#20/22 NEBRASKA (0 - 0)
LOUISIANA TECH (0 - 0)
Louisiana Tech's 2005 campaign ended averaging 366.64 total offense yards per game (53rd nationally). The Bulldogs ranked 66th in passing (219.09 ypg), 69th pass efficiency (121.83 rating), 53rd rushing (147.55 ypg), 46th scoring offense (28.73 ppg), and 5th in turnover margin (+1.18) . Tech returns seven starters from this defense, including a group of tall wide outs. Success will depend on the development of new starting QB Zac Champion.
QB: Jr. Zac Champion has been named starting QB after being a back-up for the past three seasons. Champion has had little field experience in his tenure, completing 6 of 8 passes, netting just 38 yards. Although he has been named the starter, it is not out of the question to see RFr. Michael Mosley or Jr. Joe Danna play if Champion struggles. Mosley has good speed and could be effective against a Nebraska defense that struggled with mobile QBs in 2005.
RB: Tech's top back from 2005, Jr. Mark Dillard (155 carries, 672 yds, 8 TDs) has moved to defensive back, leaving the Bulldog backfield without a true power back. Last season's part time starter, Jr. Freddie Franklin (91 carries, 448 yds, 4 TDs) hopes to build on his 4.9 yard average this year. Behind Franklin is So. Patrick Jackson (88 carries, 367 yds, 6 TDs). Both Franklin and Jackson are shifty, quality backs, but dependability is a question as Franklin missed three games in 2005 and Jackson suffered a knee injury during spring practice.
WR, Johnathan Holland
WR/TE: Tech's receiving corps is solid, led by Sr.'s Eric Newman (30 catches, 566 yds, 8 TDs) and Johnathan Holland (29 catches, 421 yds, 2 TDs). So. WR Josh Wheeler (7 catches, 163 yds, 1 TD) should prove to be an exciting playmaker for the offense, standing at 6'4, 200 lbs. These receivers will give Champion plenty of threats this season. Massive 6'6" 265 lb. Sr. TE Anthony James (15 catches, 201 yds, 2 TDs) returns, giving the Bulldogs a strong blocker with excellent hands. Behind James, look for So. Anthony Harrison (11 catches, 98 yds, 3 TDs) to see plenty of action.
OL: A shallow position for Louisiana Tech, with little depth behind the starters. An injury to anyone in this group could be a disaster. Starting at tackle will likely be Jr.'s Tyler Miller and Ryan Considine. Both bring back needed experience, but have allowed too much defensive pressure in the past. At guard, enormous Sr. Marcus Lindsey (6'7", 385 lbs.) and So. David Accardo should start. Sr. Jacob Peeler should get the start at center, however, at 6'3", 277 lbs, isn't as imposing of a blocker as the other four in the group.
In 2005, the Bulldogs ranked 66th in total defense (381.27 ypg), 86th pass defense (248.09 ypg), 55th pass efficiency defense (122.31 rating), 37th rush defense (133.18 ypg), and 58th in scoring defense (25.5 ppg). Louisiana Tech's defense will have a considerably different look this season, however, as only 2 starters from last season return. A new defensive coordinator is also in town, as Randy Bates will assume play calling duties.
DL: The entire line will be a question mark as none of last season's starters return. This is a small defensive front, and the depth is lacking. At DE, Sr. Sammie Collins (2 tackles) should start after playing in a reserve role in 2005. Jr. Josh Muse (22 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FR) will start at NT, giving the line much needed size. Starting at DT should be So. Wes Day (1 tackle).
LB: Jr. Mike LB Brannon Jackson (54 tackles, 1 INT) returns from a nice 2005 season and will find himself in a leadership role for 2006. Surrounding Jackson will be So. Quin Harris (30 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FRs) at Sam LB, Jr. Anthony Crosby (6 tackles) at Buck LB, and Sr. Marquis Spurgon (2 tackles) at Will LB. Sr. Terrence Alexander (36 tackles, 1 sack) will play a pivotal role in the LB corps after missing spring ball with injury.
