Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Kansas Jayhawks vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
--by Vince Campisi
November 13th, 2010
6:00 PM CDT
Television Coverage: FSN PPV
KANSAS (3 - 6) (1 - 4)
#8 (BCS) NEBRASKA (8 - 1) (4 - 1)
Weather Report for Kansas vs. Nebraska
Opening: Nebraska by 32.
Current: Nebraska by 35.
09/04/10 - vs. North Dakota State - L 3-6
09/11/10 - vs. Georgia Tech - W 28-25
09/17/10 - at. Southern Miss - L 16-31
09/25/10 - vs. New Mexico State - W 42-16
10/02/10 - at. Baylor - L 7-55
10/14/10 - vs. Kansas State - L 7-59
10/23/10 - vs. Texas A&M - L 10-45
10/30/10 - at. Iowa State - L 16-28
11/06/10 - vs. Colorado - W 52-45
11/13/10 - at. Nebraska
11/20/10 - vs. Colorado
11/27/10 - vs. Missouri
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 - W 31-30 (OT)
11/13/10 - vs. Kansas
11/20/10 - at. Texas A&M
11/26/10 - vs. Colorado
Saturday will mark the 117th all-time meeting between Nebraska and Kansas, first matching up in 1892. The two have met every season since 1906, making this the 105th consecutive season these teams have locked horns (longest in NCAA history). Nebraska currently holds a decisive lead in the series (90-23-3). Last season, the two teams' offenses were struggling mightily to get much going. Nebraska's defense was holding their team afloat, while Kansas was in the middle of a free-fall that saw their season finish with 7 consecutive losses. The game was back-and-forth through much of the game with Kansas taking a 4th quarter lead 17-16 with just 7:34 remaining. The Huskers would score two unanswered touchdowns (with one two-point conversion) following that Jayhawks' score, taking the game 31-17. Roy Helu Jr. was the star of the show, rushing 28 times for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. The last meeting in Lincoln was in 2008 in which the Huskers won an exciting, back-and-forth battle over the Jayhawks in Lincoln, 45-35. Nebraska trailed 17-21 late in the 3rd quarter before picking up some nice runs by Roy Helu Jr., and putting Ndamukong Suh in at fullback to catch a touchdown pass that helped close the door on Kansas. The Jayhawks haven't won a game in Lincoln since 1968.
Kansas' offense has had trouble finding an identity and trying to make it work. Injuries to the quarterbacks haven't helped, but the problems have been deeper than that. Going into last week's game with Colorado, the Jayhawks were averaging just 10 points per Big XII contest. There were signs of life in the fourth quarter last week against Colorado, however, as the offense put up 28 of the 35 unanswered points scored by the Jayhawks in their incredible comeback. The Jayhawks are currently ranked 87th nationally in total offense (337.89 ypg), 82nd in passing (189.78 ypg), 94th in passing efficiency (116.40 rating), 70th in rushing (148.11 ypg), 102nd in scoring offense (20.11 ppg), 79th in interceptions thrown (10), 28th in fumbles lost (6), and 60th in giveaways (16).
QB: Jr. Quinn Mecham (45 of 62, 401 yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs) now starts at quarterback for the Jayhawks. Mecham came in relief of Webb and Pick late in the Texas A&M game three weeks ago and started the past two games against Iowa State and Colorado. He is a JUCO transfer that threw for over 3,091 yards and 40 touchdowns last year for Snow JC in Utah. He has a pretty big arm and makes some throws that the other QBs on the roster can't make. The knock on him is that he doesn't make the best of decisions and will throw into a crowd, often getting intercepted. Last week against Colorado, Mecham was a razor sharp 23 of 28 for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he also threw 2 interceptions on underthrown balls. He was an outstanding 12 for 12 in the second half, which helped ignite the scoring explosion comeback victory. He'll have to be just as sharp going forward, but will have to limit those picks. He isn't a great running threat, but has decent enough wheels to scramble for yards. He has a net of 8 yards on 13 carries, with 27 yards lost on sacks and other negative rushes this season. Behind Mecham are RFr. Jordan Webb (108 of 185, 1114 yds, 7 TDs, 6 INTs) and So. Kale Pick (21 of 36, 193 yds, 1 INT). Webb has a strong arm and has the best long-term upside of the group of QBs. He's made a number of poor decisions this year, throwing into bad situations, which is pretty common for such a young player. He has shown decent foot speed, but isn't a speedster, rushing for 102 yards on 50 carries (102 yards lost on sacks and other negative rushes). He didn't play last week with a shoulder injury, but could be available this week. Pick has not played much this season, struggling with a leg injury earlier in the season, and now a concussion. He is a good athlete with a nice enough arm and foot speed, but is often indecisive waiting far too long to tuck the ball and run, letting the pocket collapse and get brought down early. He has rushed for 17 yards on 15 carries (lost 26 yards on sacks and other negative rushes).
