and has worked as a back up since.  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.  Jr. Lavonte David (70 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 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 six games, and will continue to be a big time player for the defense as he gets more experience in the system.  Nebraska is calling their hybrid strongside linebacker/safety the "Peso", and starting at that spot is Sr. Eric Hagg (12 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 3 PBU), with Jr. Austin Cassidy (7 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.  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 6 games.  Sr. Prince Amukamara (24 tackles, 7 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 (14 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 QBH, 5 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 (31 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU), with So. P.J. Smith (30 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.  His problem is that he always goes for the impressive looking big hit and will miss tackles, instead of wrapping up for a sure tackle.  This was a big problem last week against Texas.  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 (53 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 coverage teams have been weak, however, due to some sloppy tackling and taking poor angles on the return man.  The Huskers are currently ranked 39th in net punting (37.80 yd avg), 57th in kickoff returns (22.27 yd avg), 9th in punt returns (15.33 yd avg), 94th in kickoff coverage (23.55 yd avg), and 93rd in punt coverage (12.31 yd avg).

K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  This season, he is 6 for 6 with a long of 45.  He has made 41 of his last 42 kicks from under 50 yards.  Sr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and has been among the best kickoff specialists in the nation throughout his four year career.  Kunalic has pushed 17 of 40 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 9th nationally, averaging 45.80 yards on his 25 punts with a long of 62 this season.  9 of his 25 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 Sr. Niles Paul (7 kick returns, 15.9 yd avg, 20 yd long) and Jr. Brandon Kinnie (5 kick returns, 25.4 yd avg, 39 yd long).  Kinnie lacks burner speed, but does a good job of navigating quickly though his blockers.  At punt returner is Sr. Niles Paul (13 punt returns, 10.5 yd avg, 31 yd long).  Paul has had issues with ball control, and doesn't always make great decisions on whether or not to field a ball.  Sr. Eric Hagg took a fake field goal pooch punt 95 yards for a touchdown against Texas last week (school record).  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 return man.  Against teams with good return units, this is a problem and needs to be fixed.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 23.5 yards on 22 kickoff returns (52 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 12.3 yards on 13 punt returns (24 yd long).    


Oklahoma State Offense

Oklahoma State's offense is a balanced spread attack that has been tough for opposing defenses to stop.  They possess gifted skill position players that can break open a game at any moment.  The Cowboys are currently ranked 2nd nationally in total offense (535.33 ypg), 3rd in passing (361.00 ypg), 8th in passing efficiency (165.09 rating), 41st in rushing (174.33 ypg), 2nd in scoring offense (49.50 ppg), 97th in interceptions thrown (9), 27th in fumbles lost (4), and 79th in giveaways (13).  

QB: Jr. Brandon Weeden (155 of 225, 1966 yds, 19 TDs, 8 INTs) starts at quarterback for the Pokes.  He spent a few years with the New York Yankees minor league system before deciding to return to football and join Oklahoma State.  Weeden has a big time arm and can make all the throws around the field.  When he's at his best, he is throwing crisp passes to his receivers and isn't locking in on one guy too much.  He does tend to be inconsistent with his arm, however, and will make a number of mistakes.  He'll often toss up jump balls to his receivers, especially to Justin Blackmon and hope for the best.  Blackmon bails him out more times than not, which has made Weeden's numbers look better than they probably should.  When defenses have been able to get after Weeden in the pocket, he has been off the mark.  While he struggles when a defense puts pressure on him, many of his interceptions have been due to poor decisions regardless of the amount of pressure he's been under.  His downfield vision could get better, as he'll throw deep towards a receiver, no matter how many men are covering while an open man may not be far away.  He does not run with the ball and has yet to go forward on a rush.  He has lost 72 yards on 8 sacks this season.  Behind Weeden are RFr. Clint Chelf (12 of 16, 194 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and TFr. Johnny Deaton (1 of 2, 6 yds).  Chelf has appeared in just two games this season, but has fared well in each outing.  

