DATE: JANUARY 1, 2007
WHERE: DALLAS, TEXAS
WHEN: 10:40 A.M. CST
The Auburn Tigers enter the Cotton Bowl against Nebraska after defeating rival Alabama 22-15 on November 18th. Auburn finished 2nd in the SEC West division behind Arkansas. This season, the Tigers averaged 332.83 yards in total offense, placing them 68th in the nation. Auburn also ranks 87th in passing (177.83 ypg), 34th in passing efficiency (139.15 rating), 43rd rushing (155 ypg), 49th scoring offense (25.42 ppg), and 32nd in turnover margin (+ 0.42).
QB: Jr. Brandon Cox (153 of 250, 2087 yds, 13 TDs, 9 INTs) should finally get a chance to play a game at full health, after being banged up for much of the season. Despite his troubles with injuries, he has managed to complete 61.2% of his passes. He hasn't been terribly prolific in terms of touchdowns to interceptions, however. In his last game, against Alabama, he threw just 14 passes, completing 6 of them for 127 yards. It marked the seventh time this season that he has thrown 20 or less passes in a game. Two games ago against Georgia, he had his worst outing of the season, throwing four interceptions on just 12 passes. He has a solid group of receivers to throw to, and with his injuries mostly healed, he should perform better than he has over the past two games. Back-up So. Blake Field (1 of 2, 15 yds) has been near perfect in his very limited opportunities.
RB: Auburn has used a combination of Sr. Kenny Irons (174 carries, 821 yds, 4 TDs) and So. Brad Lester (104 carries, 510 yds, 9 TDs) this season, which has provided a nice one-two punch. Unfortunately, Lester was one of three players recently suspended for the Tigers. TFr. Ben Tate will likely be the one to help pick up the slack left by Lester. He's a larger back than Lester and Irons, and has played very well when called upon. In the two games Irons was absent for, against Buffalo and Tulane, Tate rushed for a total of 270 yards and 3 touchdowns. Irons is one of the top backs in the SEC, and will look for an improbable 179 yards to push him over 1000 yards. Together, the running backs average 5.18 yards per carry, taking Lester out of the equation the average is 5.3. The running backs have not been a big piece of the passing game this season, as Kenny Irons has caught just 9 passes for 76 yards. At FB, Jr. Carl Stewart (26 carries, 97 yds, 2 TDs - 12 catches, 230 yards, 1 TD) and Sr. Tre Smith (22 carries, 107 yds, 1 TD - 6 catches, 39 yds, 1 TD) have split duties, making plays in the passing game as well as on the ground.
WR/TE: The Tigers' receiving crew is led by talented Sr. Courtney Taylor (48 catches, 634 yds, 2 TDs). He has good size at 6'2", and has hands to match. With Taylor not catching a pass against Alabama, this broke 14 game streak in which he had caught at least one pass. So. Rodgeriqus Smith (26 catches, 452 yds, 4 TDs), Jr. Prechae Rodriguez (13 catches, 150 yds, 1 TD), and Sr. Lee Guess (6 catches, 114 yds) round out the top receivers for Auburn. Smith is the largest of the receivers at 6'4", and is the team's top deep threat. Against an undersized Nebraska secondary, these tall receivers should enjoy a height advantage, which could result in a few big plays. The Tigers have a pair of solid red-shirt freshmen tight ends, with Tommy Trott (10 catches, 94 yds, 2 TDs) and Gabe McKenzie (12 catches, 125 yds, 1 TD). The last time a tight end caught a pass was against Ole Miss, four games ago. It will be interesting to see if this changes now that QB Cox is healthy.
OL: The experienced Auburn offensive line has been fairly average this year. While doing a quality job in rush blocking, the pass protection could be much better. Overall, the line making way for 4.3 yards per rush for the offense. Through twelve games, the line has allowed 30 sacks. Starting on the line at tackle is Jr. King Dunlap (6'9", 321 lbs) at left, and Sr. Jonathan Palmer (6'5", 318 lbs) on the right. At guard is Sr. Ben Grubbs (6'3", 314 lbs) on the left side, while Sr. Tim Duckworth (6'4", 310 lbs) starts on the right. Grubbs and Duckworth are arguably the best linemen on the team, both All-SEC honors. Starting at center is Sr. Joe Cope (6'1", 272 lbs). The all-upperclassmen starting front 5 has not necessarily played up to their potential, and there is little quality depth behind them.
