Nebraska at Texas A&M
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 ET
SITE: Kyle Field, College Station, Texs
SERIES: Nebraska leads 10-3 (last meeting, 2007, Texas A&M 36-14)
RECORDS: Nebraska 9-1 5-1; Texas A&M 7-3, 4-2
POLLS: Nebraska (9 AP, 9 USA Today); Texas A&M (18 AP, 19 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Nebraska 28-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For Nebraska: Win the special teams' battle. A&M has returned two kickoffs for TDs and one punt for a touchdown, and Nebraska ranks 105th nationally in kickoff return defense, allowing 24.5 ypr. If QB Taylor Martinez isn't full strength with his feet, then the young quarterback will have to make smart plays with his arm against a Texas A&M pass defense that's ranked 102nd nationally.
-- For Texas A&M: Protect QB Ryan Tannehill. Aggies receivers will need time to find holes in the tight Nebraska coverage, and Tannehill must be patient and willing to throw the ball away as opposed to forcing passes into coverage and risking a turnover. Texas A&M must secure the ball and win the turnover battle.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
-- Nebraska's offense has thrived off the big-play ability of QB Taylor Martinez. With Martinez slowed by an ankle injury the last couple of games, the Huskers have had to rely on grind-it-out drives, which haven't produced the same numbers. The Huskers haven't had an offensive play from scrimmage longer than 29 yards in their last two games, after having 27 plays cover 30 or more yards in their first eight games. Coaches were cautious with Martinez last week, but they'll need to turn him loose this week against a Texas A&M defense that leads the Big 12 Conference in stopping the run.
This is the time of year when Nebraska's defense, in the last two seasons under Bo Pelini, really picks up steam. Perhaps that's already happening, given the Blackshirts' last game, when they allowed a mere 87 yards to Kansas. But Texas A&M is a much better offense -- and a hot one since QB Ryan Tannehill moved into the starting lineup three games ago. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said he challenged his defensive line before the Kansas game to let loose and apply as much pressure as possible. That resulted in six sacks. Opposing quarterbacks have found life miserable this season against Nebraska's defense, and this will be Tannehill's first test against a passing defense ranked higher than 75th. Nebraska is ranked No. 2.
QB Ryan Tannehill is credited with Texas A&M's recent turnaround, but he will face his toughest challenge Saturday going up against the No. 2 pass defense in the country and Nebraska's all-American CB Prince Amukamara. The key to Texas A&M's success will be the poised play of Tannehill efficiently executing the Mike Sherman offense under the most difficult circumstances. The Nebraska defense will try to pressure the Texas A&M quarterback, who has only three career starts under his belt, while hoping to frustrate him with tight man coverage that will lead to mistakes and turnovers. The Nebraska secondary must try to shut down playmaking WR Jeff Fuller with single coverage, so the rest of the defense can cover up WRs Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu. If the defense can limit Fuller's productivity without a double-team, then Nebraska should have success stopping the Aggies.
Texas A&M is built for speed to the outside to stop the numerous spread offenses in the Big 12. Thus, defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will have to pull in safeties and linebackers to stop the Cornhuskers' power running game. If Nebraska can occasionally exploit the secondary on a deep pass route or break through containment on running plays to the outside, the Aggies will be forced to spread back out and the middle will be soft for the power running game.
Cornhuskers: Nebraska is facing its third ranked team this season after defeating then-No. 7 Missouri and then-No. 19 Oklahoma State. The Huskers are searching for their ninth straight true road victory, ninth straight Big 12 road victory and 10th straight victory in November. ... Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini coached together with the Green Bay Packers. When Sherman was the head coach, he hired Pelini to coach the team's linebackers, a position Pelini held from 2000-2002 before Frank Solich offered him a job as Nebraska's defensive coordinator. ... Backup QB Ron Kellogg, a walk-on, has been elevated from scout team to No. 4 on the depth chart as Nebraska has been banged up at the position. ... Nebraska junior DB Austin Cassidy is the son of Texas A&M director of football operations Tim Cassidy, who served the same role at Nebraska when Austin Cassidy walked on with the Huskers. Tim Cassidy left for A&M after the 2007 season, but Austin stuck with Nebraska and this season earned a scholarship. He'll make his fourth straight start at safety.
Aggies: The Aggies are still in the Big 12 title hunt, but they need a lot of help with Oklahoma State holding a one-game lead and the tiebreaker. Texas A&M must win out and hope for the Cowboys to lose to last-place Kansas this weekend and Oklahoma next week; or the Aggies can sneak into the title game if Oklahoma defeats Oklahoma State to force a three-way tie among the Sooners, Cowboys and Aggies, and then the BCS computer moves Texas A&M within one spot of the Sooners. ... The four-game winning streak for the Sooners is its longest since 2006, when the Aggies had a pair of four-game streaks. ... Junior WR Jeff Fuller grabbed sole possession of A&M's record for consecutive games with at least one catch. Fuller has now made a catch in 30 straight games, which is every game of his career. The record was originally set by TE Martellus Bennett, who grabbed 29 catches from 2005-07.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DE Eric Martin -- Martin, a tenacious special teams standout, just moved to defensive end from linebacker. He has not played a snap at his new position, but coaches say he could see action there soon. Perhaps it's against A&M, as Nebraska looks for a pass rush on red-hot QB Ryan Tannehill.
OT Jeremiah Sirles -- The redshirted freshmen must help contain A&M DE/LB Von Miller, one of the nation's most-feared pass rushers. In his last six games, Miller has 9.5 tackles for loss, including 5.5 sacks.
CB Prince Amukamara -- Will Nebraska's lockdown corner at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, be able to stop 6-4, 215-pound receiver WR Jeff Fuller, who has 11 touchdowns and averages 92 receiving yards per game?
QB Ryan Tannehill -- Tannehill has been a pleasant surprise since taking the reins of the Texas A&M offense a month ago. While he has faced some solid defenses, he will have his first taste of an elite top-10 defense when the Cornhuskers come to Kyle Field on Saturday. How he handles the speed of the Nebraska defense will be a major key to the game.
RB Cyrus Gray -- One way to take pressure off Tannehill is for Gray to have success rushing the ball. Since taking over full-time for the injured Christine Michael, Gray has rattled off four straight 100-yard games, and last Saturday he scored four touchdowns in the win over Baylor. If Gray can make it five in a row, the Aggies will have a good chance to upset the No. 8 Cornhuskers.
LB Von Miller -- Typically known as the pass-rushing specialist, Miller will have the difficult task of reading Taylor Martinez in the power option and forcing him to make decisions the Texas A&M defense is prepared for.
QB Zac Lee (hand, probable).
OG Evan Eike (ankle, doubtful), CB Coryell Judie (undisclosed, questionable), WR Jeff Fuller (undisclosed, questionable), RB Ben Malena (undisclosed, questionable), CB Steven Campbell (undisclosed, questionable).