RB: The Cowboys' running backs are led by Sr. Kendall Hunter (135 carries, 830 yds, 10 TDs).  Hunter is an All-American caliber running back that has bounced back nicely this season after struggling with a foot injury a year ago.  While short in stature at just 5'8", his 200 pound frame makes him a tough back that could easily be a 20 to 30 carry rusher each week.  Hunter is a challenge in the open field as well, breaking multiple tackles and using his great quickness to change directions swiftly.  Backs in the reserve rotation include TFr. Joseph Randle (45 carries, 224 yds, 1 TD) and RFr. Jeremy Smith (20 carries, 76 yds, 2 TDs).  Randle has really been a nice surprise for the offense this season right out of high school.  He has done a good job of finding a seam to run through and is very fast.  He had his best game of the season last week against Texas Tech, rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.  Smith is another talented back that should eventually become a quality playmaker for the Cowboys' offense.  The backs are used often in the passing game, with Hunter (14 catches, 44 yds) and Randle (14 catches, 190 yds, 1 TD) each contributing receptions this season.  Randle does a very good job of picking up yards after the catch and last week picked up 44 yards on just 3 catches.  At fullback is Sr. Bryant Ward (2 catches, 1 yd), with So. David Paulson backing him up.  The fullbacks don't see the field all that much, but Ward is a solid blocker with fair speed and hands.  

WR/TE: The Cowboys' receiving corps is a deep and talented unit.  There have been some injury troubles within the group this season, but they should be close to 100% for Saturday's game.  Starting at the wide receiver spots are So. Justin Blackmon (57 catches, 955 yds, 12 TDs) and Jr. Colton Chelf (6 catches, 86 yds).  Blackmon has quickly shown to be one of the top wide outs in the nation this season.  He has great hands and speed, and utilizes his excellent quickness to run crisp, clean routes.  One area that he really excels in is going up for jump balls.  He does a great job making adjustments for the ball while it is in the air, getting under it and making a play for it.  Once he gets the ball, he's tough to get in the open field, slipping by many would-be tacklers.  Last week against Texas Tech, Blackmon had a career day, catching 10 passes for 207 yards and a score.  Chelf is a smaller receiver (5'9") and hasn't made much of an impact yet this season.  At the inside receiver spots are Sr. Bo Bowling (10 catches, 86 yds) and So. Tracy Moore (13 catches, 167 yds).  Bowling is a decent receiver that lacks the quickness of others in this group.  Against Louisiana-Lafayette a few weeks ago, his inability to catch the football resulted in a tip and interception.  Moore is a thick receiver that plays more like a half-back than a true receiver.  He has very good hands and will surprise some with his wheels.  Reserves in the rotation at receiver include Jr. Josh Cooper (27 catches, 297 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Hubert Anyian (8 catches, 116 yds, 3 TDs), RFr. Michael Harrison (6 catches, 71 yds, 2 TDs), So. Isaiah Anderson (4 catches, 74 yds), So. Justin Horton (1 catch, 6 yds), and Sr. Anthony Hill (1 catch, 6 yds).  Cooper has struggled with injuries throughout his career and this year is no exception.  He's expected to be 100% for Saturday's game, and when he is healthy, he'll show off some excellent skills.  A few games ago against Texas A&M, he had a tremendous one-handed catch along the sideline for a nice gain.  Anyiam is one of the best in the group and if he is ready to go this week, should do a great job of taking some pressure off of Blackmon.  Harrison is another talented receiver that has been bothered by injuries that, when he returns, will help the Cowboys' be able to spread the ball around even more effectively.  

