Huskers take on Aggies

It's the top 10 ranked Huskers taking on the top 20 Aggies, and this is the game where Nebraska could seal up the North. Check out the game preview as we break it down and give you the skinny on this weekend's huge match up.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Texas A&M Aggies

--by Vince Campisi

November 20th, 2010
7:00 PM CST
Kyle Field
College Station, TX
Television Coverage: ABC

#9 (BCS) NEBRASKA (9 - 1) (5 - 1)
#19 (BCS) TEXAS A&M (7 - 3) (4 - 2)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Texas A&M

Latest Line
Opening: Nebraska by 2.5.
Current: Nebraska by 2.5.


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 - W 20-3
11/20/10 - at. Texas A&M
11/26/10 - vs. Colorado

Texas A&M
09/04/10 - vs. Stephen F. Austin - W 48-7
09/11/10 - vs. Louisiana Tech - W 48-16
09/18/10 - vs. Florida International - W 27-20
09/30/10 - at. Oklahoma State - L 35-38
10/09/10 - vs. Arkansas* - L 17-24
10/16/10 - vs. Missouri - L 9-30
10/23/10 - at. Kansas - W 45-10
10/30/10 - vs. Texas Tech - W 45-27
11/06/10 - vs. Oklahoma - W 33-19
11/13/10 - at. Baylor - W 42-30
11/20/10 - vs. Nebraska
11/25/10 - at. Texas
* - in Arlington, TX

Historically Speaking

Saturday will mark the 14th all-time meeting between Texas A&M and Nebraska since first meeting in 1930.  The Huskers hold a dominant 10-3 all-time record over the Aggies, winning 4 of the last 5.  They last met in 2007 in Lincoln, during Nebraska's period of free-fall in the final year of the Bill Callahan era.  Surprisingly, Nebraska was able to keep the game tight in the first half, as A&M led just 16-14 at halftime.  A&M would stick to the ground in the second half and beat up the worst Nebraska defensive unit in school history, scoring 20 unanswered points to claim a 36-14 victory.  A&M RB Jorvorskie Lane finished the day with 4 touchdowns and 130 yards on 15 carries, an 8.7 ypc average.  The last time they played in College Station was 2006, and it ended up being one of the most exciting finishes of that season. With 1:57 remaining and down by 6 points, Nebraska would drive 75 yards downfield as QB Zac Taylor connected with WR Maurice Purify for 9 yards and the game winning touchdown.

Personnel Breakdowns


Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's spread option offense has been very successful this season and really centers around QB Taylor Martinez.  He's struggled with a high ankle sprain and when he isn't near 100%, the offense can really struggle to get things going consistently.  The Huskers gained 397 total yards (167 passing, 230 rushing) against a porous Kansas defense, during a pretty vanilla effort.  Things will need to pick up this week against a much better opponent.  Nebraska currently ranks 22nd nationally in total offense (437.90 ypg), 108th in passing (155.60 ypg), 31st in pass efficiency (141.81 rating), 7th in rushing (282.30 ypg), 17th in scoring offense (35.40 ppg), 2nd in interceptions thrown (4), 105th in fumbles lost (12), and 43rd in giveaways (16).  

QB: RFr. Taylor Martinez (86 for 146, 1328 yds, 9 TDs, 4 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 123 times for 957 yards and 12 touchdowns (lost 123 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 he throws at a high velocity, he does occasionally under-throw open receivers.  As the season has gone along, he has turned into a true dual-threat.  He suffered a high ankle sprain three weeks ago against Missouri, and missed the following game against Iowa State.  He started last week against Kansas, but was clearly not near 100%.  He threw for 167 yards and rushed for 71, but didn't look comfortable doing so.  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 a couple of weeks ago that has kept him out of action since.  So. Cody Green (14 for 24, 158 yds, 1 TD) is the third option at quarterback.  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 seems to have trouble getting into a rhythm.  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).  One problem that Martinez and Green both have is with fumbles, as they don't take proper care of the football at all times.

RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is deep and talented.  They are led by Sr. Roy Helu Jr. (142 carries, 991 yds, 10 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 three weeks ago, with 307 yards on 28 carries.  The top back-up to Helu Jr. is So. Rex Burkhead (112 carries, 647 yds, 6 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, 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 (35 catches, 463 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 (31 catches, 383 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 (12 catches, 212 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 6.61 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.  Starting at right tackle is Sr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 310 lbs), with Jr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 315 lbs) backing him up.  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 Defense

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.  They were tremendous last week against Kansas, holding the Jayhawks to just 87 yards of total offense.  The Huskers are currently ranked 6th nationally in total defense (292.90 ypg), 2nd in pass defense (140.20 ypg), 1st in pass efficiency defense (91.55 rating), 63rd in rush defense (152.70 ypg), 10th in scoring defense (17.50 ppg), 6th in interceptions (16), 116th in fumbles recovered (3), and 39th in total takeaways (19).

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 4.65 yards per carry when taking sacks out of the equation.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Pierre Allen (39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 10 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with So. Cameron Meredith (48 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 8 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.  So. Eric Martin (21 tackles) has been a back-up linebacker since he arrived at Nebraska, but has now been moved to DE.  He is a physical defender that hits like a freight train and is a special teams all-star, his athleticism should be an asset to the line.  Jr. Jared Crick (52 tackles, 6.5 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.  He had one of his best games of the season last week, tallying 9 tackles and 2 sacks.  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 (39 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 PBU), with Jr. Terrence Moore (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 1 PBU) backing him up.  Steinkuhler has had some trouble getting off his blocks this season, but is getting 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 has improved since the return of Will Compton.  With Sean Fisher out for the season, the unit is as deep as it will be for the remainder of the 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 has been slow going.  Starting at middle linebacker is So. Will Compton (5 tackles, 1 sack), with So. Alonzo Whaley (9 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.  Jr. Lavonte David (106 tackles, 5 sacks, 6 QBH, 8 PBU) starts at weakside linebacker, with Jr. Matt May (9 tackles) and Sr. Thomas Grove (4 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 (30 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.    

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 16 interceptions and returning 4 for scores this season.  Sr. Prince Amukamara (38 tackles, 1 sack, 11 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Alfonzo Dennard (19 tackles, 4 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.  Starting at free safety is Jr. Austin Cassidy (31 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 three weeks ago.  He has provided a smart, sound tackling presence.  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 (78 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 5 QBH, 1 PBU), with So. Courtney Osborne (19 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.  Gomes works as Nebraska's top dime back and will shift there when the play calls for it.  Osborne has started the last few games, looking 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 40th in net punting (37.49 yd avg), 13th in kickoff returns (25.22 yd avg), 10th in punt returns (14.33 yd avg), 105th in kickoff coverage (24.71 yd avg), and 92nd in punt coverage (11.55 yd avg).

K: Sr. Alex Henery possesses one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  This season, he is 13 for 14 with a long of 52.  He has made 47 of his last 48 kicks from under 50 yards.  As he closes out his time as a Husker, Henery is just weeks away from breaking most of the statistically significant NCAA career kicking records.  He holds an incredible 88.7% career average (NCAA record is 87.8%), 75.9% 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 67 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 69.3 yard average, kicking between the goal line and 1 yard line.  

P: Sr. Alex Henery ranks 23rd nationally, averaging 44.40 yards on his 45 punts with a long of 69 this season.  18 of his 45 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 (15 kick returns, 25.9 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 has yet to be solved through the course of the season.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 24.7 yards on 35 kickoff returns (52 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 11.6 yards on 20 punt returns (24 yd long).  


Texas A&M Offense

Texas A&M's offense has really picked things up since making a change at quarterbacks a month ago, and that increased production from the QB spot has fueled the rest of the offense to pick up their game as well.  They are looking like one of the top offenses in the Big XII right now, but have yet to be tested by a great defense since making the change at QB.  The Aggies are currently ranked 12th nationally in total offense (469.50 ypg), 8th in passing (308.10 ypg), 49th in passing efficiency (135.46 rating), 52nd in rushing (161.40 ypg), 21st in scoring offense (34.90 ppg), 91st in interceptions thrown (12), 105th in fumbles lost (12), and 106th in giveaways (24).  