RB: The Jayhawks' running game has been led by the combination of TFr. James Sims (121 carries, 558 yds, 7 TDs) and Sr. Angus Quigley (59 carries, 234 yds, 1 TD). The pair has gone back and forth in terms of who has started. Sims is a good young back with a combination of speed and strength. He is quick, keeps his legs churning and doesn't get brought down by arm tackles. Sims had a huge day against Colorado last week, rushing for 123 yards and 4 touchdowns on 20 carries. Quigley, at 231 lbs., is a big back that has pretty good foot speed to match. He's not going to outrun many in the secondary, but does enough to pick up tough first downs. Backs that have also seen carries this season include RFr. Deshaun Sands (47 carries, 166 yds, 1 TD), and So. D.J. Beshears (47 carries, 196 yds, 2 TDs). Sands is a very quick back that hits the hole quickly and has a nice burst out of the hole. Beshears does a good job of turning his hips and getting up field, gives great effort after contact, and does a nice job running the wildcat. One problem, though, is that he tends to carry the ball away from his body, which has resulted in a fumble this season. The backs are used occasionally in the passing game, with Sims (17 catches, 129 yds, 1 TD), Quigley (13 catches, 152 yds), and Sands (3 catches, 18 yds) contributing this season. At fullback is Jr. Steven Foster, with RFr. Justin Puthoff backing him up. The fullbacks aren't used often and are almost always used as blockers, with neither touching the ball this season.
WR/TE: The Jayhawks' receiving corps has been fair this season, but like the rest of the offense, they have had their share of struggles. Drops are an occasional issue, but not quite as bad as a season ago. The unit definitely misses the big play ability of Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier from last year, but they also don't have a Todd Reesing throwing them the ball. Starting at the receiver spots are Sr. Johnathan Wilson (33 catches, 353 yds, 2 TDs) at "X", So. Bradley McDougald (19 catches, 240 yds, 1 TD) at "Z", and Jr. Daymond Patterson (52 catches, 413 yds, 2 TDs) at "H". Wilson has been a dependable receiver throughout his Jayhawk career, rarely going a game without a catch or two. McDougald has nice speed and good hands, but struggles as a blocker. Patterson is just 5'9", is very slippery, has great hands and does an excellent job of getting open. Reserves at receiver include So. D.J. Beshears (8 catches, 51 yds, 1 TD), RFr. Chris Omigie (3 catches, 24 yds), RFr. Christian Matthews (1 catch, 41 yds) and RFr. Erick McGriff (6 catches, 61 yds). None of the reserves have factored into the offense much this season, but Beshears, also a RB, caught his first touchdown pass last week against Colorado (19 yd TD). Omigie should be an exciting player down the road with his 6'4" 200 lb. frame. At tight end is Jr. Tim Biere (17 catches, 207 yds, 3 TDs) with Sr. Bradley Dedeaux backing him up. Biere is a thick TE that isn't particularly fast, but does a good job of finding an opening between the linebackers and secondary. He has good hands and has held onto the ball even when getting crushed by a defender. Jr. Ted McNulty (1 catch, 11 yds) is the top HB, with Jr. AJ Steward (1 catch, 8 yds) backing him up.