OL: Oklahoma State's offensive line has been better than expected so far this season, after replacing 4 starts from last year's line.  They haven't been great, and have struggled with picking up blitzes, but they have been good enough to keep the Cowboys' offense moving forward.  Starting at tackle is Jr. Nick Martinez (6'4", 315 lbs) on the left and Jr. Levy Adcock (6'5", 318 lbs) on the right.  Martinez has struggled at times this season, getting blown up by quick ends.  He lacks great hip movement, so if a defender can get outside of him, he has a very tough time getting into a position to make a good block.  Adcock is a pretty athletic tackle that is also very strong and isn't typically getting beat on one-on-one situations.  The top reserves at tackle are Sr. Jordan Taormina (6'6", 327 lbs) and RFr. Parker Graham (6'7", 285 lbs).  Starting at guard is Jr. Jonathan Rush (6'4", 308 lbs) on the left and So. Lane Taylor (6'3", 315 lbs) on the right.  Rush is a strong guard that is better at opening running lanes than he is in pass protection.  Taylor was the only returning starter to this line from a season ago.  He is a versatile lineman that is equally skilled in rush blocking and in protecting his quarterback.  Top back-ups at guard include Sr. Anthony Morgan (6'3", 310 lbs) and So. Patrick Hoog (6'3", 295 lbs).  Starting at center is Jr. Grant Garner (6'3", 291 lbs), with Jr. Casey LaBrue (6'3", 274 lbs) backing him up.  Grant has been solid this year in run blocking, staying with his block and often driving his man away from the ball carrier.  He hasn't been quite as good in pass protection, having problems with the occasional blitzing linebacker.

Oklahoma State Defense

Oklahoma State's defense has struggled with most of the offenses they've played this year.  They've had trouble in the defensive backfield, putting up some of the worst numbers in the nation.  Some of that can be attributed to playing mostly pass heavy offenses, however.  For that same reason, Oklahoma State's rushing defense numbers look a little better than they probably should because they haven't played a quality rushing offense.  The Cowboys are currently ranked 92nd nationally in total defense (404.50 ypg), 114th in pass defense (280.00 ypg), 58th in pass efficiency defense (124.27 rating), 36th in rush defense (124.50 ypg), 73rd in scoring defense (27.17 ppg), 26th in interceptions forced (8), 4th in fumbles recovered (10), and 7th in total takeaways (18).  

DL: The Cowboys' defensive line has been fair this season, but quite inconsistent.  At times they get a nice pass rush from their front four, but more often than not, they have to bring a linebacker to help out.  While they give up 3.3 yards per carry officially on the ground, when you take sacks out of the equation, they are allowing 4.7 yards per carry.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Jamie Blatnick (11 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) at left end and Sr. Ugo Chinasa (16 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) at right end.  Chinasa is the top player on the line, using his great speed to get into the backfield quickly.  He has a great motor, is very strong, and his quickness make it tough on opposing tackles.  He's also a smart end that gets his hands up into the passing lanes.  Against Texas A&M he tipped a pass to himself and picked it off, showing his skills.  Blatnick is heavier this year than last by nearly 15 pounds and is a couple of steps slower than Chinasa, but he still manages to get into the backfield often.  He currently leads the team in sacks at 3.  Top reserves at end include Jr. Richetti Jones (15 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) and Sr. Darius Hart (7 tackles, 1 FR, 1 QBH).  Jones is an "OR" with Blatnick and sees plenty of snaps.  He was a big time prospect out of high school that has great athleticism.  He's been great rushing off the end this year and disrupting play in the backfield.  Starting at the defensive tackle spots are Sr. Chris Donaldson (11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) and Sr. Shane Jarka (4 tackles).  Donaldson has played well this season, and is more of a run stopper than pass rusher from the inside.  He had a season high 5 stops, including one for an 8 yard loss against Texas Tech last weekend.  Jarka struggled with a knee injury early in the season and he missed three games, keeping his stats down.  Reserves in the defensive tackle rotation include So. Nigel Nicholas (10 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), So. Cooper Bassett (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU), RFr. Anthony Rogers (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 PBU), and TFr. Davidell Collins (2 tackles).  Nicholas is the top reserve and performed admirably when Jarka was out with injury.