Entering their thirteenth and final game of the season, the Auburn Tiger defense ranks 25th nationally in total defense (297.50 ypg), 20th pass defense (171.67 ypg), 38th pass efficiency defense (117.18 rating), 48th rush defense (125.83 ypg), and 7th in scoring defense (13.92 ppg). Sack production and general pass rush has declined since a year ago, as the Tigers were able to cash in on 39 sacks in 2005, but only 27 in 2006.
DL: Auburn's defensive line is lighter than most, relying on athleticism over brute strength to get penetration. Leading the line is standout Jr. defensive end Quentin Groves (31.5 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 3 FF, 7 QBH) on the right, and Sr. Marquies Gunn (27 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU, 1 blkd kick) on the right. Top back-ups include Sr. Chris Browder (14 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 QBH) and RFr. Antonio Coleman (13 tackles, 6 QBH). Plugging the gaps are Jr. Josh Thompson (29 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QBH) at Nose and RFr. Sen'Derrick Marks (28 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF, 3 FR, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) at DT. Top interior line back-ups include Jr. Tez Doolittle (7.5 tackles) and So. Pat Sims (9.5 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 FF). This line has been hot and cold this season. Teams such as Arkansas and Georgia were able to run rampant through them this season, while LSU and Mississippi State struggled mightily. After playing twelve games, the Auburn defensive line is allowing opponents 3.8 yards per rush.
LB: Auburn has had a good linebacking corps this season, however, took a big shot in December as two solid backers were suspended. The biggest loss will be TFr. Tray Blackmon, an outstanding athlete that had started four of the last five games. Sr. Kevin Sears is the other suspension casualty, who has been a solid performer, when active this season. Both Blackmon and Sears have served large suspensions earlier in the year, so the Tigers are used to seeing them away from the field. Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Karibi Dede (42.5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU). He is in his second year as a starter. Backing up Dede will be RFr. Chris Evans (1.5 tackles, 1 QBH). On the outside, Sr. Will Herring (51.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 1 FR, 3 QBH, 2 PBU) at WLB, while So. Merrill Johnson (24.5 tackles, 1 sack, 3 QBH) starts at SLB. Herring has flourished since his move from safety in the off-season. Top back-ups at OLB are So. Steve Gandy (6.5 tackles) and RFr. Patrick Trahan (9.5 tackles).
DB: Auburn has a very good group of defensive backs, one of the most talented in the SEC. This group is led by starting Sr. LCB David Irons (30.5 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 11 PBU). Irons has been a big time player since transferring from the JUCO ranks last year, a great leader for the secondary. Irons is apparently suffering from the flu, having to miss practice because of the illness. Backing up Irons is Jr. Zach Gilbert (10.5 tackles, 1 INT). Jr. Jonathan Wilhite (22 tackles, 1 FF, 5 PBU) starts at RCB with Jr. Patrick Lee (18.5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 5 PBU) serving as his back-up. At safety, Jr. Eric Brock (36 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 PBU) starts at SS, with So. Tristan Davis (9.5 tackles) backing him up. RFr. Aairon Savage (39 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) starts at FS, and RFr. Jerraud Powers (22.5 tackles, 1 FR, 3 PBU, 1 blkd kick) is his back-up.
Auburn Special Teams
The Tigers' special team units have been very good this season. Auburn currently ranks 4th in net punting (38.95 yd avg), 100th in punt returns (6 yd avg), and 6th in kickoff returns (25.76 yd avg).
K: Sr. John Vaughn has made 19 of his 23 attempts, with a long of 55. Vaughn is arguably the best kicker in the SEC, and one of the best in the nation. On kickoffs, Sr. Matt Clark is averaging 64.5 yards with 49 of his 62 kickoffs going for a touchback.
P: Sr. Kody Bliss has punted 41 times for an average of 46.1 yards. 12 of his 41 punts have been downed inside of the opponents' 20. Bliss is one of the best punters in the SEC and in the nation.