OL: Kansas' offensive line has been only marginal this season, having issues with consistency in both pass protection and run blocking. This season they are leading the way for the offensive to pick up 4.9 yards per carry (when taking sacks out of the equation). They've given up 24 sacks this season, ranking 94th nationally (2.67 per game). Starting at tackle is So. Tanner Hawkinson (6'6", 293 lbs) on the left and Sr. Brad Thorson (6'5", 310 lbs) on the right. Hawkinson is in his second full season at LT and has been the best player on the line over the two seasons. He does a nice job in pass protection, but sometimes his length can be a problem against the quicker ends in the league. He really struggled against the speedy ends of Texas A&M a few weeks ago. Thorson is a former guard that lacks great footwork, struggling to keep tabs on explosive ends. The top reserves at tackle are RFr. Gavin Howard (6'5", 297 lbs) and RFr. Riley Spencer (6'7", 300 lbs). Starting at guard is Sr. Sal Capra (6'2", 295 lbs) on the left and So. Duane Zlatnik (6'4", 326 lbs) on the right. Capra does a good job in both pass and run blocking, but isn't a stand-out at either. He's a steady blocker, however, and doesn't get beat too often. Zlatnik is very strong, but doesn't have great technique and has trouble maintaining his blocks. Top back-ups at guard include Jr. Michael Martinovich (6'5", 279 lbs) and Sr. Brad Thorson (6'5", 310 lbs). Starting at center is Jr. Jeremiah Hatch (6'3", 332 lbs), with Sr. Alex Smith (5'11", 266 lbs) backing him up. Hatch is a big, strong center that is better at opening holes in the run game than in pass protection. He can be very good, but has consistency issues and has a tendency to get outhustled by the defender.
Kansas' defense has struggled in pretty much every area defensively this season. Opponents have had their way with them in almost any manner they chose. The pass defense has been soft and the rush defense has not been gap sound and has been gashed for big yardage. They came up huge in the fourth quarter of the Colorado game last week, however, forcing a fumble, interception, and a punt on the Buffs' first 3 possessions (Game ended during 4th possession) to help with the comeback victory. The Jayhawks are currently ranked 90th nationally in total defense (415.67 ypg), 56th in pass defense (212.89 ypg), 109th in pass efficiency defense (148.97 rating), 108th in rush defense (202.78 ypg), 107th in scoring defense (34.44 ppg), 110th in interceptions forced (4), 96th in fumbles recovered (4), and 117th in total takeaways (8).
DL: The Jayhawks' defensive line has had trouble controlling their gaps this season, often getting pushed around by opposing offensive lines. They are allowing an average of 5.87 yards per carry to their opponents when taking sacks out of the equation. Starting at defensive end is So. Toben Opurum (13 tackles, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) at left end and Sr. Jake Laptad (23 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 FF, 5 QBH) at right end. Opurum has had a busy year, moving from running back to linebacker and now to defensive end. End seems to be a good fit for him, but he is still learning the position. His speed off the edge can be an asset, but needs to do a better job of wrapping up the ball carrier. Laptad has a good motor and will use his strength to power by opposing tackles. He also has good enough speed to track down most scrambling quarterbacks. He currently leads the team with 3 sacks. Top reserves at end include RFr. Kevin Young (13 tackles, 1 PBU) and TFr. Keba Agostinho (7 tackles, 1 QBH). Young has shown good quickness off the edge and a good spin move. Despite his speed, he hasn't provided much of a disruptive force yet this season. Starting at the defensive tackle spots are Jr. Richard Johnson (30 tackles, 1 sack) and Jr. Patrick Dorsey (19 tackles, 1 QBH). Johnson has been a steady performer on the line this season and leads the unit in stops. Dorsey is a small (6'), but athletic tackle that is better suited as a pass rusher than a run plugger. Top back-ups at defensive tackle include So. John Williams (10 tackles, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and So. Darius Parish (1 tackle). Williams and Parish are the largest of the guys in the two-deep and should be pretty solid linemen in the future, but for the time being, lack experience and haven't been much of a factor.
LB: Kansas' linebacking corps is loaded with upper-classmen, but the lack of overall athleticism has hurt against opponents with good offensive speed. Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Justin Springer (69 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with RFr. Steve Mestan (5 tackles) backing him up. Springer is a big and strong backer that tackles well, but does look heavy footed at times, lacking in lateral movement and quickness. Sr. Drew Dudley (47 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH) starts at strongside linebacker, with Sr. Dakota Lewis (1 tackle) backing him up. Dudley has good foot speed, but changing directions can be an issue. Lewis has been moved to the top reserve with Olaitan Oguntodu moving to the secondary. At weakside linebacker is Jr. Steven Johnson (68 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QBH, 2 PBU), while Jr. Chea Peterman (5 tackles, 1 FR) backs him up. Johnson has been a nice player this season after seeing most of his time on special teams up to this season. His not the most athletic linebacker, however, and has trouble shedding blockers. Missing tackles has also been a problem that has popped up from time to time.
