Huskers take on the Cyclones

The Huskers come off perhaps their biggest win of the year against Missouri. But now the rest are huge. They lose one, and controlling their own destiny is a thing of the past. And the first step is Iowa State, a team they lost to at home last year when they set a team record for turnovers. Check out the game preview as the Huskers take on the Cyclones.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Iowa State Cyclones

11/05/10
--by Vince Campisi




November 6th, 2010
2:30 PM CDT
Jack Trice Stadium
Ames, IA
Television Coverage: ABC



#7 (BCS) NEBRASKA (7 - 1) (3 - 1)
VS
IOWA STATE (5 - 4) (3 - 2)



Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Iowa State


Latest Line
Opening: Nebraska by 17.
Current: Nebraska by 18.


Schedules/Results

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 - L 13-20
10/23/10 - at. Oklahoma State - W 51-41
10/30/10 - vs. Missouri - W 31-17
11/06/10 - at. Iowa State
11/13/10 - vs. Kansas
11/20/10 - at. Texas A&M
11/26/10 - vs. Colorado

Iowa State
09/02/10 - vs. Northern Illinois - W 27-10
09/11/10 - at. Iowa - L 7-35
09/18/10 - at. Kansas State - L 20-27
09/25/10 - vs. Northern Iowa - W 27-0
10/02/10 - vs. Texas Tech - W 52-38
10/09/10 - vs. Utah - L 27-68
10/16/10 - at. Oklahoma - L 0-52
10/23/10 - at. Texas - W 28-21
10/30/10 - vs. Kansas - W 28-16
11/06/10 - vs. Nebraska
11/13/10 - at. Colorado
11/20/10 - vs. Missouri



Historically Speaking

Saturday marks the 105th all-time meeting between Nebraska and Iowa State.  Nebraska has dominated the series, holding an 85-17-2 lead since first meeting in 1896.  The Huskers had a four game win streak over the Cyclones snapped last season, as Iowa State got their first victory in Lincoln since 1977.  The game was an absolute nightmare for Nebraska, as they turned the ball over eight times, four of which were inside the ISU 5-yard line.  Nebraska moved the ball with relative ease throughout the game, but continuously shot themselves in the foot.  Iowa State on the other hand, struggled for every inch they earned throughout the game, but because their defense was able to come up with timely takeaways, not much was needed.  The Cyclones took the game 9-7 in a game that Nebraska dominated everywhere except on the scoreboard.  The last time these teams met in Ames was 2008, with Nebraska cruising easily past Iowa State, earning a 35-7 victory.  



Player Breakdowns

NEBRASKA

Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's spread option offense continues to pick up multiple big plays each week on the ground and through the air.  The Huskers had scoring plays from 66, 40, 73, and 53 yards respectively last week against Missouri.  They totaled 454 yards and 31 points, but were limited in the second half with QB Taylor Martinez going down with an apparent ankle injury.  Nebraska currently ranks 17th nationally in total offense (458.50 ypg), 102nd in passing (163.75 ypg), 25th in pass efficiency (151.39 rating), 6th in rushing (294.75 ypg), 12th in scoring offense (37.88 ppg), 4th in interceptions thrown (3), 99th in fumbles lost (9), and 31st in giveaways (12).  

QB: RFr. Taylor Martinez (72 for 120, 1161 yds, 9 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 112 times for 886 yards and 12 touchdowns (lost 118 yards on sacks and other negative rushes) this season.  While Martinez has shown to be a dynamic playmaker, he still will make freshman mistakes.  He doesn't always make the best reads in the zone-read option, as there have been a number of plays this season that would have gone for bigger gains had he either handed off or kept it depending on the situation, but he is getting much better.  There is room to improve in all facets of the game for Martinez and his decision making should improve as he continues to gain experience.  Martinez appears to have a pretty solid arm, but needs to increase his consistency.  His arm can be quite erratic; he has shaky footwork in the pocket, and also has had issues with staring down his receiver.  His arm strength is somewhat of a question because while throws at a high velocity, he does occasionally under-throw open receivers.  He has been very good through the air over the past 3 games, which has made him a true dual-threat.  Last week against Missouri he accounted for just 131 total yards (115 passing, 16 rushing) and one touchdown through the air.  One of the main reasons he didn't put up his typical numbers was due to a second quarter injury to his right leg that forced him out of the game.  Officially it is being called a sprained ankle, and he is expected to play on Saturday.  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 (8 for 16, 70 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 57 yards on 15 attempts this season.  He's been fair when he has played and was called upon again last week, to fill in for the injured Martinez.  If Martinez ends up not playing on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how the QB situation is handled.

RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is deep and talented.  They are led by Sr. Roy Helu Jr. (102 carries, 807 yds, 8 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 had an incredible day last week against Missouri rushing for a school record 307 yards and 3 touchdowns on 28 carries.  His scores were from 66, 73, and 53 yards out, respectively.  The top back-up to Helu Jr. is So. Rex Burkhead (73 carries, 441 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 has been 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.  In the passing game, Helu Jr. (3 catches, 24 yds) and Burkhead (9 catches, 109 yds) have good hands and could be big contributors this season, but with Nebraska's offense becoming less pass oriented, they've seen fewer opportunities than in recent years' past.  At fullback, Jr. Tyler Legate (1 catch, 1 yd, 1 TD) 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 their route running.  The unit has been plagued with dropped passes as well as the occasional lazily run route.  There is good potential in the group, however, some of the depth receivers need to step up.  Starting at "Z" is Sr. Niles Paul (27 catches, 379 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.  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 (22 catches, 294 yds, 3 TDs).  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.  Sr. Mike McNeill (11 catches, 191 yds, 1 TD) is the top receiver in the slot this year after switching from tight end in the off-season.  McNeill has a knack for getting open and does a nice job of picking up yards after catch.  Top reserves at receiver include Sr. Will Henry (2 catches, 32 yds), TFr. Quincy Enunwa (1 catch, 10 yds), So. Khiry Cooper, and So. Tim Marlowe.  Henry is a big body (6'5") but has yet to make an impact in his career.  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.  Nebraska's top TE's are So. Ben Cotton (3 catches, 34 yds) and So. Kyler Reed (7 catches, 225 yds, 4 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, and his role has been increasing as the season has gone along.  His 4 touchdown receptions lead the team this season.  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.  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.  They had their best performance of the year last week against a Missouri defensive line that came in highly touted.  On the season, they have paved the way for an impressive 7.1 yards per carry average (when taking sacks out of the equation).  Starting at left tackle could be either RFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) or Jr. Jermarcus Hardrick (6'7", 320 lbs).  Both have played well this season, with Sirles starting and Hardrick coming off the bench.  Sirles has picked up the offense quickly, and will likely be a four-year starter, 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 some difficulties against athletic defensive ends.  He has struggled with a back injury for much of the season and has yet to see a snap, but is cleared to play now.  D.J. has performed well this season, however, he doesn't have great torque in his hips and will also get beat by athletic ends.  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 better groups in the country this season.  Nebraska made a number of changes to their defense for last week's game against Missouri from scheme changes to personnel changes as well.  The game plan was excellent and they really shut down Missouri for the most part, limiting them to 17 points.  The Huskers are currently ranked 19th nationally in total defense (310.25 ypg), 3rd in pass defense (148.00 ypg), 1st in pass efficiency defense (89.36 rating), 75th in rush defense (162.25 ypg), 16th in scoring defense (17.75 ppg), 9th in interceptions (13), 113th in fumbles recovered (2), and 44th in total takeaways (15).