KR/PR: So. Tristan Davis (27 returns, 26.4 yd avg) and Jr. Patrick Lee will handle kickoff return duties for the Tigers. Lee is expected to replace suspended Brad Lester on kick returns in the Cotton Bowl. On punt returns, So. Robert Dunn (22 returns, 5.5 yd avg) and Sr. Tre Smith (2 returns, 10 yd avg, 1 TD) are the top return man.
Coverage: The Auburn kick coverage team are stingy, allowing just 17.9 yards per return on 11 kickoff return attempts. Punt coverage has been a little shaky, however, as Opponents average 9.1 yards per punt return on 17 returns.
Nebraska is coming into the Cotton Bowl with Auburn after falling 21-7 to Oklahoma in the Big XII Championship game on December 2nd. Nebraska's 428.77 yards places them 9th nationally in total offense. The Cornhuskers also rank 18th in passing (253.15 ypg), 10th in pass efficiency (154.89 rating), 25th in rushing (175.62 ypg), 13th in scoring offense (31.85 ppg), and 61st in turnover margin (0.00).
QB: Sr. Zac Taylor (219 of 365, 3071 yds, 25 TDs, 7 INTs), named the 2006 Big XII offensive player of the year, had a rough outing against Oklahoma in the Big XII Championship game. Many of his minor faults turned into major problems for him as he threw three interceptions against the Sooners. Taylor has a tendency to stay in the pocket too long, which has been the cause of many sacks this season. He will also force throws into double coverage as well as throw behind and over receivers. When he is on target, he is among the most efficient quarterbacks in the country. When he is off, he is really off. Through this season, Taylor has managed to break most of the Nebraska single-season and career records in passing. So. back-up Joe Ganz (7 for 13, 122 yds, 3 TDs) has thrown just one pass in the past nine games.
RB: Nebraska has a quartet of quality running backs in its stable. They have needed all four at times this year, whether it is due to match-up issues or injuries. Jr. Brandon Jackson (181 carries, 951 yds, 7 TDs) leads the group with his excellent cut back abilities as well as powerful running style. Jackson earned AP first-team All Big XII this year, a great honor for a back that started the season tied for third on the depth chart. Jackson broke his hand against Oklahoma, but is expected to play. So. Marlon Lucky (116 carries, 640 yds, 6 TDs) is a solid second option, with his hands being an outstanding asset. So. Cody Glenn (71 carries, 370 yds, 8 TDs) is most effective in short yardage situations, mostly becoming a third-down back. Glenn's has battled with foot injury, but could finally be healthy come game time. Jr. Kenny Wilson (75 carries, 335 yds, 4 TDs) has been up and down. He has a tendency to protect the ball in traffic, which has caused fumbles that shouldn't have otherwise happened. The backs are a critical piece in the passing game as well, with Brandon Jackson catching 31 passes for 319 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Marlon Lucky has caught 26 passes for 316 yards. Sr. FB Dane Todd (2 catches, 9 yards, 1 TD) is a solid lead blocker that rarely sees the ball.
WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving crew, top-to-bottom is one of the better crews in the Big XII conference. There is a nice mix of quality deep threats and possession receivers. Jr. Maurice Purify (33 catches, 621 yards, 7 TDs) is the team's biggest target and has become the go-to guy for QB Zac Taylor. His athletic 6'4" frame allows him to jump over any defensive back. He does tend to fight for extra yards, which got him into trouble against Oklahoma, as he fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Sooners the ball at the Nebraska 2 to start things off. He wasn't the same the rest of that game. Jr. Terrence Nunn (41 catches, 589 yds, 3 TDs) leads the team in receptions, and has been a solid threat on medium routes. So. Nate Swift (19 catches, 330 yds, 1 TD) has seen his role diminish since last season, but still managed to finish third in receiving yards on the team. So. Todd Peterson (19 catches, 307 yds, 2 TDs) has excellent hands that have been garnering him more field time. Jr. Frantz Hardy (14 catches, 317 yds, 3 TDs) is the speedster for the Huskers, a dangerous threat in the open field, but has disappeared since the early season. Tight ends have become less of a factor in the offense over most of the second half of the season. Sr. Matt Herian (12 catches, 150 yds, 2 TDs) hasn't resembled the player he was prior to his compound leg fracture in 2004, and Jr. J.B. Phillips (13 catches, 82 yds, 2 TDs) has been a decent at best second option, but not a type of tight end that the West Coast Offense prefers to thrive on.