DB: Kansas' defensive backfield has some good athletes in the group, but has had problems with tackling and in run support this season. Coverage overall has been inconsistent, looking very good at times and porous at others. Starting at cornerback is So. Greg Brown (22 tackles, 1 FF, 1 PBU) at field corner and Jr. Isiah Barfield (41 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 PBU) at boundary corner. Brown has been pretty good in coverage and is getting his second start this week. While he has looked good, he has been beaten a few times as well. Barfield finally found a good position on the team after a few years of bouncing between offense and defense. Settling in at corner has worked well for him this year, and will make good plays on the ball while it is in the air. He's got very good speed and is a big hitter when he has a full head of steam. His weakness is that he isn't very strong and will get run over by bigger running backs. Players in the reserve rotation at corner include Sr. Calvin Rubles (20 tackles), and Jr. Anthony Davis (5 tackles). Rubles is a big defensive back at 6'3" and started earlier in the season, but hasn't been a particularly good tackler and hasn't done much in defending the pass. Starting at strong safety is Sr. Olaitan Oguntodu (42 tackles, 1 PBU), with RFr. Prinz Kande (21 tackles) backing him up. So. Lubbock Smith (48 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU) is the typical starter at SS, but is doubtful for Saturday's game with a concussion. Oguntodu started earlier in the season, but was moved to linebacker a few weeks ago and will now return to the starting spot at SS due to the injury to Smith. Starting at free safety is Sr. Chris Harris (53 tackles, 2 sacks), with Jr. Ryan Murphy (3 tackles) performing back-up duties. Harris is typically solid in coverage skills and provides a hard hitting presence in the secondary. When in nickel situations, RFr. Tyler Patmon (32 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 6 PBU) will serve as the nickel back. Patmon is a very good athlete and a typically solid tackler that has been a great playmaker for the defense this season. Last week against Colorado, he came up big, with 3 pass break-ups, a fumble recovery for touchdown, and an interception that led to the tying drive in the fourth quarter.
Kansas Special Teams
Kansas' special teams units have been poor this season. In nearly every facet, they have disappointed with their performances. One bright spot was the recovered on-side kick in last week's game against Colorado that helped spark the amazing comeback. The Jayhawks currently rank 90th in net punting (34.42 yd avg), 63rd in kickoff returns (21.76 yd avg), 111th in punt returns (3.75 yd avg), 90th in kickoff coverage (23.15 yd avg), and 108th in punt coverage (14.67 yd avg).
K: Sr. Jacob Branstetter has made 7 of his 11 field goal attempts with a long of 42 this season. He's shown good leg strength in the past (57 yarder last year), but is just 1 for 5 from beyond 40. Branstetter also serves as the kickoff specialist for the Jayhawks and has pushed 4 of his 15 kickoffs for a touchback with a 63.1 yard average, kicking between the 6 and 7 yard line.
P: Sr. Alonso Rojas has a solid leg and ranks 37th nationally, averaging 43.0 yards on his 43 punts with a long of 77 this season. 11 of his 43 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He has had 2 punts blocked this year.
KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Jayhawks consists of So. Bradley McDougald (14 kick returns, 19.1 yd avg, 33 yd long) and So. D.J. Beshears (25 kick returns, 26.7 yd avg, 96 yd long, 1 TD). Jr. Daymond Patterson (11 punt returns, 3.9 yd avg, 23 yd long) works as the top punt return man.
Coverage: The Jayhawks' 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 23.1 yards on 27 kickoff return attempts with a long of 54. The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 14.7 yards on 15 punt return attempts with a long of 62. Opponents have returned 2 punts for touchdowns this season.
Nebraska's spread option offense has been very successful this season, but really centers around QB Taylor Martinez. With him out because of an ankle injury last week, the offense looks much less potent. The Huskers picked up just 314 total yards (79 passing, 235 rushing) against a mediocre Iowa State defensive squad. Nebraska currently ranks 20th nationally in total offense (442.44 ypg), 110th in passing (154.33 ypg), 30th in pass efficiency (148.60 rating), 6th in rushing (288.11 ypg), 13th in scoring offense (37.11 ppg), 2nd in interceptions thrown (3), 107th in fumbles lost (11), and 37th in giveaways (14).