RB, Patrick Jackson
DB: Louisiana Tech's defensive backfield is on the small and inexperienced side. Starters look to be Sr.'s Sandy Ray Collins (26 tackles, 1 sack) and Tony Moss (19 tackles, 1 INT) at the cornerback spots, while Sr. Dez Abrams (52 tackles) starts at FS and either So. Weldon Brown (5 tackles) or Fr. Deon Young to start at SS. Look for Jr. converted RB Mark Dillard to get playing time at SS as well. He will add much needed size and physicality to this group. Expect them to get picked on early and often this season.
Louisiana Tech has some of the better special teams play in the WAC, although not great on a national level.
K: Jr. Danny Horwedel finished 2005 going 18 for 26, with a long of 46. Jr. Brad Oestreicher assumes kickoff duties, after booting 19 of 67 for touchbacks. He has a problem with accuracy, as 4 kickoffs went out of bounds.
P: So. Chris Keagle punted 52 times last season with an average of just 37.4 yards. 17 of his 52 punts were downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: So.'s Weldon Brown and Patrick Jackson will again top the Bulldogs' depth chart at KR. Jackson's 27.7 average return was good enough to place him 12th nationally in 2005. At punt returner, Jr. Freddie Franklin will be counted on to improve on last year's poor output as Louisiana Tech finished 109th nationally in punt return average (5.3 yards).
Coverage: Kick return coverage was fairly good in 2005, allowing a 21.6 yard average, with a long of only 39 given up(vs. North Texas). Punt return coverage was solid, allowing just 7.9 yards per return, with only one busted play ending with a 48 yard return against Nevada.
In 2005, Nebraska's 320.3 total offense yards per game garnering 96th in the nation, while they ranked 54th passing (224.3 ypg), 82nd pass efficiency (113.74 rating), 107th rushing (96 ypg), 67th scoring offense (24.67 ppg), and 69th in turnover margin (-0.17). After finishing strong, the Huskers are looking to vastly improve upon these stats in 2006.
QB: Sr. Zac Taylor (247 of 430, 2653 yds, 19 TDs, 12 INTs, 1 rushing TD) will be the first second year starter at QB for Nebraska since Jammal Lord, giving the Husker offense some much needed consistency. Taylor is poised for a big year after becoming a more complete QB as last season progressed. He is making more intuitive decisions on the field and with proper blocking up front, should continue his progression nicely. Behind Taylor are So.'s Joe Ganz and Beau Davis, neither of which took a snap in 2005. Taylor's health will be of primary concern for the Huskers.
QB, Zac Taylor
RB: So.'s Marlon Lucky (43 carries, 129 yds) and Cody Glenn (45 carries, 131 yds, 4 TDs) have been named co-number one's. Immediately behind them are Jr.'s Brandon Jackson (18 carries, 52 yds) and Kenny Wilson. They will have their hands full replacing the departed Cory Ross, who was also an effective receiver. There is plenty of talent here, but still unproven in real games. Glenn has lost weight over the off-season, gaining some quickness while Lucky is getting better at following his blockers. It should be interesting to see how the carries are distributed as all four have aspirations of starting.
WR/TE: Nebraska has a solid group of receivers, starting with Jr. Terrence Nunn (43 catches, 495 yds, 7 TDs) at "Z" and So. Nate Swift (45 catches, 641 yds, 7 TDs) at "X". Jr. Frantz Hardy (25 catches, 349 yds, 1 TD), So. Todd Peterson (9 catches, 150 yds, 2 TDs), Fr. Menelik Holt, and Jr. Maurice Purify will also factor into the passing game. At TE, Sr. Matt Herian is back after missing a season and a half with a broken leg. Behind him are Jr.'s J.B. Phillips (15 catches, 108 yds) and Josh Mueller (1 catch, 18 yds). When Herian was healthy, he was among the nation's best TE's. While not a strong blocker, he is an explosive receiving tight end.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line allowed 38 sacks in 2005 and pushed ahead for an average of just 2.7 yards per rush. If Nebraska is going to have offensive success, keeping Zac Taylor healthy will be crucial. To keep Taylor healthy, the offensive line must be improved. All indications from spring and fall camps show that this group should be better than last season. Starting at the tackle positions will be Jr. Chris Patrick on the left, and So. Matt Slauson on the right. So. Lydon Murtha and Jr. Carl Nicks will also push for playing time. At guard, Sr. Greg Austin starts on the left, while So. Mike Huff gets the nod on the right. Returning to start at center is Sr. Kurt Mann.
