Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
--by Vince Campisi
October 11th, 2008
2:00 PM CT
Television Coverage: FSN
NEBRASKA (3 - 2) (0 - 1)
TEXAS TECH (5 - 0) (1 - 0)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Texas Tech
Latest Line - Texas Tech by 21.
08/30/08 - vs. Eastern Washington - W 49-24
09/06/08 - at. Nevada - W 35-19
09/13/08 - vs. Southern Methodist - W 43-7
09/20/08 - vs. Massachusetts - W 56-14
10/04/08 - at. Kansas State - W 58-28
10/11/08 - vs. Nebraska
10/18/08 - at. Texas A&M
10/25/08 - at. Kansas
11/01/08 - vs. Texas
11/08/08 - vs. Oklahoma State
11/22/08 - at. Oklahoma
11/29/08 - vs. Baylor
08/30/08 - vs. Western Michigan - W 47-24
09/06/08 - vs. San Jose State - W 35-12
09/13/08 - vs. New Mexico State - W 38-7
09/27/08 - vs. Virginia Tech - L 30-35
10/04/08 - vs. Missouri - L 17-52
10/11/08 - at. Texas Tech
10/18/08 - at. Iowa State
10/25/08 - vs. Baylor
11/01/08 - at. Oklahoma
11/08/08 - vs. Kansas
11/15/08 - at. Kansas State
11/10/08 - vs. Colorado
Texas Tech Offense
Texas Tech's offense is among the elite this season. The Red Raiders are loaded and many times seem unstoppable. After playing five games, they rank 2nd nationally in total offense (583.40 ypg), 1st in passing (439 ypg), 16th in passing efficiency (155.59 rating), 64th rushing (144.40 ypg), 5th scoring offense (48.20 ppg), and 12th in turnover margin (+1.20 mrg).
QB: Sr. Graham Harrell (158 of 237, 2027 yds, 18 TDs, 3 INTs) became Texas Tech's all-time passing yards leader last weekend against Kansas State (12,709 yards). He is a perfect fit in Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, and does a great job of managing the game. Harrell is a QB that can make all the throws, and with his great receiving corps makes a dangerous combination. He does a great job of spreading the ball around, giving everyone involved some touches. He isn't a dual threat, but has scored two touchdown runs from inside the two yard line this season. He has been sacked only once this season, a credit to his quick reads of the opposing defense, as well as his front line. Behind Harrell is So. Taylor Potts (14 for 25, 168 yds, 1 INT).
RB: Sr. Shannon Woods (61 carries, 350 yds, 7 TDs) starts at running back, however, So. Baron Batch (41 carries, 313 yds, 3 TDs) has also seen a good share of the carries this season. Woods is an all-conference caliber back that actually led the Big XII in rushing in 2006. He did something to get on coach Mike Leach's bad side last season and was not the feature back. He is back at the top this season, however, and performing nicely. Batch is also doing well, finding running room behind the offensive line's wide splits to the tune of 7.5 yards per carry. Both Woods and Batch are legitimate 4.4 speed guys that can get to the second level and beyond quickly. So. Aaron Crawford (8 carries, 26 yds, 1 TD) is Tech's third option at running back after starting much of last season. He hasn't played in the past three games, dealing with a nagging turf toe injury. These backs are often used options as receivers as well. Batch leads the group with 15 catches for 189 yards, while Woods has caught 9 passes for 146 yards this season.
WR/TE: The Red Raiders' receiving corps is hard to beat. Loaded with speedy pass catchers, it is hard to keep them all covered on any given play. Starters are So. Michael Crabtree (38 catches, 564 yds, 8 TDs) at "Z", Jr. Edward Britton (11 catches, 101 yds, 2 TDs) at "X", So. Detron Lewis (27 catches, 397 yds, 1 TD) at "Y", Sr. Eric Morris (26 catches, 327 yds, 2 TDs) at "H", and Jr. Ryan Hale (1 catch, 4 yds, 1 TD) at "BH". Crabtree gets most of the attention, and with good reason, as he was the first ever freshman to win the Biletnikoff award last season. Everyone in this group has great hands, and can run after the catch. Morris has been used in the run game as well this season, taking 5 rushes for 33 yards and a touchdown. Hale is a combination tight end and fullback that doesn't see many passes come his way. Top reserves at receiver include RFr. Adam James (9 catches, 83 yds), RFr. Tramain Swindall (19 catches, 230 yds, 1 TD), RFr. Rashad Hawk (5 catches, 65 yds), and So. Lyle Leong (5 catches, 64 yds, 3 TDs). While these reserves came into the year with little to no experience, they are playing like veterans at this stage of the season.