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 4.92 yards per carry when taking sacks out of the equation.  That number is up this week after the defense allowed some big rushes off QB scrambles a week ago.  The linemen were really cut loose last week against Missouri and did a great job of getting pressure on the QB, picking up 6 sacks.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Pierre Allen (30 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, 10 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (34 tackles, 0.5 sack, 7 QBH, 1 PBU) 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.  He was outstanding against Missouri last week in a stand-up role that seemed to suit him very well.  So. Josh Williams (6 tackles, 1 FF, 1 QBH) and RFr. Jason Ankrah (1 tackle) 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 (39 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 7 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Thaddeus Randle (6 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 (29 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 PBU), with Jr. Terrence Moore (11 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 has had problems with injuries this season, but should improve weekly with the recent return of Will Compton.  With Sean Fisher out for the season, the unit is as strong as it will be all season.  The group has had some issues with misreading running plays and hitting the wrong gap.  This should get better as the unit earns more experience, but it is slow going.  Starting at middle linebacker is So. Will Compton (4 tackles), with So. Alonzo Whaley (9 tackles) and So. Eric Martin (20 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.  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 (86 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 QBH, 7 PBU) starts at weakside linebacker, with Jr. Matt May (8 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 is one of the top tacklers in the Big XII and will continue to be a big time player for the defense as he gets more experience in the system.  Nebraska calls their hybrid strongside linebacker/safety the "Peso", and starting at that spot is Sr. Eric Hagg (27 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INTs, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 3 PBU), with Jr. Austin Cassidy (14 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.  Cassidy played most of the game at safety last week against Missouri and showed to be a smart player that tackles well.

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 13 interceptions and returning 3 for scores this season.  Sr. Prince Amukamara (29 tackles, 10 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Alfonzo Dennard (16 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 QBH, 6 PBU) starting at RCB.  Amukamara is a great athlete and an outstanding cover corner.  He is one of the nation's best defensive backs, making it tough on potential receivers and forcing opposing offenses to game plan away from him.  Dennard 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.  Top reserves at corner include TFr. Ciante Evans (7 tackles, 2 PBU), So. Antonio Bell, and RFr. Dijon Washington.  Evans quickly worked his way onto the field this season, and has looked very good for being such a young player.  He played nearly the entire game last week after Dennard went down with a concussion early on.  He never looked like a weak spot on the defense, much to the chagrin of the Missouri offense.  Evans could potentially start in Dennard's place if he is held out due to the concussion on Saturday. Starting at free safety is Sr. Rickey Thenarse (34 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU), with So. P.J. Smith (36 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 PBU) battling him for that starting spot.  Thenarse missed most of last season with a knee injury and has brought back his hard-nosed, 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.  Smith is tied with Dennard and Hagg for the team lead with three interceptions.  He should continue to improve as time goes on, but really needs to get better at making sure tackles.  At strong safety is Sr. Dejon Gomes (67 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 3 QBH, 1 PBU), with Sr. Anthony West (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU) 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.  While not officially changed on the Nebraska depth chart, Jr. Austin Cassidy and So. Courtney Osborne (11 tackles, 1 sack) started at the safety spots last week, with Gomes as the dime back.  Osborne looked very good, despite it being his first real playing time at Nebraska.  They'll likely start there again this week, but it'll be a wait and see.


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 40th in net punting (37.70 yd avg), 13th in kickoff returns (25.55 yd avg), 14th in punt returns (14.33 yd avg), 103rd in kickoff coverage (24.36 yd avg), and 96th in punt coverage (12.22 yd avg).

K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  This season, he is 10 for 11 with a long of 52.  He made his 18th in a row last week which broke the school record, but had his next attempt blocked.  He has also made 44 of his last 45 kicks from under 50 yards.  Henery is close to breaking a number of NCAA career records.  He holds an incredible 88.2% career average (NCAA record is 87.8%), 75% from 40 yards or more (NCAA record is 72.1%), and 97.5% from inside 40 yards (NCAA record is 97.0%).  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 28 of 58 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 69.2 yard average, kicking between the goal line and 1 yard line.  He was a perfect 7/7 on kickoffs for touchback last week.

P: Sr. Alex Henery ranks 14th nationally, averaging 45.58 yards on his 33 punts with a long of 62 this season.  12 of his 33 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 (11 kick returns, 25.9 yd avg, 1 TD, 100 yd long) and Jr. Brandon Kinnie (5 kick returns, 25.4 yd avg, 39 yd long).  Paul picked up a 100 yard kickoff return for touchdown two weeks ago.  At punt returner is Sr. Niles Paul (14 punt returns, 11.4 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.  These units can be very good, but can also be very inconsistent.


Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been pretty poor 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 24.4 yards on 28 kickoff returns (52 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 12.2 yards on 18 punt returns (31 yd long).  



