Date: Saturday, September 17
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.
Venue: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE
Nebraska is set to host the No. 22 Oregon Ducks for their third consecutive game at home this season. This matchup is the first of two in this home/away series and has been highly anticipated since its announcement. Both of these squads enter this game with a 2-0 record and both have a highly explosive offense.
Oregon’s trifecta on offense entails their freshman quarterback Dakota Prukop, veteran running back Royce Freeman and tight end Pharaoh Brown. Prukop, the transfer from Montana State, is a dual-threat that already has 602 yards through the air and seven total touchdowns. Freeman leads the team in rushing, averaging 9.2 yards per carry and 294 total yards in just two games. The 6’6”, 250-pound Brown is back this year after having a season-ending injury last season, and has already done damage with 78 receiving yards and a touchdown.
All three of these offensive weapons, in addition to their athletic and track-star wide receivers, have aided in Oregon’s dominant rushing attack on the season. In just two games, Oregon has rushed for 552 yards and scored seven times on the ground. This dominant rushing attack is something that Nebraska has been zoned in on.
“Well the speed has been a consistent ingredient of their offense for a long time, but I also think it’s versatility in the offense,” said head coach Mike Riley. “You know everybody might think about it like a spread offense, passing offense, but it’s not. It is predicated on the run and has been for a long time. Running with the running back, running with quarterback, has always been a big issue there. And then what they do passing compliments all that.”
The theme of big plays, Nebraska’s main focal point of the year, will tie in with this game inevitably. Saturday’s matchup will feature big plays from both squads, which will lead to a high scoring battle. Oregon brings a fast and up-tempo style of offense, while Nebraska has big play candidates at the wide receiver position. The team that limits these big plays and makes a few defensive stops will come out on top. Nebraska’s offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf is well aware of Oregon’s big-play potential.
"They have got good size up front, but speed at every position. I think that is probably on both sides of the ball,” said Langsdorf. "They have just got a lot of athleticism across the board."
One leading factor that is in favor of the Cornhuskers will be the crowd. Saturday’s matchup marks the 350th consecutive sellout in Lincoln and is a growing NCAA record. The game is set in the middle of the day, is on cable against a ranked opponent and has been highly awaited amongst Husker fans. Nebraska fans will certainly bring their A game in an attempt to disrupt this Oregon team, and it will be the first time freshman quarterback Prukop will play in a venue of 90,00+ fans.
“Let’s go. Let’s get it cranked up,” said Riley. “I think that it’s [the crowd] always a factor when you’re playing on the road in a game like this.”
Two numbers to focus on for Nebraska on Saturday are +7 and 14. The Huskers’ defense has a +7 turnover margin, which is one of the best in the country. The Cornhuskers do, however, have 14 penalties on the year, most of which are self-inflicted like personal foul calls or unsportsmanlike conduct. These two areas are something to watch to see if Nebraska can improve on their penalties, as well as continue their dominance in the takeaway category.
This will be the first meeting between the Huskers and the Ducks since 1986. Nebraska holds the series record of 5-1 and has won the last four meetings. Oregon is also a very familiar foe for Nebraska head coach Mike Riley as he’s faced the Ducks in 14 meetings and has beaten them four times.
What A Win Means For Nebraska:
A win puts Nebraska back into conversation of being a national program. By beating a ranked opponent, the Huskers would improve to 3-0 on the season and would likely be ranked in the AP top 25. A win could also continue their momentum as they face four weak opponents after Oregon, before heading into Madison on October 29th.
What A Win Means For Oregon:
A win for Oregon would further cement their dominant record of being the team with the second most wins in college football since 2010. Oregon would improve their undefeated record to 3-0 and would most likely win-out in till the end of October.
Nebraska Players To Watch On Offense:
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. had a good game last week against Wyoming and surpassed Taylor Martinez for most career touchdown passes in Nebraska history. The senior finished the game 20 for 34 on his passing for 377 yards and three touchdowns, and also picked up 34 yards on the ground. His inconsistency on his decision-making is what scares Husker fans the most, as he threw an interception in the red zone last week. If Nebraska wants to take care of Oregon, the Texas native has to limit his mistakes and play smart. Armstrong Jr. also highly considered committing to Oregon during his recruiting process, so look to see if he plays to prove that Nebraska was the better choice.