LB: The Oklahoma State linebacking corps has been solid this season in rush support while struggling to defend the pass.  As a whole, the unit doesn't have great lateral speed, but does a good job going north-south.  Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Orie Lemon (62 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 FR, 1 PBU), with TFr. Caleb Lavey (1 tackle) backing him up.  Lemon is by far the top linebacker and because of the lack of depth behind him, it forces to play nearly every snap.  Lemon wraps up well on the ball carrier, but with his 243 lbs. frame, doesn't always have the top end speed to chase down a speedy rusher or receiver.  He has been average against the pass, giving up a few big passing plays.  Lavey should eventually become a very solid linebacker for the Cowboys, but needs more experience.  Jr. James Thomas (29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 3 PBU, 1 BLK) starts at strongside linebacker, with TFr. Shaun Lewis (14 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR) backing him up.  Thomas looks more like a hybrid LB/DB at 5'11" 209 lbs., and not surprisingly, is the quickest of the linebackers. He's made a lot of plays this year all over the field and is a very hard hitter.  At weakside linebacker is Sr. Justin Gent (23 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 2 QBH), while Sr. Tolu Moala (10 tackles, 1 QBH) backs him up.  Gent is a solid tackler, has decent speed, but is pretty weak against the pass.  Moala is similar in that he specializes in run stopping versus pass coverage.

DB: The Cowboys' defensive backfield has been giving up big plays on a weekly basis this season.  They are typically better in the second halves of games, however.  Last week's game against Texas Tech was probably their best performance of the season, holding the Red Raiders to just 226 yards and an average of 8.1 yards per completion.  Starting at cornerback is Sr. Andrew McGee (18 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU) at left corner and So. Brodrick Brown (32 tackles, 1 INT) at right corner.  McGee has been an opportunistic player this year, often making plays on poor decisions by opposing quarterbacks.  Brown is a solid tackler, but isn't very physical in coverage, and really doesn't fight for or make breaks on the ball when it is in the air.  He is only 5'8", and is targeted against often, which is why his tackle numbers are so high.  Players in the reserve rotation at corner include TFr. Justin Gilbert (9 tackles), TFr. Devin Hedgepeth (13 tackles, 1 FF, 2 PBU), and So. Andrae May (3 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU).  Gilbert is a young corner that has had trouble covering deep balls.  Hedgepeth is a speedy corner but has also been fairly soft in coverage so far this season.  Starting at strong safety is Jr. Markelle Martin (24 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 4 PBU), with TFr. Lavocheya Cooper (6 tackles) backing him up.  Martin is likely the best in the secondary this season with a nice combination of skills.  He is a hard hitting safety that doesn't miss many attempted tackles.  He's a smart football player that challenges passes and is the only returning starter in the group from last season.  Jr. Johnny Thomas (25 tackles, 1 FF, 1 PBU) starts at free safety, with TFr. Deion Imade (6 tackles) and TFr. Zack Craig (5 tackles) serving as the top back-ups.  Thomas is a smallish safety that has track speed.  Up until this season, most of his experience came on special teams, but has played well at times in his first year as a starter.  He does tend to over-pursue in run support as well as on short passes, though, and has had trouble recovering from that.

Oklahoma State Special Teams

Oklahoma State's special teams units have been good in some areas, weak in others.  The kicking and punting games are very strong, while the return and coverage units could be better.  The Cowboys currently rank 13th in net punting (40.13 yd avg), 80th in kickoff returns (20.56 yd avg), 27th in punt returns (11.20 yd avg), 119th in kickoff coverage (34.00 yd avg), and 63rd in punt coverage (9.00 yd avg).  

K: Sr. Dan Bailey has made all 13 of his field goal attempts with a long of 52 this season.  He possesses a strong, accurate leg, and has looked much better than a year ago when he was 13 for 18.  So. Quinn Sharp is one of the top kickoff specialists in the nation, pushing 35 of his 53 kickoffs for a touchback with a 69.3 yard average, kicking between the 1 yard line and the goal line.  

P: So. Quinn Sharp has a strong leg and ranks 10th nationally, averaging 45.6 yards on his 24 punts with a long of 67 this season.  3 of his 24 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  He has the strength to flip the field on the opponent, making him a great weapon on special teams.  