QB: Jr. Ryan Tannehill (97 of 140, 1134 yds, 10 TDs, 3 INTs) starts at quarterback for the Aggies.  Tannehill played most of the season at receiver and was very productive there (11 catches, 143 yds, 1 TD), but was called upon to take the reins of the offense at QB in the middle of the Kansas game about a month ago.  He has shown a strong arm and has good pocket presence.  He set the single game school record for passing yards with 449 in his first career start against Texas Tech three games ago.  Granted, Texas Tech doesn't have a very good pass defense, but that is impressive nonetheless.  One thing Tannehill does extremely well is make decisions and make great throws while on the run, always keeping his eyes downfield.  He can be deadly accurate, hitting guys all over the field in stride.   Still, a good pass rush has given him problems, and he'll occasionally throw some bad passes trying to force things to happen that aren't there.  He's doesn't have blazing speed, but is pretty agile and can pick up chunks of yards.  He has a net of 42 yards on 29 carries, with 58 yards lost on sacks and other negative rushes this season.  Behind Tannehill is Sr. Jerrod Johnson (158 of 279, 1947 yds, 14 TDs, 9 INTs).  Johnson was benched about a month ago after struggling to move his offensive down the field consistently.  Far too often, he was floating balls out into the secondary just asking for them to get picked off.  He has an odd throwing motion and his arm was terribly erratic throughout the season.  It's an unfortunate end to his career, considering he was expected to be one of the best offensive players in the Big XII this season, and potentially the best QB.  Johnson has very good athleticism and has rushed for 146 yards on 79 carries (177 yards lost on sacks and other negative rushes).  

RB: The Aggies' running game took a hit a few weeks ago with the loss of So. Christine Michael (126 carries, 631 yds, 4 TDs) to a season ending leg injury.  With him being out, Jr. Cyrus Gray (127 carries, 673 yds, 10 TDs) is alone atop the depth chart.  Gray is a tough, downhill runner that is patient behind his blocks and has excellent backfield vision.  His combination of speed and tackle breaking ability makes him tough to catch in the open field.  He's been on fire since the injury of Michael, rushing for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns against Texas Tech, 122 yards and 1 touchdown against Oklahoma, and 137 yards and 4 touchdowns against Baylor.  Behind Gray are Jr. Bradley Stephens (29 carries, 115 yds) and TFr. Ben Malena.  Stephens is a versatile back that should begin seeing more reserve carries soon.  Malena is a speedster that has only contributed to special teams so far.  The backs are used fairly often in the passing game, with Gray (23 catches, 173 yds, 1 TD) and Stephens (5 catches, 68 yds) contributing this season.  Before his leg injury, Michael (13 catches, 174 yds) had also been a factor in the passing game.   

: The Aggies' receiving corps has been one of the top groups in the Big XII, thanks to the great depth within the unit.  Starting at the receiver spots are Jr. Jeff Fuller (61 catches, 923 yds, 11 TDs), So. Ryan Swope (61 catches, 711 yds, 4 TDs), and Sr. Terrence McCoy (9 catches, 110 yds, 1 TD).  Fuller is the star of the group and often draws two defenders, which creates space for other receivers to make plays.  He's big (6'4"), strong receiver with great hands that will make some jaw-dropping one-handed catches.  Swope has excellent speed and quickness, making him very elusive after the catch.  He does a very good job of finding an opening downfield and the smarts to help out his quarterback by adjusting his route for a scrambling QB.  He didn't take good care of the football after a catch last week and fumbled.  McCoy has great size at 6'4", but hasn't put up the numbers you'd expect for someone with the tools he has at his disposal.  Reserves at receiver include So. Uzoma Nwachukwu (30 catches, 354 yds, 2 TDs), So. Kenric McNeal (15 catches, 125 yds, 1 TD), and So. Brandal Jackson (5 catches, 84 yds).  Nwachukwu is a solid receiver with great hands and very good wheels.  A good possession receiver, he had a big day last week against Baylor, catching 8 passes for 73 yards.  McNeal is a solid slot receiver that has a good combination of speed and physicality.  At tight end is TFr. Nehemiah Hicks (10 catches, 138 yds), with RFr. Hutson Prioleau (6 carries, 49 yds, 1 TD) and So. Michael Lamothe (5 catches, 32 yds, 2 TDs) sharing in the rotation.  These three all see a good number of snaps in the rotation and all have good hands.  This is a young group that will be dangerous in the coming years.  