IOWA STATE

Iowa State Offense

Iowa State's offense as a whole hinges on whether or not the Cyclones can get things going on the ground.  When the ground game has been producing this season, the passing numbers have gone up exponentially.  This isn't an offense that puts a lot of fear into the opposition, but when their defense is playing well, they don't need to ring up big numbers on the scoreboard.  Last week against Kansas, Iowa State's offense struggled mightily, other than a 21 point surge in the 3rd quarter.  The Cyclones are currently ranked 98th nationally in total offense (320.89 ypg), 104th in passing (163.67 ypg), 107th in passing efficiency (108.51 rating), 52nd in rushing (157.22 ypg), 79th in scoring offense (24.00 ppg), 62nd in interceptions thrown (8), 5th in fumbles lost (3), and 16th in giveaways (11).  

QB: Sr. Austen Arnaud (135 of 235, 1364 yds, 10 TDs, 8 INTs) starts at quarterback for the Cyclones.  Arnaud is 6'3", 230 lbs., possesses a strong arm, and has good athleticism, making him a quality dual-threat QB.  He's not a burner, but he does have pretty good wheels and rushes the ball often.  He'll run speed options, zone-read, and also scramble for chunks of yards.  He has a net of 250 yards on 81 carries, with 79 yards lost on sacks this season.  He has been a very inconsistent QB in his time at Iowa State, and this year has been no different.  At times he's looked like a great QB, throwing crisp, precise passes all over the field.  Other times, however, he's been far off the mark and failed to get the job done.  He has not shown to struggle under pressure and will often make bad decisions when under duress.  With those bad decisions have come some truly ugly passes that occasionally get picked off.  He had a fair outing last week against Kansas, throwing 16 of 26 for 168 yards while rushing for 59 yards on 13 carries.  His 113.44 pass efficiency rating is 92nd nationally.  Behind Arnaud are So. Jerome Tiller (14 of 32, 109 yds) and RFr. James Capello.  Tiller still has work to do on his passing accuracy, but can make up for it on the ground.  He is a pretty good dual-threat in his own right, but has only rushed for a net of 14 yards this season after losing 45 on sacks and other negative rushes.  Capello is promising young field general, with a solid arm and good footspeed, but is just 5'11" and lacks experience at this point.  

RB: The Cyclones' running backs are led by the very talented Sr. Alexander Robinson (136 carries, 725 yds, 8 TDs).  Robinson is a total package back and one of the best in the Big XII.  He's fast, has strong legs and does a nice job of breaking tackles.  While he does have a nice punch of power to his game, Robinson's speed is what makes him exciting to watch.  He has broken quite a few big runs this year, really turning on the jets once he gets to the second level.  He had a nice game against Kansas last week, picking up 117 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries for a solid 6.9 yards per carry average.  Backs in the reserve rotation include RFr. Jeff Woody (46 carries, 186 yds, 1 TD), TFr. Shontrelle Johnson (33 carries, 215 yds, 2 TDs), and RFr. James White (5 carries, 12 yds).  Woody is the power back in the group.  He doesn't possess great speed, but he runs hard, breaks tackles, and is a good option on 3rd and short situations.  Johnson is a pure speedster and one of the fastest players on the team.  He's not going to shake many tacklers, but he is tough to catch in the open field.  He had a nice 33 yard touchdown run last week against Kansas, helping to put the game out of reach for the Jayhawks.  The backs are used occasionally in the passing game, with Robinson (21 catches, 151 yds), Johnson (3 catches, 9 yds), and White (1 catch, 5 yds) contributing this season.  