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Cowboys consists of Jr. Johnny Thomas (2 kick returns, 15.5 yd avg, 16 yd long) and TFr. Justin Gilbert (10 kick returns, 23.8 yd avg, 45 yd long).  TFr. Justin Gilbert (8 punt returns, 6.9 yd avg, 50 yd long) and Sr. Bo Bowling (2 punt returns, 9.5 yd avg, 23 yd long) work as the top punt return men.  The return game has been inconsistent, but they have shown the ability to break some nice returns on occasion.

Coverage: The Cowboys' kick and punt coverage units have been porous.  Numbers were better against Texas Tech, but weren't excellent.  Through six games, the kick coverage unit has allowed an average of 34 yards on 18 kickoff return attempts with a long of 100 and has given up 2 touchdowns.  The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 9.0 yards on 8 punt return attempts with a long of 20.  

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

Injury Report

WR - Khiry Cooper - Illness - Out Saturday
TE - Ryan Hill - Concussion - Out Indefinitely
LB - Will Compton - Foot - Questionable
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

Oklahoma State
CB - Justin Gilbert - Injury - Questionable
S - Victor Johnson - Knee - Out for Season

Keys to the Game

1.) Can't Beat Yourselves - Nebraska has fumbled 23 times this season, losing 8 (104th nationally).  They have also been penalized an average of 72.67 yards per game (111th nationally) (10 penalties for 94 yards vs. Texas last week).  This kind of undisciplined play has helped teams stay closer than they should, and attributed greatly to the loss last week to Texas.  In addition, the 8 dropped passes (at least 3 and up to 5 could have been touchdowns) and 28 missed tackles are unacceptable.
2.) Offense Needs a Quick Start - Nebraska has only trailed in one game this year, last week against Texas - and they lost.  Given the talent at the skill positions that Oklahoma State has, if the defense has an off game and gives up some points, the Nebraska offense needs to do better.  Coming off a game with zero offensive touchdowns, things need to get back on track and early on Saturday.  
3.) Has to Put the Texas Loss Behind Them and Show Up Focused - Nebraska played very flat against the Longhorns a week ago and had a tough times getting things going on offense.  Between the dropped touchdowns and missed tackles, they could do nothing right.  Maybe it was the pressure of the game that kept them from looking focused, maybe not, but whatever it was needs to be put behind them to avoid back-to-back losses.  When they have appeared fully focused (vs. Washington and Kansas State), they have looked unbeatable.  

Oklahoma State
1.) Key on Martinez and the Nebraska Zone-Read - Texas was able to shut down the Nebraska running game by playing sound, assignment football.  Of course, they did it with their great athletes and thanks to Nebraska dropping passes, which allowed them to keep stacking the box with 8 and 9 men.  The Cowboys don't have those same athletes in their defense, but they must try to stack the box and force Martinez to throw again.  If his receivers still can't catch the ball, it will be a great day defensively.
2.) Find a Way to Beat the Great Nebraska Pass Defense - The Huskers' defense ranked #1 in both yardage given up through the air and in efficiency defense.  The Cowboys have a very good group of receivers, led by Justin Blackmon that must get open.  The deep routes will be dangerous, so short, quick outs might be a better option in this game.  Getting Kendall Hunter going early on the ground will be huge and would help open things in the passing game.
3.) Eliminate Turnovers - 13 turnovers so far this season (79th nationally) have helped put points on the board for the opposition and against a ball hawking Nebraska defense that has forced 13 turnovers (31st nationally), they can't afford to be sloppy with the football.

Final Outlook

Oklahoma State's 6-0 start has been a pleasant surprise, considering all of the talent they lost from last year's squad.  Not all of the games have been pretty, with a close game with Troy (41-38) and some poor first half performances against Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas A&M, but they've gotten the job done each week.  Nebraska, on the other hand is coming off a heart breaking loss to Texas in a game they dropped multiple touchdown passes to kill their chances at also being 6-0 coming into this game.  Up until last week's game, Nebraska was projected to be in the national title picture by a number of pundits.  Now suddenly a few dropped passes later and the public perception of Nebraska has taken a nose dive.