Nebraska swapped identities in their first two games of the season. The first game against Fresno State, the Huskers had 292 rushing yards in 51 attempts. Last week, they had only 138 yards on the ground. Devine Ozigbo excelled in the first game and was the starter last week against Wyoming, but was held to just 44 yards. Newby, the former starter, had only 20 yards against the Cowboys. It will be interesting to see whom the Cornhuskers go with to start the game, but more importantly, they must establish a dominant run-game that they displayed in their season-opener. Regardless of the starter, Ozigbo and Newby both need to get going against Brady Hoke’s defense in order to keep a balanced attacked alive.
The senior wide out has proven in the first two games that he is definitely a big-play threat that Nebraska has in their arsenal. In their season-opener, Amstrong Jr. and Moore connected on a 57-yard touchdown to open the 4th quarter and suck the life out of Fresno State. Last week, the Louisiana native scored on a 63-yard play and ended the game with three catches for 109 yards. Moore is currently listed as questionable for this week’s game, and if Nebraska wants to have a big-play offensively, they need to have one of their star wide receivers on the field.
Nebraska Players To Watch On Defense:
Nebraska’s biggest defensive concern against Oregon has to be containing the jet-sweep. Nebraska defensive ends must stay home on each play to contain the speedy Oregon players trying to get the edge. Akinmoladun has had a quiet year thus far, logging just two tackles in two games. His counterpart, Ross Dzuris, has played well this season. The sophomore defensive end must step up his game in order for Nebraska to stop the run on both ends of the line.
In his first game back after his suspension, Gerry had an excellent game against Wyoming. The senior safety finished the game with seven tackles and two interceptions, leading the team in both categories. The captain’s play earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, and his leadership showed that his energy can be contagious to other players on the field. “Gerry likes to play, and he’s well respected by our team and made plays in the ball game that were big plays and good plays,” said head coach Mike Riley.
The junior safety had yet another great performance last week against Wyoming, finishing with five tackles and a big pick-six that swayed the momentum of the game in favor of Nebraska. Williams’ performance in the first two games has him leading the team with 15 tackles, and also recently earned him a blackshirt. After receiving his blackshirt, look for Williams’ game to be fueled to the next level, as he will have to prove he is worthy of such an award.
After earning his first start last week, the freshman defensive tackle had a stellar game. Davis ended the Wyoming game with five tackles, but was a force in shutting down the run game. The freshman did have a roughing the passer penalty that could have easily been avoided, but he is a young kid that will learn. If Nebraska wants to shut down the run, it starts up the middle with the core of the defensive line. With Mick Stoltenberg listed as questionable, Davis could see the same amount of snaps he saw last week.
Reasons To Be Concerned:
Since 2010, Oregon is second in the NCAA in victories with 71, trailing only defending national champions Alabama. Oregon enters Lincoln 15th in the country in rushing yards per game and their explosive offensive has them ranked 14th in points per game at 48.5. Nebraska also has Alonzo Moore, Brandon Reilly, Lamar Jackson and Mick Stoltenberg all listed as questionable. Nebraska needs every weapon possible to maintain their depth to keep fresh legs on the field.
Quote To Note:
“It’s like we’ve said to our team from the very, very beginning, every game in college football is a playoff game. We only get one a week, so we prepare for them all the same, which is our best. And there’s never any deviating from that. We don’t all of the sudden have to say, 'Oh this is a big game, we’re really going to get ready.' Because that’s a trap that you fall into, and we don’t want to be that team.” - Nebraska Head Coach Mike Riley
This will be a high scoring game and should be an exciting one. If Nebraska can control the tempo offensively and keep their defense off the field, they will have a chance in outscoring this speedy Oregon team. I can see the 350th sellout crowd forcing Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop to make a mistake late in the 4th quarter that could sway the momentum towards Nebraska. This will be a high scoring game in the 40s or even the 50s, but for Nebraska to win a close one.