WR/TE: The Cyclones' receiving corps doesn't have much in the way of top end talent, but there are some steady players with dependable hands in the unit.  Starting at the receiver spots are Jr. Darius Reynolds (16 catches, 218 yds, 2 TDs), Sr. Jake Williams (21 catches, 232 yds, 2 TDs), and Jr. Darius Darks (21 catches, 277 yds, 1 TD).  Reynolds has bounced back nicely after a broken leg ended his season prematurely last season.  He's a solid receiver that doesn't drop much thrown to him.  He leads the team in yards per catch at 13.6.  Williams has great hands and does a nice job of getting open.  He's doesn't have the speed to burn a defensive back, but just does a good job of running clean routes.  Darks has big play ability and had a nice 37 yard catch a week ago against the Jayhawks.  He should become a go-to guy in this offense over the next year.  Reserves at receiver include Jr. Sedrick Johnson (14 catches, 94 yds), So. Josh Lenz (9 catches, 104 yds, 2 TDs), RFr. Keith Blanton Jr. (2 catches, 14 yds) and RFr. Albert Gary (5 catches, 35 yds).  Johnson is the biggest of the receivers at 6'3" 209 lbs., but has yet to really establish himself as a playmaker.  Lenz is a slippery receiver that will make some outstanding catches.  At tight end is Sr. Collin Franklin (37 catches, 356 yds, 2 TDs) with So. Keith Hammerschmidt (5 catch, 36 yds, 1 TD) and Sr. Drew Mitchell backing him up.  Franklin is the go-to guy in the passing game and leads the team in both catches and yards.  He is only a decent blocker, but his long 6'5" frame makes him a match-up problem for opposing defenders.  In addition to that height, he also has a good vertical leap, extending himself even more for jump balls.  Hammerschmidt mirrors Franklin's 6'5", 253 lb. body and should eventually become a solid no.1 tight end next year.

OL: Iowa State's offensive line is a fair unit, but has been much better at rush blocking than in pass protection so far this season.  That's not to say they are poor at pass blocking, they just haven't been very consistent snap-to-snap.  They've given up 20 sacks this season, ranking 77th nationally (2.22 per game).  Starting at tackle is Jr. Kelechi Osemele (6'5", 335 lbs) on the left and So. Brayden Burris (6'6", 290 lbs) on the right.  Osemele doesn't have great footwork and lacks great swivel in his hips, which has hurt against above average defensive ends.  He seems to struggle with ends that have quick feet and are able to give him a shake to the outside before cutting back inside.  While he does have those faults, he has also had periods where he'll look like a rock on the quarterback's blindside.  Burris is a lighter tackle that can usually keep up with quick ends, but doesn't have the strength to power over big defensive ends.  The top reserves at tackle are So. Carter Bykowski (6'7", 293 lbs) and RFr. Kyle Lichtenberg (6'6", 271 lbs).  Starting at guard is Sr. Alex Alvarez (6'2", 305 lbs) on the left and Jr. Hayworth Hicks (6'3", 330 lbs) on the right.  Both Alvarez and Hicks have done a nice job of opening up some lanes for the running backs this season, but have not always done a great job in protecting Arnaud in the pocket.  Top back-ups at guard include Jr. Jon Caspers (6'4", 292 lbs) and RFr. Ethan Tuftee (6'4", 304 lbs).  Starting at center is Sr. Ben Lamaak (6'4", 320 lbs), with Sr. Sean Smith (6'5", 302 lbs) backing him up.  Lamaak is a very good center that has missed time with a knee injury this season.  If he is cleared to play this week, it would give a nice boost back to the line.  Playing a very good defense this week, if he isn't available, the line will have trouble.


Iowa State Defense

Iowa State's defense has not been very successful in any area this season, other than forcing turnovers.  Opponents have been able to move the ball against the defense pretty consistently, but they are opportunistic and do a great job of ending drives with timely takeaways.  They shut down a bad Kansas offense last week, holding them to 3 early field goals and a late garbage-time touchdown with just 7 seconds left in the game.  They have played two teams with top 25 ranked offenses this season, giving up 68 points to Utah and 52 to Oklahoma.  The Cyclones are currently ranked 102nd nationally in total defense (432.78 ypg), 89th in pass defense (238.44 ypg), 79th in pass efficiency defense (130.99 rating), 99th in rush defense (194.33 ypg), 88th in scoring defense (29.67 ppg), 9th in interceptions forced (13), 37th in fumbles recovered (7), and 11th in total takeaways (20).  