OL: Nebraska's top four running backs are averaging 5.18 yards per carry thanks in large part to a good effort by this offensive line. The Husker offensive line is young and improved over last season's incarnation. However, they still have their struggles, getting beat by quick, athletic defensive linemen. After thirteen games, the line has allowed 28 sacks. 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) will also shuffle in and see a lot of work, especially if Slauson isn't 100% yet. Nicks has played well when in for Slauson. Sr. Greg Austin (6'1", 295 lbs) should be back to start at LG after injuring his knee a few weeks ago with So. Andy Christensen (6'3", 300 lbs.) backing him up. RFr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 280 lbs.), who started at RG, had season ending knee surgery in December, which leaves So. Mike Huff (6'4", 305 lbs) to start at RG. Jr. Brett Byford (6'3", 300 lbs), after taking over for then starting center, Sr. Kurt Mann (6'4", 290 lbs), who has struggled with a viral infection for most of the season, has played well and kept the job.
Nebraska's Blackshirt defense comes into their fourteenth game of the season ranked 70th nationally in total defense (343.69 ypg), 89th pass defense (223.31 ypg), 42nd pass efficiency defense (117.75 rating), 43rd rush defense (120.38 ypg), and 30th in scoring defense (18.38 ppg).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line is anchored by seniors Adam Carriker (34.5 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 INT, 11 QBH, 3 PBU, 1 blkd kick) at base end, and Jay Moore (29.5 tackles, 5 sacks, 5 QBH, 3 PBU) as the open end. Back-up So. Barry Turner (14.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR, 6 QBH, 1 PBU, 1 blkd kick) uses his great athleticism to get into the backfield in a hurry. Sr.'s Ola Dagunduro (19.5 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 1 blkd kick) and Barry Cryer (23 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) start at nose tackle and defensive tackle, respectively, doing a nice job this season plugging up the middle. This is probably one of the more underrated pairs of tackles in the nation. Back-up sophomore tackles Ndamukong Suh (15 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 QBH) and Ty Steinkuhler (18.5 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FF) have also played well this season. Suh has the skills of a future star, while Steinkuhler has been steadily improving as well. Nebraska's opponents currently average 3.9 yards per carry on the season, a solid number. This is one of the top defensive lines in the country, but has had issues with consistency from game to game.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps has had problems with staying healthy this season, attributing to some of the poor numbers seen for this defense. Jr. Corey McKeon (48.5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at MLB for the Huskers. McKeon is traditionally a bit small to play in the middle, but plays big despite his 6'1", 225 lb. frame. Jr. Lance Brandenburgh (28.5 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FF), one of the sure tacklers on the team, backs up McKeon. Jr. Bo Ruud (48 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 FF, 1 FR, 4 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at WLB, with Jr. Steve Octavien (24 tackles, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) currently serving as his back-up. Octavien has been hampered with injuries this season, but has finally played a couple of games in a row. Sr. Stew Bradley (53 tackles, 2 FF, 3 FRs, 1 PBU, 5 QBH) starts at SLB, and rarely comes out of the game. Bradley's listed back-up, So. Clayton Sievers (1 tackle) has played in just 9 of 13 games due to injuries.