Oklahoma State's offense has looked great this season, putting forth a nice balanced attack.  The caveat is that they haven't faced a quality defense yet this season, and haven't played a pass defense ranked in the top 100.  This will be their first real test of the season, as Nebraska's defense ranks first nationally in both passing yards given up and pass efficiency.  The Pokes will need to get their running game going with Kendall Hunter early, especially against a suspect Nebraska rush defense ranked .  Nebraska's defense has struggled to get any penetration on the opposition, ranked 118th nationally, averaging just 3.5 tackles for loss per game.  To put that in perspective, Nebraska averaged 6.64 tackles for loss a season ago.  If Hunter can have some success on the ground, it will be interesting to see if Nebraska comes out of their 5 and 6 defensive back packages to key in on the run.  They haven't yet this year, but with more healthy linebackers now, it might be an option.  The really exciting match-up to watch will be Justin Blackmon go up against Nebraska's corners Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard.  Nebraska has not allowed a 100 yard receiver since Colorado's Scotty McKnight picked up 114 last November, nine games ago.  It will be tough for Blackmon to get near the yardage he's been used to (159.20 ypg) on Saturday, so some of the other receivers will need to really step up to take some pressure off of him.  Josh Cooper could be the guy, but may not be 100% healthy yet.  

Nebraska's offense has looked explosive through most of the season, but got caught looking ahead against South Dakota State and laid an egg last week against Texas.  When they have appeared fully engaged, they've been dynamic, but much of their success depends upon the reads that Taylor Martinez makes and how well the line can block for him.  The line has been wildly inconsistent so far this year, at times looking like one of the top groups in the nation and at other times looking very pedestrian.  While the Nebraska running game has typically been solid, it is worth pointing out that Texas is the only top 20 rush defense they have faced this year.  The second best rushing defense they've played this year is Idaho, which ranks 84th.  Oklahoma State's rushing defense 36th nationally, but they haven't shut down a quality rushing team this season.  Tulsa is the best one they've played, ranked 17th nationally (221.57 ypg), and the Cowboys allowed 199 yards on the ground that game, close to their season average.  Nebraska has done a great job of beating themselves this year with constant fumbles and dropped passes.  Their lack of concentration has been troubling and hasn't really improved as the season has gone along.  They are fortunate to have only lost 8 of their 23 fumbles, but the ball isn't always going to bounce back into their laps 65% of the time.  Receivers Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie need to show more consistency and catch the ball when it hits them in the hands or Nebraska will continue to be one-dimensional and easy to slow down by good defenses.  

Worth noting are a few streaks Nebraska has going, two impressive, one not so much.  Impressive is that Nebraska hasn't given up more than 21 points since October 17th, 2009, when they gave up 31 to Texas Tech.  In fact, that is the only time they've allowed more than 21 in the past 21 games, an impressive feat.  Also impressive is that have not lost a conference road game since falling to Oklahoma on November 1st of 2008.  Not so impressive is that Nebraska hasn't beaten a team ranked as highly as Oklahoma State on the road since they defeated then-No. 2 Washington in 1997.  

This is a game that could easily go either way.  For the most part, this game is going to be strength vs. strength.  Oklahoma State's passing attack against Nebraska's top rated pass defense will be the most intriguing match-up on the field.  Largely because if Weeden starts lofting jump balls in the air like he has shown to do, Nebraska is the first defense he'll face that will actually challenge for and win more of those battles than they'll lose.  Nebraska should have some success running the ball right through the heart of the Cowboys defense and break more sizable gains than they were allowed against a much more talented Texas defense a week ago.  Oklahoma State hasn't played a team as talented as Nebraska yet this season and it will show at times.  Nebraska, for whatever reason, seems to be a much better team on the road and will have a renewed focus on Saturday.  This should be a close game for the most part, with Nebraska pulling through in the fourth quarter.  Nebraska by 10-14

Nebraska - 31
Oklahoma State - 20


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