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 his past 3 games, which has made him a true dual-threat. He suffered a high ankle sprain two weeks ago against Missouri, and did not play last week against Iowa State. He is slated to start on Saturday, however, it will not be a surprise if he sits out yet again. Sr. Zac Lee (8 for 16, 70 yds), last year's starter, has bounced between second and third on the depth chart this season. 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 this year, but suffered an arm injury that kept him out last week and possibly going forward. So. Cody Green (14 for 24, 158 yds, 1 TD) is the third option at quarterback. He started the game against Iowa State last week, because of Martinez and Lee being out with injury. At times Green looks as though he has the tools to be a good quarterback, but is very inconsistent and really lacks pocket awareness. He can throw some nice passes, but didn't really get into any sort of rhythm until the 3rd quarter last week. He took a helmet-to-helmet hit last week that gave him a slight concussion. He has shown a propensity for fumbling and put another two on the turf last week (both were recovered). Green has pretty good speed, but lacks the extra burst that Martinez possesses. He has carried the ball 24 times for 74 yards this season (lost 10 on sacks and other negative rushes). If Martinez isn't able to go on Saturday, Green will likely start once again. It could get interesting if Green struggles, in terms of which QB would play behind him.
RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is deep and talented. They are led by Sr. Roy Helu Jr. (124 carries, 906 yds, 9 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 broke the single game rushing school record two weeks ago, with 307 yards on 28 carries. The top back-up to Helu Jr. is So. Rex Burkhead (93 carries, 570 yds, 5 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. He played a good portion of last week's game running the wildcat, picking up 129 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. 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, 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 (28 catches, 384 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 (25 catches, 316 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), Jr. Curenski Gilleylen, 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. Gilleylen has a history of dropping passes, but has great speed and is a deep threat. 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 (10 catches, 277 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. On the season, they have paved the way for an impressive 6.8 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. Sr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 310 lbs) and Jr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 315 lbs) are expected to split time at right tackle this season. D.J. has performed well this season, however, he doesn't have great torque in his hips and will get beat by athletic ends. 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 only played in one game this season. 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), 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's Blackshirt defense has been puzzling this season. At times, they have looked like one of the better defenses around the country, stifling the competition. Other times they can be seen missing tackles and letting teams move the ball on them with relative ease. The odd thing is that level of competition really hasn't mattered, as they've shut down better offenses and struggled with lesser offenses. The Huskers are currently ranked 23rd nationally in total defense (315.78 ypg), 6th in pass defense (154.11 ypg), 4th in pass efficiency defense (95.19 rating), 73rd in rush defense (161.67 ypg), 21st in scoring defense (19.11 ppg), 6th in interceptions (15), 110th in fumbles recovered (3), and 33rd in total takeaways (18).
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 a too-high 5.38 yards per carry when taking sacks out of the equation. Starting at defensive end is Sr. Pierre Allen (37 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 10 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 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. So. Josh Williams (9 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 (43 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 FF, 8 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 (32 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 PBU), with Jr. Terrence Moore (12 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 deep as it will be all season. The group has had some issues with misreading running plays and hitting the wrong gap, which has resulted in some sizeable gains for the opponent. 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 (21 tackles) backing him up. Compton brings more game experience into the unit 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. The coaches are planning on getting him action at defensive end sometime soon, possibly this week. Jr. Lavonte David (96 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 (29 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 3 PBU). 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. He made a game winning interception on a fake extra point attempt in overtime of last week's game against Iowa State.
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 15 interceptions and returning 4 for scores this season. Sr. Prince Amukamara (36 tackles, 1 sack, 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 (8 tackles, 2 PBU), So. Antonio Bell, and RFr. Dijon Washington. Evans quickly worked his way onto the field this season, and has looked pretty good for being such a young player. He was thrust into action when Dennard went down with a concussion against Missouri. Evans had a great game against the Tigers, but did struggle against Iowa State last week, looking like a true freshman. Starting at free safety is Jr. Austin Cassidy (26 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT), with Sr. Rickey Thenarse (34 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and So. P.J. Smith (37 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 PBU) backing him up. Cassidy went from the back-up "Peso" to being a starting safety two weeks ago. He has provided a smart, sound tackling presence. He returned an interception for touchdown last week against Iowa State. Thenarse is a hard-nosed, big hitting safety. 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 has the tools to be a very good safety and 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 (73 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 5 QBH, 1 PBU), with So. Courtney Osborne (18 tackles, 1 sack) and Sr. Anthony West (11 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU) being his top back-ups. Gomes is solid in coverage, has great ball-hawking ability, but needs to be better at taking down physical running backs. He missed a few tackles against Iowa State on plays that went for big gains. Gomes works as Nebraska's top dime back and will shift there when the play calls for it. Osborne has started the last two games, with Nebraska playing a lot of dime. He has looked good for a young player, and his size (6'3") is a definite asset. 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 49th in net punting (37.15 yd avg), 16th in kickoff returns (24.72 yd avg), 14th in punt returns (14.33 yd avg), 104th in kickoff coverage (24.20 yd avg), and 94th in punt coverage (12.11 yd avg).