OL: Texas Tech's offensive line has done a great job this season, not only in pass protection, but opening holes for the running backs as well. So far this season, the line is allowing for an average of 5.6 yards per rush and has given up just 1 sack and 8 tackles for loss in four games. Starting at tackle is Sr. Rylan Reed (6'7", 314 lbs) on the left and Jr. Marlon Winn (6'6", 325 lbs) on the right. Reed has been a rock this season after recovering from a broken ankle suffered last year. So. Chris Olsen (6'5", 271 lbs) and RFr. Mickey Okafor (6'7", 326 lbs) are the top reserves at tackle. Okafor is a great young prospect that is a prototypical tackle that coach Leach looks for. Starting at guard is Sr. Louis Vasquez (6'6", 335 lbs) on the left and Jr. Brandon Carter (6'7", 354 lbs) on the right. These are the biggest of the starters, and two of the most athletic. Vasquez is in his third year as a starter and it is a rarity to see him get beat up front. Top back-ups at guard are RFr. Lonnie Edwards (6'5", 288 lbs) and Sr. Jake Johnson (6'7", 370 lbs.). Johnson has started the last two games at LG, and was solid. At center is Sr. Stephen Hamby (6'3", 287 lbs), with Jr. Shawn Byrnes (6'4", 295 lbs) backing him up. Hamby is one of the more versatile players on the line, with experience at both guard spots as well as center.
Texas Tech Defense
Texas Tech's defense is much better than in years past. They are a speedy group that loves to create turnovers. Through five games, they rank 49th nationally in total defense (336 ypg), 88th pass defense (233.40 ypg), 29th pass efficiency defense (105.86 rating), 24th rush defense (102.6 ypg), 33rd in scoring defense (18.4 ppg), 77th in fumbles recovered (3), and 3rd in interceptions (10).
DL: Texas Tech's defensive line returned all four starters from last season and has been performing at a high level. They are doing a good job at stuffing the run, as well as getting a decent pass rush. Of course, they haven't played many teams that have the ability to run the ball. Through five games, they are allowing 3.2 yards per carry while also earning 12 sacks. Starting at defensive end is Jr. Brandon Williams (10 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 FF, 3 PBU) on the left and Sr. Jake Ratliff (3 tackles) on the right, although they have each started on both sides this season. Williams is an outside rush force that ranks second on the team in sacks. Top reserves on the ends are Jr. McKinner Dixon (17 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 PBU), Jr. Brandon Sesay (3 tackles), Jr. Daniel Howard (3 tackles, 1 sack), and Jr. Sandy Riley (6 tackles). Dixon has been outstanding since his return from the JUCO ranks, and could work into a starting role soon. Starting at nose tackle is So. Colby Whitlock (9 tackles), with RFr. Chris Perry (1 tackle) performing back-up duties. Whitlock started last season as a freshman, and plays well against the run. Perry transferred from Miami (Fl.) in January after red-shirting a season ago. Starting at defensive tackle is Jr. Rajon Henley (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), with Jr. Richard Jones (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR) serving as the top back-up. Henley is small for a DT at 266 lbs., using his quickness to make plays rather than his size.
LB: Texas Tech's linebacking corps is a young group, but takes good angles and tackles well. Not the strength of the defense, but hasn't been a weakness either. Starting at middle linebacker is So. Brian Duncan (40 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 PBU), with Jr. Victor Hunter (9 tackles) and RFr. Sam Fehoko (2 tackles) providing back-up. Duncan has been solid in the middle after playing SLB last season. He leads the team in tackles this season. At weakside linebacker is Jr. Marlon Williams (26 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 PBU), while Jr. Blake Collier (5 tackles) backs him up. Williams is a speedy linebacker that flies to the ball. So far this season, he has been the unit's best defensive playmaker. So. Bront Bird (25 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU) starts as the strongside linebacker, with So. Julius Howard (3 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Tyrone Sonier (1 tackle) serving as his top reserves. Bird is a big 6'3" linebacker that has done a nice job in run support as well as in pass coverage.