DL: The Cyclones' defensive line has not been particularly strong this season, struggling mightily against the better offensive lines on the schedule.  They are allowing an average of 5 yards per carry to their opponents when taking sacks out of the equation.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Jacob Lattimer (26 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 5 QBH) at left end and Sr. Rashawn Parker (23 tackles) at right end.  Lattimer isn't much on size (6'2", 245 lbs.), but is a quick, aggressive end that has a mean streak to him.  He moved to end from linebacker this season.  Parker is one of the smallest starting ends in the Big XII at just 6', 250 lbs. He has good quickness off the edge, but hasn't been able to get a great pass rush going this season.  Top reserves at end include Jr. Patrick Neal (28 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QBH, 3 PBU) and So. Roosevelt Maggitt (23 tackles, 2 FF, 1 QBH).  Neal started 7 games this season before Lattimer took over.  Like the rest of the ends, he is unusually small (6' 235 lbs.), with the emphasis being on quickness rather than strength.  Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. Bailey Johnson (13 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), with So. Cleyon Laing (10 tackles, 2 QBH) backing him up.  Johnson started at nose a year ago, but has settled into the three technique this year.  He doesn't get much penetration into the backfield, but does a good job of getting his hands up into the passing lanes.  At nose guard is Jr. Stephen Ruempolhamer (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 BLK), with So. Jake McDonough (14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 3 QBH), and Sr. Taylor Mansfield (9 tackles) performing back-up duties.  Ruempolhamer has been a steady presence in the middle, doing a good job of getting into the backfield as well as making stops against the run.  He blocked a field goal attempt last week against Kansas that would have pushed the game to a 0-12 deficit for the Cyclones.  McDonough played well a couple of weeks ago against Texas, picking up a key fumble that was forced by Lattimer in the fourth quarter that squashed a promising Texas drive.  ISU earned a FG after the recovery, extending their lead to 28-6.

LB: Iowa State's linebacking corps was the strength of the defense a season ago, but lost the star of that group Jesse Smith to graduation.  This year's group has been strong again, making plays all over the field.  This isn't the most athletic crew in the Big XII, lacking overall lateral speed, but they are smart and wrap up well.  Starting at middle linebacker is So. A.J. Klein (93 tackles, 3 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with TFr. Jeremiah George (3 tackles) backing him up.  Klein doesn't have great athleticism, but he always seems to be around the ball.  He's ranked second in the Big XII with 93 tackles.  He's been strong in coverage, ranking second on the team with 3 interceptions.  He is typically a strong tackler, but has had moments where he's missed a couple of guys and has also been trucked by power backs.  So. Matt Morton (18 tackles) starts at strongside linebacker, with RFr. Jacques Washington (12 tackles) and Jr. Matt Tau'fo'ou (12 tackles) backing him up.  Tau'fo'ou is the top backer out of this group, but was sidelined early in the year with a broken leg.  That leg has healed now and he is expected to play on Saturday.  He had 2 tackles a week ago against Kansas in his first game back since the injury.  At weakside linebacker is So. Jake Knott (92 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INT, 3 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), while So. Kevin Hamlin (7 tackles, 1 sack) backs him up.  Knott is another young linebacker that is a potential star in the making for the Cyclones.  He's a hard hitting linebacker that has been a takeaway machine this year, leading the team in interceptions and forced fumbles.


DB: Iowa State's defensive backfield is a bit undersized and has been porous this season, giving up 16 touchdowns through the air.  Starting at cornerback is Jr. Ter'Ran Benton (47 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 1 PBU, 1 BLK) at left corner and Jr. Leonard Johnson (55 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBU) at right corner.  Benton is a big hitter, but sometimes doesn't wrap up on the ball carrier.  He has the best size in the secondary (6'), and is a good athlete, but hasn't been particularly strong in coverage this season.  Johnson has been pretty average this season in coverage, but has improved as the season has gone along.  Players in the reserve rotation at corner include So. Jeremy Reeves (49 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 PBU), Jr. Anthony Young (14 tackles, 1 FR), and RFr. Jansen Watson (7 tackles).  Reeves is a great athlete, has made some nice plays on the ball in the air, but has had instances where he's been soft in coverage.  He's just 5'7", but has great leaping ability to make up for it.  Starting at strong safety is Sr. David Sims (71 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR, 4 PBU), with RFr. Jacques Washington backing him up.  Sims is just 5'9", which is small for a safety, but that doesn't stop him from laying the wood to the ball carrier.  He's had some problems wrapping up, however, as he comes in with his shoulder for the tackle without his arms.  Starting at free safety could be either Sr. Zac Sandvig (33 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU) or Sr. Michael O'Connell (42 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU).  Both have spent time starting this season, and there really hasn't been a difference in performance with either in the game.  Top backups at free safety are Jr. Earl Brooks (1 tackle) and RFr. Deon Broomfield (5 tackles).    


