GAME SEVEN.....October 14th, 2006.....6:10 PM CT
#20/21 NEBRASKA (5 - 1)
KANSAS STATE (4 - 2)
Kansas State Offense
The Kansas State Wildcats enter this week's game with Nebraska after an outstanding come from behind, last minute victory over Oklahoma State, 31-27. The Wildcats currently average 308.83 yards in total offense, placing them 87th in the nation. Kansas State currently ranks 71st in passing (192.67 ypg), 113th in passing efficiency (91.00 rating), 80th rushing (116.17 ypg), 76th scoring offense (22 ppg), and 42nd in turnover margin (+ 0.33). There have been a lot of shake ups on the depth chart over the past few weeks, so this team looks very different from the one in September.
QB: True freshman Josh Freeman (24 of 62, 391 yds, 4 INTs) was handed the keys to the Wildcat offense two weeks ago and enters this game following a last minute, game winning TD run against Oklahoma State last Saturday. Josh had a good outing last week against the Cowboys, but will face a more formidable foe this week. Former starter, Sr. Dylan Meier (69 of 136, 765 yds, 3 TDs) is now backing up Freeman . Freeman has decent wheels, but has been tackled for loss as many times as he has for a gain.
RB: After benching Sr. Thomas Clayton (67 carries, 322 yds, 3 TDs) in favor of Fr. Leon Patton (34 carries, 208 yds, 1 TD), the running game got a shot in the arm against Oklahoma State. Patton is a short, explosive back that also has 40 yards receiving on two catches. Behind Patton is Jr. James Johnson (11 carries, 21 yds), a physical and speedy rusher. A number of other backs have received limited carries as well this season, including Sr. Carlos Alsup (16 carries, 31 yds), Jr. Terry Petrie (8 carries, 54 yds, 1 TD), and So. John McCardle (5 carries, 21 yds). Although Johnson is listed as the number two back, no one has really cemented their spot yet. This group will need to make things happen in order to take some of the pressure off Josh Freeman.
WR/TE: Kansas State has a good crop of wide receivers, starting with Jr. Jordy Nelson (17 catches, 221 yds), and Sr.'s Yamon Figurs (14 catches, 212 yds), and Jermaine Moreira (16 catches, 328 yds, 2 TDs). These three receivers are all quick, with Moreira being the big threat this season after a disappointing 2005. Jr. Daniel Gonzalez (2 catches, 34 yds, 1 TD) and So. Cedrick Wilson (2 catches, 22 yds) have also made contributions to the passing game for the Wildcats. At TE, Jr. Rashaad Norwood (20 catches, 170 yds) starts. Norwood leads the Wildcats in receptions, utilized mostly in short and medium routes.
OL: One of the crews that changed the most with Prince's depth chart movements was the offensive line. The latest lineup has Sr. Greg Wafford (6'2", 339 lbs) at left tackle and Fr. Nick Stringer (6'6, 271 lbs) at right tackle. At guard is So. Caleb Handy (6'1", 313 lbs) on the left, and Fr. Brock Unruh (6'5", 301 lbs) on the right. Starting at center will be So. Brad Rooker (6'6", 291 lbs). The Kansas State offensive line is allowing 4.3 yards per carry, and has given up 7 sacks. Although there was success against Oklahoma State on the ground last week, Nebraska will be stiffer competition.
Kansas State Defense
Entering week seven, the Wildcat defense ranks 27th nationally in total defense (288.67 ypg), 38th pass defense (181.83 ypg), 44th pass efficiency defense (115.04 rating), 30th rush defense (106.83 ypg), and 28th in scoring defense (16.33 ppg). The defense has been strong, but has yet to face an offensive juggernaut this season. The best offense the Wildcats have seen this year is Louisville, however, they were without QB Brian Brohm and RB Michael Bush. This will be their first real test against a top offense.
DL: The Wildcat defensive line has been holding opponents to 3.2 yards per carry, however, last week, Oklahoma State averaged 4.7 yards per rush. They will need to be stout this week, as Kansas State cannot win this game if they allow anywhere near 5 yards per carry against the Huskers. Starters at defensive end are outstanding So. Ian Campbell (30 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1FF, 2 PBU, 2 QBH) on the left, and Jr. Rob Jackson (11 tackles, 1.5 sacks) on the right. Campbell has been a sack machine this season, and will be the key in getting pressure on Nebraska QB Zac Taylor. At defensive tackle is Sr. Blake Seiler (6 tackles), while Sr. Quintin Echols (18 tackles, 2 FF) is stationed at nose.