DB: The Red Raiders' secondary was expected to be a big strength for the defense this season, despite losing Joe Garcia and Chris Parker from last year's team. However, the group ranks 88th against the pass after playing five games. Some of this can be attributed to opponents getting behind and abandoning the run to make an attempt at getting back in the game. Opponents are completing 58.3% of their passes with an average completion of 10.4 yards per reception. Starting at cornerback is Jr. Jamar Wall (27 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PBU) on the left, and Jr. Brent Nickerson (17 tackles, 1 PBU) on the right. Wall has been excellent in coverage this year and leads the team in passes broken up. Nickerson isn't quite as experienced and has been giving up more passing yards than Wall. So. LaRon Moore (1 tackle, 1 PBU) is the top reserve cornerback, a small 5'9", 186 lb. DB that is very quick. Starting at strong safety is Sr. Daniel Charbonnet (27 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR, 4 PBU), with Sr. Anthony Hines (7 tackles, 1 PBU) serving as his top back-up. Charbonnet has been the team's best ball-hawker, grabbing a team-best four interceptions this season. At free safety is Sr. Darcel McBath (23 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 PBU), while Sr. Jordy Rowland (15 tackles, 1 PBU) serving as the top reserve. McBath is a good all-around player that has good size (6'1"), speed, and playmaking ability.
Texas Tech Special Teams
Texas Tech's special teams units contain mediocre kickers, but excellent returnmen. Having punts and kicks blocked has been a problem for this team. The Red Raiders currently rank 111th in net punting (30 yd avg), 35th in punt returns (13.06 yd avg), and 19th in kickoff returns (24.80 yd avg).
K: TFr. Donnie Carona handles field goals, extra points, and kickoffs for Texas Tech. He has made just 2 of his 6 field goal attempts, a long of 35, and has had 2 field goal attempts blocked. He has a strong leg on kickoffs, pushing 9 of his 41 kickoffs for touchback and a 65.8 yard average.
P: So. Jonathan LaCour is averaging 37.3 yards on 9 punts with a long of 53. 5 of his 9 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: Texas Tech's top kickoff returners are So. LaRon Moore (4 kick returns, 26.8 yd avg, 39 yd long), Jr. Edward Britton (3 kick returns, 16.3 yd avg, 21 yd long), and Jr. Jamar Wall (2 kick returns, 35.5 yd avg, 43 yd long). The top punt returnman is the slippery Sr. Eric Morris (15 punt returns, 13.4 yd avg, 1 TD, 86 yd long).
Coverage: The Red Raiders' kick and punt coverage units have been fairly good, however have had some issues with missing tackles. They are allowing an average of 20.8 yards on 31 kickoff return attempts. The punt coverage team has allowed an average of 9 yards per return on 4 punts.
Nebraska's offense was expected to be excellent this season, but has been a disappointment for the Huskers so far, especially when matched up against good competition. After five games, Nebraska ranks 33rd nationally in total offense (410.60 ypg), 20th in passing (270.40 ypg), 13th in pass efficiency (156.04 rating), 72nd in rushing (140.20 ypg), 30th in scoring offense (33.40 ppg), and 87th in turnover margin (-0.60 mrg).
QB: Sr. Joe Ganz (93 for 142, 1287 yds, 9 TDs, 5 INTs) is one of the many good quarterbacks in the Big XII, but isn't in the top grouping. He has played decently this season, but not with a level of consistency. On occasion he shows the ability to check down his receivers and make good reads, but doesn't do that often enough to have the offense putting up big numbers. Ganz is averaging one interception per game, and many of his picks are usually balls that had no chance of being caught by a Husker receiver. His blockers have caused him problems as well, making him rush decisions. He has run the ball effectively at times this season, however, has not been impressive against the better opposition over the last two weeks.. He has rushed for 123 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries this season. Behind Ganz is RFr. Patrick Witt (4 for 6, 40 yds) and So. Zac Lee (1 for 2, 5 yds). Neither has seen meaningful snaps, but Witt has shown a problem taking snaps in the two games he played in this season.