OL: Texas A&M's offensive line is very young and has been porous at times this year, having trouble with defenses with above marginal pass rushes.  This season they are leading the way for the offensive to pick up 4.78 yards per carry (when taking sacks out of the equation).  They've given up 30 sacks this season, ranking 108th nationally (3.00 per game).  Starting at tackle is TFr. Luke Joeckel (6'6", 304 lbs) on the left and TFr. Jake Matthews (6'5", 295 lbs) on the right.  Both have immediately cracked the starting lineup as true freshmen, a rarity at this level of football for one, let alone both bookends.  Joeckel has marginal feet and really struggles when athletic ends go wide on him.  Matthews is a pretty good run blocker, but does get beaten on the edge and has trouble picking up blitzing linebackers.  The top reserves at tackle are So. Brian Thomas (6'3", 303 lbs), and RFr. Rhontae Scales (6'7", 300 lbs).  Starting at guard is So. Brian Thomas (6'3", 303 lbs) on the left and So. Patrick Lewis (6'2", 303 lbs) on the right.  Thomas got a chance to jump into the starting lineup with an injury to Evan Eike, and played pretty well in his absence.  He's looked pretty good in pass protection, something this line has lacked in this season.  Lewis isn't very quick on his feet, but does a pretty good job of opening running lanes.  He needs to do a better job of staying with his blocks, though.  Top back-ups at guard include Jr. Evan Eike (64", 304 lbs), TFr. Shep Klinke (6'7", 292 lbs), and Jr. Joe Villavisencio (6'4", 308 lbs).  Eike has been a starter at guard this season, but suffered a high ankle sprain a few weeks ago and the line seemed to click pretty well, despite the fact that Eike might be the most talented of the linemen.  Starting at center is Sr. Matt Allen (6'2", 295 lbs), with Jr. Danny Baker (6'5", 306 lbs) backing him up.  Allen doesn't have a great first step after the snap and has had trouble in pass protection.  He'll give an occasionally lazy effort, especially if he and a guard are going for a double-team on an opposing DT.

Texas A&M Defense

Texas A&M's 3-4 defense has been decent, with many ups and downs this season.  The rush defense numbers have looked good, but the only top 25 rushing offense they have seen was Baylor and they rushed for 291 yards on the Aggies.  Last week's game against Baylor was a tale of two halves.  In the first half, the Bears were having their way with the Aggie defense, racking up 30 points.  The second half was a complete turnaround for A&M, as they kept Baylor off the scoreboard and allowed the offense to complete the comeback victory.  The Aggies are currently ranked 55th nationally in total defense (362.50 ypg), 102nd in pass defense (250.30 ypg), 30th in pass efficiency defense (117.11 rating), 13th in rush defense (112.20 ypg), 41st in scoring defense (22.10 ppg), 38th in interceptions forced (11), 60th in fumbles recovered (7), and 50th in total takeaways (18).  

DL: The Aggies' defensive line has been fair in the first season using primarily a 3-man front.  There's good talent in the group, but have struggled at times this year.  Last week in the first half against Baylor, they were getting blown off the ball throughout.  The effort was better in the second half, and will need to carry over going forward.  On the season, they are allowing their opponents an average of 3.99 yards per carry when taking sacks out of the equation.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Lucas Patterson (36 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 QBH) at left end and Jr. Tony Jerod-Eddie (40 tackles, 2 PBU, 1 BLK) at right end.  Patterson is the best pass rusher on the line, with a good mix of size and quickness.  Jerod-Eddie is the biggest on the line and will get after the QB occasionally as well.  He really excels in plugging up gaps against the run, however.  Top reserves at end include Jr. Ben Bass (6 tackles) and So. Spencer Nealy (15 tackles, 1 QBH).   Starting at defensive tackle is Jr. Jonathan Mathis (37 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 1 PBU) with Jr. Eddie Brown, Jr. (24 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR) backing him up.  Mathis is a JUCO transfer that beat out Brown, who was a returning starter from last year's squad.  Mathis and Brown split a lot of time at the tackle spot, and both have had their share of troubles shaking double teams.  Brown is a strong presence in the middle and when he wants to can bull-rush through one-on-one blocks regularly.