LB: This group isn't quite as good as the great Kansas State linebacking corps from the past, however, they aren't without their own merits. Sr. WLB Brandon Archer (49 tackles, 4 PBU) is the top tackler on the team again and flies to the ball. So. Antwon Moore (6 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 blk kick), a speedy converted DB has been his back-up this season. At SLB is So. Reggie Walker (15 tackles, 2 PBU), with Jr. Marcus Perry (14 tackles, 1 FF) backing him up. Starting at MLB is Sr. Zach Diles (40 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 QBH), Sr. Maurice Mack (10 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR) acting as his back up.
DB: Starting at corner for the Wildcats will be Jr.'s Byron Garvin (35 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR) and Justin McKinney (21 tackles, 6 PBU, 1 FR). Garvin has done a nice job over the past two weeks after replacing Jr. Bryan Baldwin (10 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PBU), who is out for the remainder of the season. Top back-ups include Fr. Joshua Moore (10 tackles, 2 PBU) and So. Ray Cheatham (3 tackles). Starters at safety are Sr. Kyle Williams (28 tackles, 1 INT, 11 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR) at SS and Jr. Marcus Watts (18 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INTs, 5 PBU, 2 FF, 1 blk kick) at FS. Behind Williams is Fr. Courtney Herndon (3 tackles), while Andrew Erker (11 tackles, 2 PBU) sits behind Watts. Overall, this is a decent group with Marcus Watts being the most talented of the group.
Kansas State Special Teams
The Wildcat special teams have been of high quality this season, with strong kickers and outstanding return men.
K: Sr. Jeff Snodgrass is 9 for 13 on the season, with a long of 52 yards. On kickoffs, he averages 62.2 yards, with 7 of his kickoffs downed for a touchback. So. Jared Parker shares kickoff duties, and has pushed 6 of his 12 kickoffs for touchbacks, with an average of 57.2 yards.
P: Jr. Tim Reyer has done a great job this season, punting 30 times for an average of 40.8 yards. 6 of his 30 punts have been downed inside of the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: Handing kickoff returns has been Sr. Yamon Figurs (7 returns, 24.6 yd avg), Jr. Justin McKinney (2 returns, 53.5 yd avg, 1 TD), and Fr. Leon Patton (2 returns, 58.5 yd avg, 1 TD). All three have been explosive. On punt returns, Sr. Yamon Figurs is averaging 11.2 yards on 12 returns, and has 1 return for touchdown.
Coverage: The Kansas State kickoff coverage team is allowing 18.6 yards per return on 16 kickoffs. Opponents are averaging 11.7 yards per punt return on 15 returns, with 1 going for a touchdown.
Nebraska's 463.83 yards per game puts them 7th in the nation in total offense. The Cornhuskers also rank 23rd in passing (257.17 ypg), 2nd in pass efficiency (176.36 rating), 8th in rushing (210.67 ypg), 4th in scoring offense (39.67 ppg), and 19th in turnover margin (+ 0.83). The Husker offense will be up against a talented, but largely untested defense this week.
QB: Sr. Zac Taylor (95 of 143, 1398 yds, 13 TDs, 2 INT) didn't get much of a chance to air it out against the Cyclones last week. He made the plays when he was given the opportunity though, playing behind a power running attack. Zac fumbled inside the Nebraska 15 last week, giving Iowa State great field position. The Cyclones didn't score on that next drive, but Zac needs to be more aware of the pocket closing. This wasn't the first time he's fumbled. So. backup Joe Ganz (6 for 12, 93 yds, 2 TDs) has looked decent in his three attempts at mop-up duties, but hasn't seen action since the Troy game.
RB: So.'s Marlon Lucky (64 carries, 405 yds, 5 TDs) and Cody Glenn (50 carries, 316 yds, 6 TDs) are co-number ones at running back, Lucky being the home run threat, while Glenn is a power back. Jr.'s Kenny Wilson (66 carries, 311 yds, 3 TDs) and Brandon Jackson (49 carries, 270 yds, 3 TDs) have been equally impressive, each possessing great tackle breaking abilities. This is a tough unit to stop, as coach Bill Callahan brings a different rotation of backs to each game. Against Iowa State, Glenn and Jackson got all of the carries, while just a week earlier Lucky and Wilson appeared to be the favored backs. Marlon Lucky has shown off his great hands this season, catching 11 passes for 113 yards while Brandon Jackson has caught 8 passes for 61 yards. Sr. FB Dane Todd (2 catches, 9 yards, 1 TD) rarely touches the ball, but is a solid lead blocker.