Iowa State Special Teams

Iowa State's special teams units have been fair this season, but not much has been above average consistently this season.  The Cyclones currently rank 43rd in net punting (37.53 yd avg), 67th in kickoff returns (21.50 yd avg), 35th in punt returns (10.55 yd avg), 112th in kickoff coverage (25.87 yd avg), and 103rd in punt coverage (13.22 yd avg).  

K: Jr. Grant Mahoney has made 7 of his 12 field goal attempts with a long of 46 this season.  He doesn't have a particularly strong leg, and has had trouble outside of 40 yards this season.  He has made only 2 of 7 attempts beyond 42 yards.  Mahoney also serves as the kickoff specialist for the Cyclones and has yet to push any of his 43 kickoffs for a touchback with a 67.6 yard average, kicking between the 2 and 3 yard line.  

P: TFr. Kirby Van Der Kamp has a very good leg and ranks 10th nationally, averaging 45.62 yards on his 47 punts with a long of 74 this season.  16 of his 47 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.    

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Cyclones consists of TFr. Shontrelle Johnson (22 kick returns, 23.3 yd avg, 62 yd long) and Sr. David Sims (10 kick returns, 20.1 yd avg, 30 yd long).  So. Josh Lenz (11 punt returns, 10.5 yd avg, 62 yd long, 1 TD) works as the top punt return man.  Lenz got his touchdown last week against Kansas with a 62 yard return.

Coverage: The Cyclones' coverage units have not been very good this year, allowing some sizeable returns on a pretty consistent basis.  Through nine games, the kick coverage unit has allowed an average of 25.9 yards on 31 kickoff return attempts with a long of 100 (1 TD).  The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 13.2 yards on 18 punt return attempts with a long of 78.  



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


Injury Report

Nebraska
QB - Taylor Martinez - Ankle - Questionable
CB - Alfonzo Dennard - Concussion - Doubtful
TE - Ryan Hill - Concussion - Out Indefinitely
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

Iowa State
LB - Matt Tau'fo'ou - Leg - Probable
OL - Ben Lamaak - Leg - Questionable
TE - Ricky Howard - Knee - Out Indefinitely



Keys to the Game

Nebraska
1.) Force ISU QB Austin Arnaud to Beat You With His Arm - The Cyclones' best threat offensively is on the ground with Arnaud's legs and when Alexander Robinson has the ball in his hands.  Nebraska's rush defense has struggled at times this year, but has also shut down potent rushing attacks like Kansas State.  If ISU isn't doing well on the ground, it will force a talented, but inconsistent Arnaud to throw one of the top secondaries in the nation.
2.) Offensive Line Needs to Continue to Pound Away - The offensive line has played well this season, with only a few exceptions.  Against a small defensive front of Iowa State, they should be able to dominate.  When they open holes, the backfield has been able to exploit them and shred opposing defenses.  Iowa State lacks the lateral speed of other defenses Nebraska has played this year, and as Roy Helu's 307 yards showed last week against Missouri, you better have power up front and speed in the back seven if you're going to slow down the offense.
3.) Can't Have a Repeat of Last Season - Turnovers were the sole reason for the loss last year and Nebraska has shown some fumbling troubles this season.  They have cleaned up their play over the past two weeks, however, with just 1 total fumble in those games and they regained possession.  On the year Nebraska has fumbled 24 times this season, losing 9 (99th nationally).  Have those problems been shored up permanently or just temporarily?  