LB: Texas A&M's linebacking corps has been very good this season, with a lot of speed and athleticism.  Starting at the inside linebacker spots are Sr. Michael Hodges (84 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 2 PBU) and Jr. Garrick Williams (81 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU).  Hodges is the teams' leading tackler, but had some issues last week against Baylor, struggling to bring down running back Jay Finley on a few occasions.  He's a hard-nosed player that has a nose for the football, and has made a lot of plays this season despite not having the best top-end speed of the group.  Williams has great range, flying towards the ball with his excellent athleticism.  He's also a sure-tackler, always wrapping up on the ball carrier.  Top reserves at inside linebacker include So. Kyle Mangan (12 tackles, 1 FF), So. Jonathan Stewart (6 tackles), and TFr. Dominique Patterson (2 tackles).  So. Sean Porter (56 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH, 6 PBU) starts at one of the outside linebacker spots, with RFr. Charlie Thomas (10 tackles) backing him up.  Porter has great speed and has been active in both pass coverage and run support, but has had issues taking down physical backs.  At the Joker, which is a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end is Sr. Von Miller (46 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 3 QBH, 6 PBU), while TFr. Damontre Moore (36 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 FF, 2 QBH) backs him up.  Miller is an elite talent that was on just about every All-American list at the close of 2009.  His numbers haven't been as good as last year's in a number of areas, but that isn't as much his fault as it is opponents scheming away from his side of the field.  He'll often drop down onto the defensive line, giving the Aggies' defense a quick 4 man front without really having to change personnel.  This has caused problems for offensive lines that have appeared unprepared for Miller's presence at times.  He often makes the opposing tackle look silly by blowing right by them and getting after the quarterback.

DB: Texas A&M's defensive backfield has its share of athletes in the group, but the unit has been prone to giving up big plays in the passing game this season.  One of the reasons why the rush defense numbers have been so good is because teams have been able to go at the Aggies through the air with a good amount of success.  Starting at cornerback is Jr. Terrence Frederick (48 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 7 PBU) at left corner and Jr. Coryell Judie (42 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 PBU) at right corner.  Frederick is a fast, smart player with good hands and good field awareness.  He's a very strong, physical corner that hits like a truck despite weighing just 184 pounds.  He is on the short side, at 5'10", and can be beaten by bigger receivers.  Judie has tremendous speed and quickness and is a major asset on special teams as well as defense.  He injured his shoulder against Baylor, but should be fine for Saturday night's game.  Both Frederick and Judie have had occasional issues this season with soft coverage.  Players in the reserve rotation at corner include So. Dustin Harris (35 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 FR, 7 PBU) and Jr. Lionel Smith (15 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU).  Harris splits a lot of time with Judie, has quick feet and good speed coming out of his break.  Starting at strong safety is So. Steven Campbell (22 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU), with So. Steven Terrell (42 tackles, 1 FR, 2 PBU) backing him up.  Campbell is a fairly physical safety, but has had trouble bringing down power backs by himself.  He has been frozen by play fakes as well this season.  Terrell started earlier in the year but has been replaced because of his penchant for giving up the big play.  He's very fast and sometimes played a little too loose, believing his speed could bail him out of tough situations, which didn't always pan out.  Starting at free safety is Jr. Trent Hunter (45 tackles, 1 FF), with TFr. Toney Hurd, Jr. (7 tackles) performing back-up duties.  Hunter hasn't done much against the pass this season, but is strong in run support.  He is a hard-hitting safety that doesn't miss many tackles.  

Texas A&M Special Teams

Texas A&M's special teams units are a mixed bag this season.  Kicking and punting has been mediocre to poor at times, while the kick return game has been great.  The Aggies currently rank 80th in net punting (35.12 yd avg), 20th in kickoff returns (24.47 yd avg), 74th in punt returns (7.07 yd avg), 60th in kickoff coverage (21.23 yd avg), and 3rd in punt coverage (3.18 yd avg).  

K: Jr. Randy Bullock has made 11 of his 14 field goal attempts with a long of 40 this season.  He doesn't possess an overly accurate or strong leg and has yet to attempt a kick of over 40 yards this season.  Bullock also serves as the kickoff specialist for the Aggies and has pushed 7 of his 63 kickoffs for a touchback with a 62.0 yard average, kicking to about the 8 yard line.  