WR/TE: Nebraska has a deep and talented group of receivers. Jr. Terrence Nunn (19 catches, 318 yds, 1 TD) and So. Nate Swift (9 catches, 154 yds) lead the crew. Jr. Frantz Hardy (9 catches, 221 yds, 3 TDs) is a threat in the open field, and is developing into a fine possession receiver as well. Jr. Maurice Purify (11 catches, 260 yards, 2 TDs) is a big target, standing at 6'4", 210lb with soft hands. He has caught everything thrown to him, within reason. So. Todd Peterson (7 catches, 120 yds, 1 TD) is another tall receiver that can be counted on to not drop the ball. At TE, Sr. Matt Herian (10 catches, 141 yds, 2 TDs) has played well this season after missing a year and a half due to a broken leg. He still doesn't appear to be back to full speed, but it is unclear if he ever will be back to his pre-injury level. Jr. J.B. Phillips (9 catches, 55 yds, 2 TDs) is a solid second option at tight end.
OL: Nebraska's running backs are averaging 5.69 yards per carry, a major turnaround from last season's 3.6 yards per carry. The Husker's offensive line play is much improved over last season's line, although still not quite the dominating group of big nasties Nebraska was known for through the 1980's and 1990's. Through six games this year, the line has allowed 7 sacks, which compares favorably to the 38 sacks allowed in 12 games a season ago. Starting at the tackle positions are Jr. Chris Patrick (6'4", 290 lbs) at LT, and So. Matt Slauson (6'5", 335 lbs) at RT. So. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) and Jr. Carl Nicks (6'5", 325 lbs) also will also shuffle in and see a number of snaps. Sr. Greg Austin (6'1", 295 lbs) starts at LG, while So. Mike Huff (6'4", 305 lbs) is at RG. Austin left the Iowa State game with a leg injury, however, it does not appear to be serious. So. Andy Christensen (6'3", 300 lbs) will, however, likely start Saturday in Austin's place. Starting center, Sr. Kurt Mann (6'4", 290 lbs), has struggled with a viral infection for over a month, finally getting in for one play against Iowa State. In his place has been Jr. Brett Byford (6'3", 300 lbs), who has had trouble with snapping the ball at times.
Coming into game seven, the Blackshirts uncharacteristically rank 54th nationally in total defense (320 ypg), 79th pass defense (209 ypg), 40th pass efficiency defense (113.51 rating), 35th rush defense (111 ypg), and 25th in scoring defense (15.17 ppg). Major questions have arisen after the poor performance against Kansas two weeks ago, and they definitely haven't been answered yet.
DL: Nebraska's defensive line is led by Sr. defensive ends Adam Carriker (22 tackles, 1 sack, 7 QBH, 2 PBU) at base end, and Jay Moore (18 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) as the open end. So. Barry Turner (11 tackles, 1 FR, 4 QBH, 1 PBU) is a quick footed DE that shares a number of snaps with Moore. Sr.'s Ola Dagunduro (8 tackles, 1 sack) and Barry Cryer (17 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 PBU) start at nose tackle and defensive tackle, respectively. Backup sophomore tackles Ndamukong Suh (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF) and Ty Steinkuhler (12 tackles, 1 FF) are seeing more action in the rotation and have looked impressive. Nebraska's opponents currently average 3.5 yards per carry, which is up slightly from the 3.2 yard average in 2005. This is one of the better starting front fours in the country, talent wise, but will need to prove it every week.
LB: Originally thought to be one of the best linebacking corps in the conference, if not the nation, the Husker 'backers have yet to live up to their billing. There is a lot of season to be played, and much still to be proved. Starting at MLB is Jr. Corey McKeon (36 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 2 PBU). On the outside, Jr. Bo Ruud (33 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 1 FF) starts at weak side, with Jr. Steve Octavien (9 tackles) backing him up. Octavien has been hampered with a hamstring injury for the past few weeks, but has been cleared to practice this week. He has struggled to get back to form after missing 2005 with a knee injury. Sr. Stewart Bradley (34 tackles, 1 FF, 2 FRs, 1 PBU, 2 QBH) starts on the strong side and back-up Jr. Lance Brandenburgh (12 tackles) has looked good filling in at all three linebacker positions when necessary.