Iowa State
1.) Large Edge in Turnover Margin - The edge was +8 in favor of the Cyclones last year, and while it might not need to be quite that severe this year, it probably needs to be at least a +4, depending on what the offense is capable of doing vs. Nebraska.
2.) Shorten the Game and Limit Nebraska's Big Plays - Iowa State has to find some stability in their running game and chew up the clock with each drive.  They also need to keep Nebraska from reeling off the big plays that they often get.  It will certainly help if Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez isn't playing.  
3.) Get Out to a Quick Start - Can't afford to get into a hole, and the best way to avoid that will be to put together some drives early and keep Nebraska from grabbing the momentum early like they did against Missouri last week.



Final Outlook

This is a match-up of two teams in the hunt for the Big XII North crown.  Nebraska is in pole position right now after their win over Missouri, but cannot afford to drop any of their remaining four games if they want to stay on top of the division, due to having a loss to Texas on the schedule.  They'll be favorites in all of their remaining games and if they stay focused, should be able to get the job done.  For Iowa State, they have two conference losses, but play host to Nebraska and Missouri, with a road game against a Colorado team in free fall sandwiched between.  An improbable 3-0 finish would give them the North title.

Nebraska's offense is an explosive, big play centric group, but will those big plays continue if QB Taylor Martinez isn't able to play on Saturday?  That's the biggest question going into Saturday.  Nebraska feels as though they have three capable quarterbacks, but there is no question about how much Martinez means to the Nebraska offense in comparison to the other two.  Martinez' threat of running the football creates openings for the running backs and makes it easier for receivers to get open.  If he's not in the line-up, it will likely be a lower scoring affair for Nebraska.  That's not to say a Zac Lee or Cody Green couldn't put up big numbers, because given the surrounding cast it is possible, but neither has really done it in a conference game - and certainly not this season.  Fortunately for Nebraska, Iowa State doesn't do a great job in any one area on defense, except in creating turnovers.  With the way Nebraska's offense line has been playing, you have to like their chances to pound away at the undersized ISU defense and wear them down with a steady diet of Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead.  Mixed in with some timely passes, they should have a successful day on offense no matter the QB.  Nebraska hasn't turned the ball over in the past two games, which would lead one to believe that the stressing of ball control in practice has paid off.

Iowa State's offense has been very inconsistent this season.  Other than the 52 point game against Texas Tech over a month ago, points haven't been easy to come by, even against mediocre competition.  Last week, the offense didn't put points on the board until the 3rd quarter (2nd quarter touchdown was on punt return).  Unable to put together much offense against a porous Kansas defense and without a single turnover, that has to be a concern.  Especially when you consider that Kansas doesn't come close to matching the talent, speed, or coaching on defense that this week's opponent, Nebraska, has. The Cyclones are going to need a big day from Alexander Robinson, and for that to happen, Nebraska's tackling woes will have to return.  They seemed to shore up many of their tackling issues by subbing in Austin Cassidy and Courtney Osborne at the safety spots.  Those two are smart football players that were wrapping up on the ball carrier.  If the run game isn't going well, Austin Arnaud has to be precise with his passing, something that he's capable of but just not consistently.  If it comes to that, Nebraska will hold a decided advantage in defending the pass with their secondary that is absolutely loaded with talent and very deep.  The Cyclones will likely try to target Nebraska's true freshman corner, Ciante Evans, who is filling in for Alfonzo Dennard while he is out with a concussion.  Evans didn't seem to have any troubles against the spread attack of Missouri last week, though.  TE Collin Franklin is the key in the passing game and he's always worth some catches each week, sometimes in spectacular fashion.

Iowa State will need help to win this game.  Help from Nebraska turning the ball over deep in their own territory or help from some big special teams play.  It's hard to picture Iowa State putting up many points against a very good Nebraska defense, and Iowa State's defense just doesn't have the horses to shut down Nebraska's running game for four quarters.  If Martinez starts at QB for Nebraska on Saturday, this probably would be a larger margin of victory for Nebraska, but they should still win by a fairly comfortable amount with Cody Green or Zac Lee leading their offense.  Nebraska by about 17-21.


Nebraska - 31
Iowa State - 13

 


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