DB: Nebraska's maligned secondary has been the biggest weakness of the defense, giving up big days to typically average quarterbacks. Cortney Grixby (44.5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 10 PBU), a three year starter at WCB is picked on because of his 5'9" frame. Jr. Andre Jones (58 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PBU) started all 13 games this season at SCB, however, will be seated in favor of TFr. Rickey Thenarse (7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU). Jones, a JUCO transfer, didn't become the shut down corner the team hoped he would be this season. Thenarse is going to get his first starting opportunity of his freshman season. Through this season, the corners have given up a number of first downs first downs, many due to soft zones, typically a 5-8 yard cushion to the opposing receiver. Jr. Tierre Green (48.5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 2 PBU) starts at SS and Sr. Andrew Shanle (47.5 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 FR, 6 PBU, 4 QBH) is the starter at FS. Safety play has been very sub-par this year. Both tend to take poor angles and miss tackles. True freshmen Major Culbert (8.5 tackles, 1 blkd kick) and Corey Young (10.5 tackles) have been getting more playing time as reserves, with Culbert getting play at OLB as well as DB. With depth being the major concern this season due to the large number of injuries, the experience of these younger athletes is critical for the future success of this defense.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams play has been decent this year, with the exception of the kick return game, in which they really struggle. The Huskers rank 22nd in net punting (37.24 yd avg), 77th in punt returns (7.74 yd avg), and 114th in kickoff returns (17.23 yd avg).
K: So. Jordan Congdon is 5 for 7 on field goals, with a long of 40. So. Jake Wesch handles kickoff duties, averaging 61 yards per kickoff, with 8 of his 31 attempts going for a touchback.
P: So. Dan Titchener has punted well this season. He is averaging 39.1 yards on 61 punts with a long of 58, having 24 punts downed inside the opponents' 20. He has above average leg power, with solid consistency.
KR/PR: Jr. Brandon Jackson has a 17.4 yard average on his nine returns and So. Marlon Lucky has returned six kickoffs, averaging 18.8 yards per return. Punt returning has also been disappointing. Jr. Terrence Nunn averaged 8.5 yards on 18 punt returns, before being relieved of duties due to fumbling issues. So. Nate Swift has returned three punts for an average of 16.7 yards, Jr. Cortney Grixby has averaged 5.8 yards per return on twelve returns.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been mostly solid on the year, with just a few busted plays this season. The Huskers kick coverage unit is allowing 17.6 yards on 59 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing just 4.7 yard average on 15 punt returns.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Auburn's Defense
Nebraska's offensive output overall against the Sooners in the Big XII Championship wasn't poor, as the Huskers actually out gained the Sooners 366 to 307. Despite this success, much of it took place in the middle of the field, as Nebraska found it to be near impossible to move once inside the red zone. Oklahoma's mix of defensive size and speed, coupled with QB Zac Taylor's worst day of decision making led to their defeat. Nebraska holds a solid 3rd down conversion percentages at 46%. This has been a key to their success this season, as the Huskers managed an abysmal 33% in 2005. Nebraska is also 86% in red zone offense.
The Auburn defense has been very good this season, but not where they would like to be. First year coordinator Will Muschamp has seen some heat come his way, especially after giving up 279 rushing yards to Arkansas. This weakness against the rush can be attributed to a small front line averaging 6'2.5" and 276 lbs. It will be interesting to see how they will play against the beefier Nebraska offensive front. The Tigers have a mediocre 3rd down defense, with opponents converting 39% of their tries. Auburn has accounted for a fairly average 71 tackles for loss that includes a solid 27 sacks. They have the speed to get into the backfield, and if Nebraska's Zac Taylor continues to stay in the pocket too long, they should find some success.
Nebraska's run game was slowed down against Oklahoma due to the Sooners tough front and injuries to the running backs. The Huskers gained just 84 yards in the game, however, RB Brandon Jackson averaged nearly 5.4 yards per carry before fracturing his hand. The Huskers excellent crew of running backs are all expected to be healthy for the Cotton Bowl, a big relief for Nebraska as all of them have taken turns on the injured list this season. Nebraska's offensive line play has been spotty this season, but has been getting better. They still need to show that they can play great football against a great team though.
Nebraska's QB Zac Taylor will have a challenge in front of him against Auburn's 20th ranked pass defense. Taylor is 19th nationally in pass efficiency, after dropping 10 spots after a disastrous day against Oklahoma. He spent far too much time in the pocket and made many ill timed and ill thought-out throws, especially in the red zone, that hurt his football team. He has had nearly a month to think it over and get past that performance, and should be expected to have a more "Taylor like" day.