RB: Nebraska has a talented stable of running backs. Unfortunately, there isn't much of a push up front to give them running lanes. Sr. Marlon Lucky (56 carries, 232 yds, 4 TDs), So. Roy Helu Jr. (32 carries, 175 yds, 2 TDs), and So. Quentin Castille (37 carries, 121 yds, 1 TD) are co-number 1's on the depth chart, however, do not see equal snaps. He doesn't hit the hole with great authority, but is tough to bring down as a pass catcher in the open field. Helu Jr. has a good combination of hard running, leaping and cutting ability. He finds and hits the hole better than anyone else in the backfield. Castille is the strongest runner of the group, and not afraid to take defenders head-on. All can be successful when used properly. Lucky (8 catches, 94 yds, 1 TD) is fourth all-time in total offensive yards in Nebraska history, due to his great hands out of the backfield. However, the offense hasn't showcased him in the way they have in season's past. Castille (4 catches, 61 yds) and Helu Jr. (7 catches, 95 yds) have also caught passes this season. At FB, Sr. Thomas Lawson (1 catch, 4 yds) starts, however, is used as little more than a blocker. Sr. TE Hunter Teafatiller has also played the position while Lawson sat out after appendix removal surgery.
WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps has not been all that impressive this season. The group still needs to do a better job of getting open consistently, a problem that has yet to be repaired all season long. Sr. Nate Swift (20 catches, 304 yds, 3 TDs) starts at "X", and is the one consistent and proven playmaker of the bunch. He has great hands and good speed, which has helped him to average over 17 yards per catch. Starting at "Z" is Sr. Todd Peterson (22 catches, 268 yds, 1 TD), a dependable receiver with good hands. Top back-ups at "X" are Jr. Menelik Holt (13 catches, 170 yds, 1 TD), So. Will Henry, and Jr. Chris Brooks. Holt has a good frame at 6'4", 220 lbs., and if he does improves his ability to get open, he can be a great threat in the offense. Top reserves at "Z" are So. Niles Paul (4 catches, 58 yds) and RFr. Curenski Gilleylen (1 catch, 5 yds). Paul and Gilleylen are Nebraska's speedsters, but haven't seen much come their way. At TE is So. Mike McNeill (8 catches, 163 yds, 3 TDs) and So. Dreu Young (3 catches, 75 yds), with Sr. Hunter Teafatiller (3 catches, 27 yds) and RFr. Ryan Hill (2 catches, 3 yds) as the top pair of back-ups. McNeill is starting to have a good season, and has given Nebraska a legitimate threat at TE.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line woes continued last week against Missouri. They can't get a push up-front for the run game and has had a lot of trouble in pass protection as well.. This season the line is allowing 4.2 yards per carry, which is an inflated number from playing New Mexico State's poor defense. Taking that game out of the equation, and the Huskers have averaged just 3 yards per carry (2.2 ypc in the last two games). Nebraska's rushing offense consists of mostly zone blocking schemes, which this line does not excel at. Starting at tackle is So. Mike Smith (6'6", 285 lbs) on the left and Sr. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) on the right. Neither has played very well for the past two weeks, getting beat too often. So. Jaivorio Burkes (6'5", 325 lbs) is the top reserve at LT, while RFr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) is the top back-up at RT. Burkes has not looked as good as he did as a freshman last year, he has missed many blocks. Starting at left guard is So. Mike Huff (6'4", 300 lbs.), while Sr. Matt Slauson (6'5", 320 lbs) starts at right guard. Guard play has been poor this season, but Slauson has probably been the best of them. So. D.J. Jones (6'5", 305 lbs) and So. Keith Williams (6'5", 305 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. Huff and Williams will share time at the LG spot. Jr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs.) backing him up. Hickman is an adequate center, but not a dominant force, by any means.