DB: Jr. Cortney Grixby (22 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR) is mid-way through his third year as starter at WCB, while Jr. Andre Jones (26 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PBU) starts at SCB, continuing his progression after transferring from the JUCO ranks. Grixby will be picked on because of his 5'9" frame, which has worked in opponents' favors, especially if they possess a tall receiver. Jones is a big, physical, cover corner that is doing well in making a clean transition from JUCO to 1A football. Both continue to give up chunks of yards, mainly due to the Pillsbury Dough Boy soft zones, often giving a 5-8 yard cushion to the opposing receiver. Jr. Tierre Green (32 tackles, 1 FR) starts at SS and Sr. Andrew Shanle (20 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 PBU, 3 QBH) is the starter at FS. True freshmen Major Culbert (2 tackles), Rickey Thenarse (3 tackles, 1 PBU), and Corey Young (9 tackles) are starting to get more playing time and looking better with each passing game. Depth is a huge concern as injuries have left the defensive backfield bare, limiting the types of coverages Nebraska can play.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special team play has been fairly solid and steady over the first six games, however, haven't been quite as prolific as they were a season ago.
K: So. Jordan Congdon is 2 for 3 on field goals, with a long of 38. On kickoffs, he averages just 56.7 yards on 35 attempts (3 touchbacks). The failure to get kickoffs through the endzone has given opponents an advantage in field position, hurting a sometimes shaky defense.
P: So. Dan Titchener has been fairly solid through six games. He is averaging 39.5 yards on 24 punts with a long of 53, having 8 punts downed inside the opponents' 20. He has a great leg, but has been inconsistent. He'll have a great punt, then shank the next one.
KR/PR: Jr. Tierre Green has returned three kickoffs for an average of 19.7 yards, while Jr. Brandon Jackson has an 18.7 yard average on his three returns, and Jr. Kenny Wilson looked impressive on his single return, taking it for 27 yards. Jr. Terrence Nunn is averaging 9.2 yards on 16 punt returns. So. Nate Swift has returned 2 punts for an average of 24.5 yards.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been solid this season. The Huskers kick coverage unit is allowing 14.4 yards on 35 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing a 7 yard average on 5 punt returns.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Kansas State's Defense
Nebraska's run game could be unstoppable Saturday night if the Wildcat defense gives the same room they did against Oklahoma State a week ago. Nebraska's biggest offensive strength is that they can pound you with any of the four top backs and not drop in talent. The big problem Nebraska had a week ago against Iowa State was an inability to pick up third downs throughout the second half. Had they been able to pick up a few more first downs, the Iowa State defense would have worn out much sooner. Kansas State has some quality defensive players, but not like they were known for having through the late 1990's and early 2000's. The Wildcats will need to be watchful of Nebraska QB Zac Taylor, as he wasn't a major factor throwing the football a week ago, as the Husker offense went into conservative mode, choosing to rush on nearly every first and second down throughout the second half. Taylor, when given adequate time will pick apart any defense in the conference. The Wildcat secondary has gave up big plays to the tune of nearly 300 yards to Baylor two weeks ago in their spread attack, and gave up two touchdown tosses to Oklahoma State a week ago. Kansas State has a good pass rush that has been very effective this season. Nebraska's offensive line has given up 2 sacks in each of the last 2 games, in obvious passing downs. The line play has been scattered this season, and the Wildcats' rush could provide some big plays for the defense.
Kansas State's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Kansas State's offense certainly looked good in the final 4 1/2 minutes of last week's Oklahoma State game. QB Josh Freeman led the offense to two touchdowns in that period, from 92 and finally 58, the latter being capped off with a 21 yard touchdown run with under a minute to go. He had some pressure taken off his shoulders though, as RB Leon Patton has come on strong. Patton looks to be a dynamic running back in Prince's offense, and also a dangerous return man. Patton took a kickoff for TD against Oklahoma State in addition to his 151 yards rushing and 33 yards receiving. Nebraska's defense shut down the Iowa State rush last week, stopping both Stevie Hicks (21 yards) and Bret Meyer (26 yards) in their tracks. Before that though, they could do nothing to stop Kansas RB Jon Cornish (145 yards). A big help for Kansas was that they were able to throw the ball effectively as well. It will be imperative for the Wildcats to have a balanced attack, something that could be difficult to do with an inexperienced freshman QB. Something that could help it become a reality is that Nebraska's secondary, for most of this season, has been underwhelming and Kansas State has a competent receiving corps. If Nebraska can get pressure on Freeman, forcing him into making mistakes, it will be a long day for the Wildcats.