P: So. Ryan Epperson is the top punter for the Aggies and ranks 94th nationally, averaging just 37.4 yards on his 40 punts with a long of 52 this season.  5 of his 40 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  He hasn't been great this season, but does get pretty good air under his kicks, resulting in a lot of fair catches (15).  He has had 1 punt blocked this season.

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Aggies consists of TFr. Ben Malena (3 kick returns, 15.3 yd avg, 21 yd long) and Jr. Coryell Judie (7 kick returns, 39.9 yd avg, 100 yd long, 2 TDs).  Jr. Cyrus Gray (17 kick returns, 24.8 yd avg, 47 yd long) had been in the top kick return unit, but with So. Christine Michael going down with injury, Gray was taken off special teams to focus completely at RB.  So. Kenric McNeal (20 punt returns, 5.3 yd avg, 20 yd long) works as the top punt return man.  

Coverage: The Aggies' coverage units have been pretty solid this year, especially on punt returns.  Through ten games, the kick coverage unit has allowed an average of 21.2 yards on 57 kickoff return attempts with a long of 48.  The punt coverage unit has allowed an average of 3.2 yards on 17 punt return attempts with a long of 31.  

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

Injury Report

QB - Zac Lee - Arm - 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

Texas A&M
DB - Steven Campbell - Leg - Questionable
OG - Evan Eike - High Ankle - Doubtful
RB - Christine Michael - Leg - Out for Season
DB - DeMaurier Thompson - Knee - Out for Season

Keys to the Game

1.) Martinez Has to be Getting Closer to 100% - Yes, he played last weekend against Kansas, but wasn't near his pre-injury self.  He's still a bit gimpy on that ankle and didn't have that same burst as before.  Did another week make a difference?  For Nebraska's chances, they'd better hope so.  The level of offensive play against Iowa State (without Martinez) and Kansas (with gimpy Martinez) won't be enough against a better A&M team.
2.) Clean Play will be Paramount - Nebraska ranks 101st nationally in penalty yards per game (65.20 ypg).  Often these penalties have killed promising drives.  With a QB that is less than 100% and playing on the road, you can't allow yourself to get behind in the down and distance.  Fumbling has also been a problem all season for Nebraska with nearly everyone that touches the ball with any regularity failing to take care of the football this season.  Nebraska has fumbled 33 times this season, losing 12 (105th nationally).
3.) Neutralize A&M RB Cyrus Gray - Nebraska is most successful when they can get an opposing offense into being a one-dimensional passing attack, forcing them to throw into their fantastic secondary.  Their run defense hasn't been very consistent this season and must be stout on Saturday night.

Texas A&M
1.) Tannehill Will Have to Show He Can Do It Against a Quality Defense - In Tannehill's three starts, he has faced Texas Tech (118th pass yards defense, 92nd pass efficiency defense), Oklahoma (75th pass yards defense, 17th pass efficiency defense), and Baylor (108th pass yards defense, 77th pass efficiency defense).  Nebraska's pass defense is far and away the best he's seen and the best he'll see the rest of the season (2nd pass yards defense, 1st pass efficiency defense).  Can he perform near the same level against the Huskers' defense?
2.) Is the Aggie D Wearing Down? - They've played 287 snaps over the past three weeks, an average of about 96 plays per game, a major grind.  Baylor was able to pound the ball right at A&M's defense the entire first half, but seemed to go away from that in the second.  Can they keep a high powered, speedy spread option Nebraska offense in check?
3.) Clean Play will be Paramount - A&M has the same problems as Nebraska, ranking 105th in fumbles lost (12) and 111th in penalty yards per game (
68.8 ypg).  In a game like this, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes and plays the cleanest football is going to take the game.

Final Outlook

This game could have implications on both the North and South Big XII Division races.  For Nebraska, a win over Texas A&M guarantees them a spot in the conference title game.  A loss puts the pressure on the Huskers to beat Colorado next week, unless Missouri drops a game, which would also punch the Huskers' ticket to the title game.  For Texas A&M, they are still in mix in the South division, provided Oklahoma State drops their final two games against Kansas and Oklahoma.  It's highly unlikely, however, that the hapless Jayhawks will shut down the Cowboys in Lawrence on Saturday, meaning the Aggies' hopes will likely be dashed before Saturday night's kickoff.  