Nebraska's defense has not yet earned the trademark Blackshirts, and likely won't be anytime soon. As a whole, the group lacks the mix of size, speed, and experience to be competitive with the better offenses in the league. After playing five games, the Huskers rank 82nd nationally in total defense (376.20 ypg), 97th pass defense (248.20 ypg), 79th pass efficiency defense (128.86 rating), 50th rush defense (128 ypg), 72nd scoring defense (26 ppg), 108th in fumbles recovered (1), and 58th in interceptions (5).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line has been the strength of the defense this season, however, struggled mightily against Missouri last week. Opponents average 3.6 yards per rush this season, an increase after Missouri averaged 5.7 per carry last week. Starting at defensive end is So. Pierre Allen (28 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Zach Potter (21 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 2 PBU, 1 BK) on the left. Potter is the best player on the line, while Allen was put into the starting role a few weeks ago after Barry Turner broke his leg. TFr. Cameron Meredith and Sr. Clayton Sievers (5 tackles, 1 QBH) are the top reserves at defensive end. Neither has made much of an impact this season. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Ndamukong Suh (26 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with Sr. Shukree Barfield (6 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Terrence Moore (7 tackles, 2 sacks) backing him up. For his size, Suh has very good maneuverability and can be solid at nose but still has a ways to go to be a dominant force. Sr. Ty Steinkuhler (26 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Jared Crick (1 tackle, 1 PBU) listed as his top back-up. Steinkuhler has had a nice season thus far after suffering through many injuries in his career.
LB: Nebraska started three new linebackers this season, and they have looked like it, although last year's bunch wasn't anything great either. They haven't been particularly good in coverage, and have had some issues with taking improper angles to the football. Jr. Phillip Dillard (32 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH) starts at middle linebacker, with TFr. Will Compton and Jr. Colton Koehler (2 tackles) backing him up. Sr. Cody Glenn (35 tackles, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at WLB after converting from RB in the off-season. He flies to the ball and is the team's top tackler this season. He was injured early in last week's game and is questionable for Saturday. So. Blake Lawrence (4 tackles) is Glenn's top reserve, and may move into the starting spot if Glenn can't go. That isn't for sure, however, and many options are being looked at including TFr. Matt Holt (5 tackles). Starting at buck is Sr. Tyler Wortman (4 tackles), with TFr. Sean Fisher and So. Latravis Washington serving as his back-ups. This unit lacks lateral speed which hurts the defense, especially when it comes to misdirection plays and spread offenses in general.
DB: Nebraska's secondary has been giving up a lot of yards between the 20's, leaving many receivers wide open for big plays. They are stronger in the red zone when there is less ground to cover, but were not very successful in any area last week against Missouri. Sr. Armando Murillo (23 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PBU) is the starter at LCB, with So. Eric Hagg (21 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard backing him up. Murillo has been the best of the group, but far from perfect. Hagg has also played well, just not with great consistency. So. Anthony West (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Prince Amukamara (20 tackles, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) and So. Lance Thorell (14 tackles) serving as his back-ups. West and Amukamara have played fairly well, but have also each given up big plays this season. At safety, Jr. Larry Asante (21 tackles, 1 PBU) starts at SS, with Jr. Major Culbert (6 tackles) backing him up. Asante is a good athlete, but is struggling this season to make plays on defense, missing tackles and assignments regularly. Jr. Rickey Thenarse (6 tackles, 1 PBU) and Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (25 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) share the top spot at FS on the depth chart. Both have made mistakes in coverage this season, but Thenarse is the harder hitter and better athlete. Thorell and O'Hanlon were picked on often by Missouri last week.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units are home to a solid return and kicking game, but the punting this season has been terrible. The Huskers rank 116th in net punting (27.50 yd avg), 17th in punt returns (17 yd avg), and 38th in kickoff returns (23.14 yd avg).
K: So. Alex Henery (7 for 8, 48 yd lng) is a dependable kicker that hasn't been tested beyond 48 yards. So. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs and extra-long field goals due to his leg strength. Kunalic has pushed 13 of 31 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 67.4 yard average.
P: Sr. Dan Titchener is averaging an abysmal 35.2 yards on 16 punts with a long of 54. 4 of his 8 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He isn't doing near as well as he did last season, when he averaged over 41 yards per punt. He was benched last week for Sr. Jake Wesch, who punted one time for 40 yards, which was fair caught inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: Nebraska's kick return team is made up of So. Niles Paul (15 returns, 26.5 yd avg, 1 TD, 85 yd long), Jr. Larry Asante (2 returns, 15.5 yd avg, 20 yd long), and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (3 returns, 10.7 yd avg, 12 yd long). At punt returner is So. Niles Paul (5 returns, 9.8 yd avg, 28 yd long) and Sr. Nate Swift (4 returns, 26 yard avg, 1 TD, 88 yd long).