K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation. This season, he is 11 for 12 with a long of 52. He has made 45 of his last 46 kicks from under 50 yards. Henery is close to breaking a number of NCAA career records. He holds an incredible 88.4% career average (NCAA record is 87.8%), 75% from 40 yards or more (NCAA record is 72.1%), and 97.6% 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 31 of his 62 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 23rd nationally, averaging 44.59 yards on his 39 punts with a long of 69 this season. 13 of his 39 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 (13 kick returns, 25 yd avg, 1 TD, 100 yd long) and So. Tim Marlowe (6 kick returns, 27 yd avg, 42 yd long). At punt returner is Sr. Niles Paul (14 punt returns, 11.4 yd avg, 31 yd long), with So. Rex Burkhead (2 punt returns, 2 yd avg, 5 yd long) also being a possible option. 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 24.2 yards on 30 kickoff returns (52 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 12.1 yards on 19 punt returns (24 yd long).
QBs: Nebraska ++
RBs: Nebraska +++
WR/TE's: Nebraska ++
OL: Nebraska ++
DL: Nebraska ++
LB: Nebraska ++
DB: Nebraska +++
Special Teams: Nebraska +++
Coaching: Nebraska +++
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large
QB - Jordan Webb - Shoulder - Probable
QB - Kale Pick - Concussion - Questionable
SS - Lubbock Smith - Concussion - Doubtful
RB - Rell Lewis - Knee - Out for Season
OL - Jeff Spikes - Leg - Out for Season
LB - Huldon Tharp - Foot - Out for Season
CB - Alfonzo Dennard - Concussion - Probable
QB - Taylor Martinez - Ankle - Questionable
WR - Tim Marlowe - Hip Pointer - Questionable
QB - Zac Lee - Wrist - Out Indefinitely
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
Keys to the Game
1.) Build Off Momentum From Last Week - Scored 35 unanswered in the 4th quarter to come back from a 28 point deficit to beat Colorado. That just doesn't happen in college football. Bring the intensity and belief you can win from the second half of last week into this game and anything is possible, no matter how improbable.
2.) Shorten the Game - Feed the ball to Sims and the rest of the backfield and see if Nebraska's inconsistent rush defense can be exploited on a cold night game. If a consistent run game can be found, this will limit the possessions for Nebraska and help keep it a lower scoring game. Iowa State was able to have this success last week and ended up taking the Huskers to OT.
3.) Need Some Help from Special Teams and Turnovers - A converted onside kick and a pair of second half takeaways were huge in the comeback last week and those types of big plays will be needed this week to keep the game close. Nebraska has had problems with turning the ball over this season so the possibility is there.
1.) Show Up Focused - First and foremost, Kansas is not a tremendously talented team and they aren't playing particularly well either. Games against South Dakota State and Texas in which Nebraska did not appear fully engaged resulted in less than stellar results on the field. The Huskers need to go out with the mentality that Kansas is as good as any other team they'll play this year and put in 100% effort and focus with no mental lapses.
2.) What are the Blackshirts this Year? - Are they as porous as they looked at times against Iowa State last week? As stifling as they looked in the first half of the Missouri game? The inconsistent play from the normally strong defense has been puzzling. With CB Alfonzo Dennard back this week after sitting out with a concussion a week ago, the back seven should be much stronger, but the guys up front need to show some sort of consistent push.
3.) Ball Security is a Premium - Fumbling has been a problem all season long for Nebraska and it hasn't been limited to just one or two players, nearly everyone that touches the ball with any regularity offensively for Nebraska has fumbled this season. On the year Nebraska has fumbled 31 times this season, losing 11 (107th nationally). Niles Paul fumbled a kickoff return in the 4th quarter of last week's game on the 13 yard line that allowed an easy tying score for Iowa State, a score that would be the one to push the game into overtime.