The Blackshirt defense finished the 2005 season ranked 26th nationally in total defense (332.17 ypg), 43rd pass defense (207.9 ypg), 10th pass efficiency defense (105.67 rating), 26th rush defense (124.25 ypg), and 25th in scoring defense (21 ppg). Nebraska led the nation in sacks (50) and tackles for loss (140) last year, and should be just as dominant up front this season.
DL: Nebraska's defensive line is one of the best in the nation, led by senior defensive ends Adam Carriker (43 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 1 FR) and Jay Moore (37 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR). So. Barry Turner (14 tackles, 6 sacks) had a solid freshman season and will push for a lot of playing time behind Moore. At DT, gone are Le Kevin Smith and Titus Adams, in are Sr.'s Ola Dagunduro (22 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FR) and Barry Cryer (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks). There should be little drop-off from last season at the tackle spots, but depth will be a question.
LB: Another strength of the Blackshirts will be the linebacking corps. Because of injuries in 2005, many reserves saw a lot of time. Starting in the middle is Jr. Corey McKeon (98 tackles, 7 sacks, 3 INTs, 1 FR). McKeon is undersized for a traditional MLB at 6'1" 225 lbs., but makes up for it with great determination and toughness. On the outside, Jr. Bo Ruud (80 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FRs) gets the nod at weak side, edging out Jr. Steve Octavien (4 tackles), while Sr. Stewart Bradley (26 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT) will start on the strong side. All three of these outside backers suffered season ending injuries last season, getting them back in the lineup adds a major boost to the Husker defense.
LB, Steve Octavien
DB: Nebraska's only weakness on defense is in the defensive backfield. Nebraska returns just one starter from 2005 here, and there are likely to be growing pains, especially early for this group. Jr. Cortney Grixby (46 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR) at WCB, while Jr. Andre Jones will start at SCB. Jones is an all-star JUCO transfer that will replace Sr. Zac Bowman (27 tackles, 2 INTs), who will miss the season with a knee injury. At the safety spots, Jr. Tierre Green (29 tackles) starts at SS and Sr. Andrew Shanle (10 tackles) will start at FS. Depth and experience will be a concern here with true freshmen Major Culbert and Ricky Thenarse in the two deep.
Nebraska had one of the best special teams units in the nation last season, however, there is a major hole to fill at punter.
K: So. Jordan Congdon returns after knocking through 19 of 23 FG attempts last season, including a long of 41. Congdon has also won kickoff duties this season, despite kicking just 2 of his 27 kickoffs for touchbacks last year.
P: So. Dan Titchener won the punting battle in the off-season, taking over for the departed Sam Koch. Those are big shoes to fill as Koch averaged 46.5 yards per punt and had 29 of his 71 punts downed inside the opponents 20 last season.
KR/PR: Jr.'s Kenny Wilson and Tierre Green are the first team kickoff returners. Wilson is an explosive JUCO transfer that has impressed the coaches in fall camp. Green returned 9 kickoffs in 2005 with a 24.8 yard average. On punt returns, it will be Jr.'s Terrence Nunn (16 returns, 18.3 yd avg) and Cortney Grixby (32 returns, 10.4 yd avg) again. Nunn has shown an ability to be a game breaking returner, finishing with the third best average nationally last season. If he shows better ball control skills, he will be a dynamite threat in return game.