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have struggled with missed tackles at times this season, leading to a few big returns. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 25.6 yards on 19 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing an average of 11.1 yards on 8 punt returns.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Texas Tech's Defense
Nebraska's passing game is having difficulties with consistency. There are problems in all areas from the blockers to the quarterback to the receivers. They don't appear in sync on many plays and interceptions have been occurring due to this. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz has been at his best when he rolls out to buy himself more time. While rolling out last week, a pair of blocks was missed and he was rushed into throwing a ball that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. He has been taking some big hits when he rolls out, which might be part of the reason he wasn't bootlegging much last week. Ganz isn't a traditional pocket passer, and often gets passes batted down at the line when he is in the pocket. He faces a Texas Tech defense that has given up big chunks of passing yards this season. There are quality athletes in the defensive backfield, and they have been forcing turnovers, but have also been giving up more yards than they should. Last week against Kansas State, the Red Raider defense left a lot of open Wildcats down the middle of the field. Texas Tech is allowing opponents to complete 58.3% of their passes, while Joe Ganz is completing 65.5% of his attempts this season.
While it is beginning to sound like a broken record, Ganz has to be more efficient if Nebraska is to win more games this season. Efficiency isn't just completing passes, but finding an open receiver downfield that could mean a big gain rather than a short pass that isn't near the first down marker. WR Nate Swift is closing in on Nebraska's all-time receptions top spot and needs to be a bigger part of the offense. He has been outstanding when he touches the ball. There are other good targets Ganz can hit including Todd Peterson, Menelik Holt, and Mike McNeill, but they have had trouble hooking up. Whether it is because the receivers aren't getting open or Ganz isn't checking down his receivers, it just isn't happening for the offense. While Texas Tech doesn't have a great pass defense, Missouri came into last week's game with worse defensive statistics and the Huskers couldn't get the job done. It will be interesting to see how well Nebraska plays against a veteran Red Raider secondary on Saturday. Ganz can't afford to make mistakes against this turnover-hungry Red Raider defense led by SS Daniel Charbonnet.
Ganz and the Husker offense have another opportunity this week to get back on track through the air, but there are no real signs that it is ready to happen. An area of concern for the offense is the lack of RB Marlon Lucky in the passing game. After leading the Huskers in receptions last year, he has only caught 8 balls in five games. With the goal being to get the ball in the hands of your playmakers, it is a shock that he isn't getting more activity in the passing game. Ganz has been under a lot of pressure this season, and hasn't exactly risen to the occasion. He needs his blockers up front to be successful, and so far this season, he hasn't been getting it.
Nebraska's running game has been broken for the past 2 games, rushing for a combined 134 yards. 330 of Nebraska's 701 rushing yards were gained in one game against New Mexico State. Gaining less than 100 yards on the ground a week isn't a good way to get victories, and the problem is solely up front. Nebraska's group of running backs is one of the deepest in the Big XII, but can't show their stuff when they are getting gang tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Until they start getting a good push up front, the Huskers will continue to lose games and continue to lose big. They will be facing a rush defense that has been very good statistically, but hasn't faced much in the way of quality rush offenses. Nevada was able to rush for 224 yards against the Red Raiders a few weeks ago, showing that it is possible for the Huskers to put something together.
The Husker backfield is just waiting for the offensive line to plow consistent holes in a defensive front so they can put up big numbers, but have been disappointed this season. That type of running was seen only in one game this year, against a 3-3-5 defense without top tier athletes in New Mexico State. Texas Tech's defense is fundamentally sound and isn't going to miss a lot of tackles. They likely also know that by shutting down the Nebraska run game (which hasn't been much of a challenge this season), it severely cripples the offense.
It will be interesting to see how Nebraska's mediocre third down and red-zone offense handles a Texas Tech defense that is excellent in those same categories. The Red Raiders' defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 21.2% of their third downs (3rd nationally), and allowing them to score on just 60% of their red-zone chances (6 touchdowns, 3 FG's) (8th nationally). Five games into their season, Nebraska is converting 43.8% (up from 35.6% last week) of their third downs (38th nationally), and are scoring on 81% of red-zone opportunities (14 TDs, 3 FGs) (64th nationally).