Auburn's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Auburn's offense has played well enough to win games, but hasn't been spectacular this season, ranking 68th nationally. QB Brandon Cox has struggled with a calf injury for much of the season, but is nearing 100% right now. Auburn gained just 261 total yards in their final regular season game, against Alabama. The Tigers will find themselves facing a statistically lesser defense in Nebraska, however, the Huskers and Crimson Tide are nearly identical where it counts - scoring defense (18.4 and 18 points per game given up, respectively). Auburn's third down conversions percentage of 46%, and has an 86% red zone scoring average.
The Nebraska defense may look a little different on New Years Day. With CB Andre Jones losing his blackshirt, it will be interesting to see how the youth plays against a top 10 football team. One thing that will greatly help Nebraska's chances will be consistent, solid tackling. Nebraska's defense has had trouble this year in wrapping up on ball carriers. There was improvement in this for the Big XII Championship game, as there were far fewer missed tackled in that game than against Colorado. However, they are still not where they need to be. The Huskers' pass defense has been improving over the last quarter of the season, but still tend to give up a couple of big passes in every game. Nebraska's front seven penetration has been good this season, managing 80 tackles for loss and 26 sacks. Nebraska's defense has a solid 3rd down defense, allowing opponents to convert on just 33% of their attempts.
Auburn's rushing attack has been outstanding this season, one of the big reasons the Tigers have had a good season this year. The Tigers have used a combination of running backs Kenny Irons and Brad Lester to move the football between and around the tackles. Irons claims that the Husker defense has yet to see anything like the Tiger run game. Nebraska would likely disagree after playing against outstanding stables of backs all season long. The main problem for Auburn is that Brad Lester is suspended for the Cotton Bowl, leaving the Tigers short handed at running back. If the other reserve running backs can't take some weight away from Irons, the Auburn offense will fizzle.
A major question mark will be how close QB Brandon Cox is to 100%. He has been a competent quarterback, however, has thrown 9 interceptions while passing for just 13 touchdowns. Auburn's opponents have combined for 30 sacks against the Tigers this season, only a limited amount could you blame on Cox's injury. Nebraska's defensive backfield is far from the nation's best, and after watching Oklahoma chew up yards on simple 10 yard out routes time and time again against this defense, the Tigers have to like what they see. Expect some different coverages from Nebraska for the Cotton Bowl after a lackluster performance against a marginal Sooner passing game.
Keys to the Game
For Nebraska to Win:
1.) Get after Auburn QB Brandon Cox. Auburn offensive line has been less than stellar this season.
2.) Limit the success of Auburn RB Kenny Irons. With their depth issue at RB, this should put a lot of pressure on the QB.
3.) Pound the rock at a fairly small Auburn defense.
4.) Must win turnover battle. The 5 turnovers against Oklahoma lost the football game. A repeat performance and the Huskers are sunk.
5.) Pass Protection has to be there for QB Zac Taylor. It was about 50/50 against the Sooners, more consistency is needed.
6.) Better tackling needs to continue. This Nebraska defense has tendencies to arm tackle and not wrap up, something that got better in their last game.
For Auburn to Win:
1.) Shut down the Nebraska rushing attack. If the small defensive front struggles, Auburn's chances will decline sharply.
2.) Put the heat on Nebraska QB Zac Taylor. He had his worst outing of the season against the athletic Oklahoma defense.
3.) Must find suitable replacement for RB Brad Lester. Is true freshman Ben Tate ready to play against a big time program?
4.) QB Brandon Cox has to be sharp. He is throwing 1.4 touchdowns for every interception. Hardly exciting numbers.
5.) Must handle Nebraska blitz. The offensive line has been spotty this season, and Nebraska likes to bring heat.
6.) Win field position game. Special teams have been outstanding this season, use them to give offense and defense some assistance.
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Auburn
Latest Line - Auburn by 2.