Nebraska's offense again underwhelmed for the second week in a row last week against Kansas, posting just 20 points against a Jayhawks' defense allowing 34 per game going into that match-up.  QB Taylor Martinez was clearly not near 100% and the offense struggled as a result.  Without his dynamic burst, Nebraska seems to have trouble finding ways to move down the field.  The offense is predicated on big plays, and is one of the top teams in the country in plays of 20 yards or more.  The problem with that has been against defenses that have limited those big plays, the Huskers have struggled to put together sustained drives.  Texas A&M's defense on the other hand has been allowing a lot of long drives lately and is on the field for an average of about 96 plays per game over the past 3 games, which will have a tendency to really wear down a squad over the course of a few weeks.  With Nebraska's stable in the backfield, they have the ability to get after a defense with fresh legs throughout four quarters.  Nebraska's offense has played exceedingly well on the road this season and if Martinez is getting closer to 100%, things will definitely be looking up.  If he's not healthier than a week ago, his passing will have to be sharper.  A&M has had trouble defending the pass this season, and more recently have been gashed in the run game, most recently with Baylor rushing for 311 yards on 48 carries (6.48 ypc) when taking sacks out.  Baylor QB Robert Griffin is a better passing threat than Martinez, however, so don't look for A&M to respect the pass quite as much to open the game.  The Aggies' defense has great sideline-to-sideline range and running laterally is likely not the best way to attack them.  LB/DE Von Miller is the best defender for the Aggies and Nebraska will have to plan around him.

Texas A&M's offense has been a different animal since the Aggies made a QB switch a few weeks ago, putting Ryan Tannehill in the starting spot in place of Jerrod Johnson.  The offensive scheme and play calling itself hasn't changed, but the execution percentage has gone up by a large margin.  Tannehill throws some passes that will surprise people, especially with how well he'll throw on the run.  It's a good thing he's done so well on the run, considering the struggles of the very young offensive line this season.  Tannehill often has to escape the pocket to buy an extra second or two for a receiver to get open.  Tannehill is a dual-threat and will hurt teams that don't take his legs into account, but looks to throw first, run second.  He'll face the best defense, by far, that he has seen as a starter or reserve this week in Nebraska, and will get an opportunity to show if he is a great QB or a paper tiger after playing less than stellar opposition.  He's likely somewhere in between, and will struggle with the different looks the Nebraska defense will give him.  Most quarterbacks struggle with the Bo and Carl Pelini defenses because they do a lot of little things with disguising coverages and blitzes differently than what just about every other defense does in the college game.  This can confuse opposing quarterbacks and result in interceptions.  There is no better tandem of corners in the country than Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard and Prince Amukamara, both first round NFL talents.  They'll face a great duo of A&M receivers in Jeff Fuller and Ryan Swope.  It will be important for A&M to get their ground game going with Cyrus Gray early and stick with it, which should help with the passing game.  Nebraska's rush defense has had their share of problems this year, and Gray has the talent to have a good game against them.  The Husker defense was incredible a week ago, holding Kansas to just 87 total yards of offense.  Kansas or not, that's extremely impressive and Nebraska has been doing a better job of getting after the QB as well as LB Lavonte David getting better at blowing up the run gaps.

This should be a great game, coming down to the wire.  Special teams will be interesting to watch, and A&M is likely to get a few big returns on Nebraska's porous kickoff coverage, but Tannehill will have struggles and Nebraska's defense will come away with some interceptions and big stops to keep A&M from lighting up the scoreboard too much.  Martinez's high ankle sprain will still be an issue and while he'll probably rip off a few nice runs, he won't likely go wild.  He'll make a few nice throws with his arm to keep A&M honest and help out his backfield.  Nebraska's backfield, led by Roy Helu Jr. should have a pretty good day and lead the Huskers to a road victory.  Nebraska by about a 7.  Depending on how healthy Martinez is, it could be more or less.

Nebraska - 27
Texas A&M - 20

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