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 302 lbs, while Texas Tech's average defensive lineman is 6'4", 262 lbs. Nebraska has been up against larger defensive line the past two weeks, and will look to use their size advantage this week in their favor. Their problem, however, isn't so much strength, but agility. They emphasize zone blocking schemes up front that haven't been executed well for years, however, continue to move forward with little to no change. Nebraska averages 4.2 yards per carry, while Texas Tech is giving up 3.2 yards per carry this season. For the Huskers to hang in this one, the offensive line must be able to push this lighter defensive front around and get into a ball control offense, keeping the Red Raider offense on the sidelines as much as possible. Nebraska has given up 7 sacks and allowed 35 tackles for loss on the year, while Texas Tech has picked up 12 sacks and 25 tackles for loss through five games this season.
Texas Tech's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Texas Tech's 2008 version of the Air Raid offense is possibly their best ever. QB Graham Harrell is a seasoned veteran that is looking to be the NCAA all-time passing yards leader by season's end, and could take a big step towards that this week against a Nebraska secondary that has given up big yards to everyone this season. Harrell has completed 66.7% of his passes this season, while Nebraska's defense is allowing opponents to complete 60.5% of their passes. Signs definitely point to a huge day statistically for Harrell. His offensive line has been impressive as well, not allowing him to get pressured much, but when he is, Harrell stays cool and makes good decisions. Nebraska will have to not only get pressure on him, but contact as well. That was one area they did not do much of against Missouri QB Chase Daniel last week.
The Husker defense was torched last week against Missouri for 261 yards and three touchdowns through the air on just 19 completions. There wasn't much of a pass rush and the coverage was sparse as Missouri receivers were constantly wide open. Texas Tech's Graham Harrell was nearly perfect against Kansas State last week, throwing for 454 yards, 6 touchdowns, and no interceptions. In fact, Harrell hasn't thrown an interception in his last three games.
It is going to be a great difficulty for any defense to slow down the Red Raider passing game because of how well they spread it to different receivers. While everyone knows how great Michael Crabtree is, there are also a number of other quality wide-outs that Harrell works to get the ball to evenly. By distributing the ball this well, a defense can't key in on just one or two receivers, but must respect everyone on the field. This includes running backs Baron Batch and Shannon Woods. Guys like Eric Morris, Detron Lewis, Tramain Swindall, and Edward Britton are players in addition to Crabtree you have to account for. Nebraska's secondary just doesn't have enough bodies to stop them, let alone slow them down.
While Texas Tech hasn't been known much for their run game under Mike Leach, however, that is a different story this season. Shannon Woods and Baron Batch have both done a great job, combining to average an impressive 6.4 yards per carry this season. Texas Tech employs extra wide splits between the offensive linemen, and all of their running backs are speedsters that can get to the second level quickly, which is one of the reasons this pair has scored 10 touchdowns this season.
Nebraska was doing a solid job against the run this season until they met Missouri last weekend. Missouri was able to burst through the Husker defense for 201 yards and 3 touchdowns on 34 carries. Missouri's starting RB Derrick Washington averaged 9.9 yards per carry against the overmatched Husker squad. Nebraska's tackling woes as well as a lack of sideline-to-sideline speed makes them a primary target for misdirection type plays. Texas Tech used their "Elf" formation last week against Kansas State, utilizing the slick WR Eric Morris in the backfield (Michael Crabtree ran it last week instead of Morris, however). He'll line up with another running back on either side of Graham Harrell, then take a direct snap and given the decision to hand-off, throw, or run. Against an inexperienced and oft-confused Nebraska defense, it could be used with success if needed this week.
Texas Tech is converting an excellent 51.4% of their third downs (13th nationally), with an 86% red-zone scoring average (22 TDs, 2 FGs) this season. Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert on 43.2% of their 3rd down attempts (93rd nationally), but has allowed a solid 74% red-zone scoring percentage (11 TDs, 6 FGs) this season.
Up front, Texas Tech's average offensive lineman is 6'6", 323 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'5", 283 lbs. The Red Raiders claim to have the nation's largest offensive line, and with an average like that it certainly is at least one of the biggest. Nebraska had trouble with Missouri's wide splits last week, and Texas Tech's line is actually a little better. Look for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini to send some corner or safety blitzes Harrell's way, trying to mix it up in hopes that he will make a mistake. Texas Tech is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, while Nebraska is allowing 3.6 yards per carry this season. The Red Raiders have allowed an incredibly low 7 tackles for loss (1st nationally) and just 1 sack (2nd nationally), while Nebraska has accumulated 38 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in five games this season.