Special Teams: Auburn
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
OT - Matt Slauson - ankle - probable
RB - Cody Glenn - foot - probable
OG - Greg Austin - knee - probable
SS - Eric Brock - ankle - probable
TE - Cole Bennett - ankle - out indefinitely
LB - Tray Blackmon - suspension - out indefinitely
LB - Kevin Sears - suspension - out indefinitely
RB - Brad Lester - suspension - out indefinitely
Game Breakdown & Outlook
The Big XII's Nebraska Cornhuskers are set to meet the SEC's Auburn Tigers on New Years Day in the Cotton Bowl for just the 3rd time in series history. Nebraska currently holds a perfect 3-0 record over Auburn, winning their last meeting in 1982, 41-7. This is the first time Nebraska coach Bill Callahan has matched up against an SEC school, and is also the first time that Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has coached against a Big XII school. In bowl games, Tuberville is 3-3, while Callahan is 1-0.
The Huskers would like to avoid going 0 for 4 against top 10 teams this season, and it will take a solid game to get the goose egg erased. The Huskers have come up short against USC, Texas, and Oklahoma in those games thus far. Auburn has beaten two top 5 teams this season, defeating both LSU and Florida. Auburn's losses, to Arkansas and Georgia, were behind the woodshed losses at home. The weather is expected to be range from the mid 40's to the low 50's with no precipitation, nice weather for Dallas in January.
Nebraska's offense will be one of the most balanced offensive attacks that Auburn will have faced this year, the closest being LSU. With Nebraska's running backs, including Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky, expected to be healthy and ready to go, the Huskers should have a big advantage in rushing between the tackles. Nebraska has yet to light up a top 10 team on the ground this season in three attempts, and will have their best chance against the Tigers. QB Zac Taylor will have to play a much better game than he did in his last performance against Oklahoma. Auburn, like Oklahoma's defense, is very fast. However, Auburn's defense is not quite as physically big as Oklahoma's is. It was the combination of the two that hurt the Husker offense most. For Taylor to avoid a repeat performance, the Husker receiving crew will need to be more consistent catching and holding onto the football. Taylor will also have to be better about getting rid of the football and not taking unnecessary sacks.
Auburn's offense should show improvement now that QB Brandon Cox is nearing 100%. If his underperforming offensive line were to play to their potential, this would be a very dangerous offensive attack. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they haven't played to their potential and have left him banged up this season. He does have a good receiving corps, highlighted by Courtney Taylor and Rodgeriqus Smith, who should be able to find some space against a fair but improving Nebraska secondary. Nebraska's defensive backfield doesn't have any big hitters, and very rarely will you see one of them square up and hit someone. With true freshman Rickey Thenarse entering the starting fray for the first time this season at CB, this could provide a shot in the arm to a sometimes porous secondary. If Auburn does not miss a beat offensively after losing RB Brad Lester, it will help take some pressure away from Cox and help put the Tigers in good position to win this football game. Since reserve RB Ben Tate's only experience is against Tulane and Buffalo, there isn't a huge amount of confidence that he can fill those shoes immediately.
Nebraska will typically start with their ground game early, and should find success against the small front seven of Auburn. If Nebraska is able to have success on the ground, this will help take a lot of pressure off of QB Zac Taylor. If not, Taylor will again have to try and win the game with his arm against a good secondary. This will be Taylor's final college game after starting at Nebraska for two seasons. He would like to leave with a memorable victory, rather than his sub par game against Oklahoma in the Big XII Championship.
This game could very likely be a game won and lost in the trenches. The quarterback that makes the least amount of mistakes will likely lead their team to a victory. Nebraska has been better this season at getting into the backfield and making plays, but overall on defense, Auburn has been a better club. The Tigers will likely have success as long as RB Kenny Irons is healthy and on the field, but when he isn't on the field is when it could get interesting. QB Brandon Cox will be under a lot of pressure with touchdown leader Lester out for the game. If Nebraska stuffs the Auburn run game like they did against Oklahoma, his inconsistent arm will have to win the game for Auburn. Nebraska has the talent to run on Auburn like Arkansas did, and if the Tigers can't stop the Huskers on the ground, Nebraska will chew up the clock on the road to a victory.
This should be a close game, and fairly low scoring. Auburn's suspensions will hurt the team, losing two of their better linebackers and an excellent running back. Look for a solid running attack from Nebraska and a good performance from QB Zac Taylor, pushing the Huskers to a victory in this game by a touchdown or less.
Nebraska - 21
Auburn - 16