Coverage: Nebraska's kick coverage was among the best in the nation in 2005. Punt return coverage was outstanding, allowing just an 8.8 yard average per return. Kick return coverage allowed just an 18.3 yard average, however, keep in mind that many of these kickoffs did not make it to the end zone.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Louisiana Tech's Defense
With Louisiana Tech replacing 9 starters on defense, Nebraska should be able to have a successful day. Look for Nebraska to establish a ground game early, something that was missing from the offensive attack in 2005. Nebraska's offensive line will overshadow the Tech defensive 3 man front and should pave the way for a big day on the ground, especially if these Husker running backs are as good as advertised. QB Zac Taylor should find himself with plenty of open receivers, against a small defensive backfield. If he can keep the ball away from Tech safety Dez Abrams, he should have a big day.
Louisiana Tech's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Louisiana Tech QB Zac Champion will have his hands full in his first start. He has three quality receivers, each bringing their own set of strengths to the table, however, his day will depend on the offensive line play. Certainly, the more times these receivers can touch the ball, the better. Because of the lack of depth on the line, they will be outmanned and eventually overpowered by an aggressive Nebraska defensive front. Tech will have to hope for mistakes in the Nebraska backfield because it is unlikely they will find room to do much of anything against the Husker defensive front seven. Don't be surprised if the Blackshirt defense puts points on the board for the Huskers.
Keys to the Game
For Nebraska to Win:
1.) Establish ground game against inexperienced defensive front.
2.) Exploit smallish Tech secondary.
3.) Play more zone to take pressure off new DB starters.
4.) Defensive line needs to shoot through gaps and get to the QB.
For Louisiana Tech to Win:
1.) Get the ball in the hands of your playmaking receivers.
2.) Disguise blitzes, keeping Zac Taylor on his toes.
3.) Defense must ball-hawk.
4.) QB Zac Champion will need time to throw to develop a comfort zone.
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Louisiana Tech
Latest Line - Nebraska by 22.
CB - Zack Bowman - knee - out for season
None to report.
Game Talk & Prediction
A Memorial Stadium record crowd of over 81,000 fans are expected to pack in for Nebraska's 276th consecutive sell-out. Most of which will be looking for the re-emergence of Nebraska dominance against a Louisiana Tech team with gaping holes on both sides of the ball.
Both teams are coming off of big season ending wins. Nebraska's came in a come from behind 32-27 victory over Michigan in the Alamo Bowl, while Louisiana Tech's came by way of a 40-28 win at Fresno State. Louisiana Tech finished 2005 with a record of 7-4, but was not invited to a bowl game. Had Louisiana Tech retained most of those players, this would be a more intriguing match-up.
Injured CB, Zack Bowman
Nebraska and Louisiana Tech last met in 1998, where Nebraska won 56-27 in then Coach Frank Solich's first game as head coach. A lot has changed for both programs in the past 8 seasons, with new head coaches stomping on the sidelines for both teams. Bill Callahan in Nebraska and Jack Bicknell at Louisiana Tech.
One familiar face on the Louisiana Tech sidelines will be former Nebraska defensive backs coach George Darlington. He will be kept busy for three hours in Lincoln as he will start three players under 6' tall in the defensive backfield. This isn't to say he hasn't been successful with shorter players in the past. For those that remember the "itty-bitty committee" of Nebraska's secondary in the early 1990's, names like Dixon and Miles will come to mind. They showed that height isn't always everything. Louisiana Tech may have short DB's, but they don't have a Corey Dixon or a Barron Miles back there and Nebraska's receivers should find it relatively easy to find openings in the defensive backfield.
Nebraska's secondary will certainly miss the injured Zack Bowman this season, however, Andre Jones should prove to be an effective replacement after a few games of adjusting to 1-A speed. He'll be tested here by speedy, sure handed receivers in Eric Newman and Johnathan Holland, as well as the 6'4" Josh Wheeler. With the Huskers placing three new starters in the defensive backfield, this should be a good bar to judge them on early.
The main issue here is that Louisiana Tech just doesn't have the athletes to match up with Nebraska. The size, strength, and experience of this year's Husker team will be too much for the Bulldogs.
Nebraska - 41
Louisiana Tech - 14