Keys to the Game
For Nebraska to Win:
1.) Don't turn the ball over - Had a pick-6 last weekend that dashed any hopes of a comeback in the second quarter. On the road in a hostile environment, turnovers or lack thereof will be paramount.
2.) Eliminate penalties - Nebraska is 115th in penalties per game at 9.20, and 110th in penalty yards per game at 74.80 ypg. Playing disciplined football is a must, and that many mental errors at the mid-point of the season is a major problem.
3.) Blocking must improve - Too many missed blocks, lazy blocks, and confusion on who to block at this point in the year.
4.) Establish a competent rushing attack - Nevada was able to rush successfully against the Red Raiders with their balanced attack. Nebraska has to start running the ball better.
5.) Make QB Graham Harrell uncomfortable in the pocket - a tough task, but it must be done for Nebraska to have any chance in this game.
For Texas Tech to Win:
1.) Stay focused - while Nebraska is overmatched this week, the Red Raiders have had a tendency to lay an egg or two every year.
2.) Special teams improvement - A lot of breakdowns against KSU last week, including giving up a blocked punt for touchdown.
3.) Attack the Nebraska secondary - shouldn't be too much trouble against the young Husker group that has given up tons of yards this season.
4.) Cut down on penalties - Ranking 117th in penalties per game with 9.80, and 116th in penalty yards per game at 83.80 ypg isn't going to fetch any prizes. Had just 6 penalties last week and rolled conference foe KSU by 30.
5.) Shut down Nebraska run game - The Nebraska offense struggles greatly in games against tough run defenses. Missouri, Virginia Tech, and San Jose State were all able to slow down the NU offense to a near halt by getting into the backfield and taking away the run game.
QBs: Texas Tech
WR/TE's: Texas Tech
OL: Texas Tech
DL: Texas Tech
LB: Texas Tech
DB: Texas Tech
Special Teams: Even
Coaching: Texas Tech
CB - Anthony Blue - knee - out for season
DE - Barry Turner - leg - out for season
OG - Andy Christensen - medical - out
LB - Cody Glenn - ankle - day-to-day
Saturday will mark the 10th all-time meeting between Nebraska and Texas Tech. Nebraska leads the series 7-2 since first meeting in 1976. Texas Tech has won the last two in the series. First capitalizing on 7 Nebraska turnovers and destroying the Huskers 70-10 in Lubbock in 2004, then narrowly escaping Lincoln with a win in 2005, 34-31 thanks to a fumbled interception return by Nebraska's DT LeKevin Smith in the fourth quarter that gave the Red Raiders an extra set of downs - the opportunity needed to get the game winning score. This is Nebraska's first away game of the season, the only team yet to play away from home in all of FBS college football.
On paper, Texas Tech is a much better football team at pretty much every position on the field. The Red Raiders can score in bunches, and against the struggling Nebraska defense, will not have to worry about breaking that trend. Nebraska's offensive coaches said it was back to basics this week for the offensive line and running game, not something that lends much confidence to their chances in this game. One team still working on the basic fundamentals of football, while another is thinking about Big XII championship aspirations does not sound like a barnburner of a game.
Nebraska's running game isn't likely to get on track just yet, especially not to the level it needs to be at to win this game. Too much pressure on QB Joe Ganz has yielded poor results the last couple of weeks, and he desperately needs that ground game to take some of the pass rush off him. Nebraska has the personnel to score some points and possibly compete well with the Red Raiders for a quarter or so, but Texas Tech has the total package - a solid run game, a phenomenal pass game, and a defense that can get the job done. Nebraska's best chance in this game to get a few interceptions from QB Graham Harrell and hope that Texas Tech continues to play mediocre special teams.
Ultimately, Texas Tech is far too good for Nebraska to beat them this season. This is simply the best Texas Tech team Mike Leach has ever had facing a Nebraska team that is trying to find its way again after their worst four year stretch since the 1950's. It would be a major upset for the Red Raiders to falter this weekend, and most will be expecting a game similar to the 2004 contest in Lubbock. With the way Texas Tech can do it all offensively coupled with Nebraska's problems, the Red Raiders will win big.
Nebraska - 24
Texas Tech - 56
Nebraska vs Texas Tech Game Preview
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