With Nebraska's win over Iowa State and Missouri's loss to Texas Tech last week, the Huskers find a little breathing room at the top of the North, with a full 1 game lead. With only three games remaining, that slim lead could be enough for fans to book their tickets to the Big XII Championship game. Kansas, on the other hand is looking at having to beat Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Missouri in their final three games to become bowl eligible. A tall task to say the least for a team that has struggled against just about everyone on their schedule.
Nebraska's offense was very conservative a week ago as they played without the services of the injured QB Taylor Martinez. The coaching staff once again said he is "ready to go" for this weekend, but that remains to be seen. QB Cody Green was handed the keys and called upon to do little more than manage the game, throwing just 12 passes through four quarters. Green is a dual-threat, but not as explosive as Martinez, and with Martinez out of the line-up, the Husker offense has looked fairly anemic. Which QB starts and plays the majority of the snaps on Saturday could mean a big difference on the scoreboard. RB Rex Burkhead came in and ran the offense out of the wildcat for much of the day, and was very successful in doing so. A former HS QB, Burkhead can throw the ball, but was not asked to do so last week. Martinez's explosive playmaking ability changes the way defenses play the Nebraska offense, and allows more room for the running backs. With him out of the line-up, it isn't quite as open. The sooner he is able to return, the better, but with a high ankle sprain, he is in a tough situation. He probably won't need to play on Saturday for Nebraska for the Huskers to take down the Jayhawks, but it would make things much easier and would be nice to see where he is at before they head down to College Station to play Texas A&M next week. The Kansas defense has presented few problems for opponents this season, struggling against the run and the pass. They had their moments in the second half last week, forcing a couple of turnovers and returning one for a score. But those moments have been few and far between this season. They'll need to find a way to carry that momentum over to Saturday night's game and see if they can't force Nebraska into similar mistakes. The problem with hoping for that is Nebraska isn't Colorado offensively and will likely be able to run at the Jayhawks with a good level of consistency. Linebacker play will be big, especially if the speedy Martinez plays. The KU LB corps isn't particularly fast, so they will need to show they can be much more fundamentally sound than they have been against other run-heavy teams.
Kansas' offense shown flashes occasionally that they might have something brewing in Lawrence, but overall has been very poor. Going into last week's game against Colorado, the offense had been unable to mount much of an attack in any conference game, averaging just 10 points in the previous four contests. Even last week against Colorado's defense, the Jayhawks were down 38-10 late in the 3rd quarter. It took a miraculous, once in a generation fourth quarter comeback to win the game 52-45. QB Quinn Mecham had a pretty solid day, hitting on mostly short passes throughout the game. He only threw 5 incomplete passes, but 2 of those were picked off. If he can eliminate those interceptions, he can be a dependable QB for the Jayhawks going forward. Receivers like Daymond Patterson and Johnathan Wilson have been a steady force this season, combining for 13 catches,155 yards and 1 touchdown against Colorado last week. The passing game isn't likely to be anywhere near that successful this week as the Jayhawks meet one of the nation's top secondaries in Nebraska. With Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard coming back this week, it should be much stingier than they were against Iowa State a week ago. It will be interesting to see how the backfield does with the emergence of James Sims against a suspect Nebraska rush defense. Nebraska has had struggles with mobile quarterbacks and strong running backs, and rarely comes out of their Peso and Dime defenses.
This game really doesn't have the intrigue that many had hoped it would earlier in the season with former Nebraska QB Turner Gill coming back to his alma mater to coach against them as he leads his Jayhawks out on the field. He wasn't left with much in the cupboard in the way of developed talent and it has shown all season long. Nebraska is 5 touchdown favorites in this game, but it's hard to say if they can cover that number. The problem with this game and the line is that Nebraska's offense is a totally different animal with Martinez at the helm. If he's healthy enough to go, Nebraska should score about as much as they want to. If he isn't 100%, his mobility will be limited with the high ankle sprain, but the threat of him being on the field can help the backs. If Green is forced to go, it will be interesting to see if Nebraska opens up their offense more than they did a week ago on the road. With the uncertainty at QB, it's hard to project a score. But look for Nebraska to do very well offensively, especially on the ground. Kansas puts together a couple of drives, but never strings consecutive drives together and gets too far behind to come back. No miracles on Saturday night, Nebraska by about 24-31.
Kansas - 13
Nebraska - 41