Keys to the Game
For Nebraska to Win:
1.) Establish running game. KSU's defensive front has shown an inability to stop a good rush.
2.) Start fast, score on opening possession - put the Wildcats on their back early.
3.) Disrupt young QB Josh Freeman.
4.) Minimize penalties.
5.) Slow down RB Leon Patton, he made big plays on special teams as well as offense last week.
For Kansas State to Win:
1.) No turnovers.
2.) Must improve rush defense after giving up nearly 5 yards a carry to OSU.
3.) Run game needs to be established to assist Freshman QB Josh Freeman.
4.) Cannot allow Nebraska to make big plays.
5.) Throw 10 yard Out routes. Nebraska gives big cushions to receivers. Quick Out routes could be key to success.
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Kansas State
Latest Line - Nebraska by 8.5.
Special Teams: Kansas State
CB - Zack Bowman - knee - out for season
CB - Isaiah Fluellen - knee - out for season
MLB - Phillip Dillard - knee - out for season
OLB - Nick Covey - knee - out for season
LB - Clayton Sievers - hamstring - day-to-day
C - Kurt Mann - virus - probable
LB - Steve Octavien - hamstring - questionable
RB - Carlos Alsup - undisclosed - day-to-day
OL - Jacob Voegeli - undisclosed - day-to-day
DB - Bryan Baldwin - undisclosed - out for season
Game Breakdown & Outlook
Nebraska is seeking their 800th win in school history Saturday, attempting to join Michigan, Notre Dame, and Texas in that exclusive club. An impressive milestone for a program rich in history. One record they would like to snap Saturday is the 4 game losing streak at Manhattan against Kansas State. The last time Nebraska won in the Little Apple came in 1996. A 39-3 victory when Tom Osborne was still coaching the Huskers.
A lot has happened in the past 10 years for both programs. Kansas State has been on a downward slide the past pair of seasons after defeating Oklahoma in the 2003 Big XII championship game. Nebraska, has been up and down over the past four seasons after their appearance in the 2001 National Championship game. It is hard to believe that two former power run oriented offenses would now both be variations of the West Coast Offense. Nebraska is in year three of their WCO system and has finally gotten the offense going. Kansas State is just mid-way through year one with their version, and have moved to playing a number of young guys to create a spark.
Of course, the story of Josh Freeman has been brought to attention many times this week, and it will surely be spoken about through the game Saturday. Josh Freeman, a verbal commitment to Nebraska, switched his commitment to Kansas State on December 19th, 2005. There was much made about the reasons why, all of which are irrelevant now as that is part of the past. Nebraska players attest that they are not making this game personal by any means.
Nebraska's offense has been the subject of ridicule over the past few weeks. Not for poor output, but for shutting down into an ultra conservative mode after jumping ahead by two scores. Against Kansas, the Huskers took a 17 point lead, then backed off. The Jayhawks mounted a comeback, with the Huskers winning in overtime. Last week, Nebraska took a 21-7 lead into halftime before coming out in the second half becoming predictably conservative. It has been a winning gameplan, but isn't much for style points.
Saturday's game should be an interesting match-up. Nebraska has more talent at nearly every position on the field, and has more quality tested coaches. The X-factor for Kansas State of this game will likely be RB Leon Patton, as he was against Oklahoma State. They have found a competent weapon that doesn't require a freshman QB to deliver a pass to for success. He had three rushes of over 20 yards last week (21, 35, 40), largely due to his ability to cut back at the line of scrimmage. If he can have some success, taking pressure off of Freeman, this game could be kept within 10 points. If Patton's success is limited, this will be a long night for Kansas State.
If Nebraska has similar success running the football that Oklahoma State had against Kansas State last week, there will be little reason to throw. Between the Cowboys' top two backs, they averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Now, Oklahoma State's Mike Hamilton is a quality back, and Keith Toston appears to be as well, but both looked like All-Americans against the Wildcats. If Kansas State is to have any chance of keeping this game close, that 6.9 figure will need to be changed to 3.9 or better.
Kansas State will likely try to pull out all the stops in this game. Expect some trick plays, new wrinkles, etc. The Wildcats will look to their special teams to put them into position to score, and to give Nebraska a long field. Nebraska should be running free most of the night, giving Taylor opportunities to make big plays with his arm.
The question will be, if Nebraska has the opportunity to do so, will coach Bill Callahan put an exclamation point on win number 800? Nebraska should win this one by about 14.
Nebraska - 31
Kansas State - 17