Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Baylor Bears
--by Vince Campisi
October 25th, 2008
11:30 AM CT
Television Coverage: Versus
BAYLOR (3 - 4) (1 - 2)
NEBRASKA (4 - 3) (1 - 2)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Baylor
Latest Line - Nebraska by 13.
08/28/08 - vs. Wake Forest - L 13-41
09/06/08 - vs. Northwestern State - W 51-6
09/12/08 - vs. Washington State - W 45-17
09/19/08 - at. Connecticut - L 28-31
10/04/08 - vs. Oklahoma - L 17-49
10/11/08 - vs. Iowa State - W 38-10
10/18/08 - at. Oklahoma State - L 6-34
10/25/08 - at. Nebraska
11/01/08 - vs. Missouri
11/08/08 - at. Texas
11/15/08 - vs. Texas A&M
11/29/08 - at. Texas Tech
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 - L 31-37 OT
10/18/08 - at. Iowa State - W 35-7
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
Baylor's offense has been pretty decent this year under head coach Art Briles. After playing seven games, they rank 54th nationally in total offense (375.29 ypg), 82nd in passing (192.6 ypg), 35th in passing efficiency (139.91 rating), 33rd rushing (182.71 ypg), 48th scoring offense (28.29 ppg), and 12th in turnover margin (+1 mrg).
QB: TFr. Robert Griffin (94 of 155, 1271 yds, 9 TDs) has been nothing short of outstanding for a true Freshman. He's a 6'3" 200 lbs. athlete that has excellent speed and can throw the ball around well. He doesn't have the strongest arm or the most accurate arm in the Big XII, but he is the only starting QB in the conference without an interception. In fact, he broke the NCAA record for consecutive passes without an interception for a Freshman starting his career. He is completing 60.60% of his passes, with an impressive 148.69 QB rating. He is making a name for himself as one of the top dual threats around, as he has rushed for 433 yards and 8 touchdowns on 97 carries this season. He is doing a great job at running Briles' spread attack and is just beginning to scratch the surface of what he is capable of. Behind Griffin are Jr. Blake Szymanski (4 of 7, 28 yds) and Sr. Kirby Freeman (6 of 13, 49 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs). Griffin has the run of the show and neither of these two will see any snaps unless in mop-up duty or due to injury.
RB: Baylor's group of running backs have played well this season, however, had their worst performance of the season at just 42 yards last week against the stingy Oklahoma State defense. Up to four different running backs could see the ball on any given Saturday, with So. Jay Finley (73 carries, 438 yds, 4 TDs) leading the way. He is a good all-around runner that is averaging 6 yards per carry this season as opposed to 3.8 per carry a season ago. Sr. Jacoby Jones (31 carries, 116 yds, 2 TDs) is the top reserve at the main running back spot, and at 225 lbs. is the best option for power running. At the team's "H" back spot, Jr. Jeremy Sanders (29 carries, 117 yds, 1 TD) and Sr. Ray Sims (24 carries, 109 yds) will see carries. Sanders is a former JUCO quarterback that one would think could be a valuable asset to perform some trick plays in the offense. Combined, the four backs are averaging just under 5 yards per carry. The running backs aren't catching many passes this year, with Finley (6 catches, 57 yds) and Sims (3 catches, 11 yds) being the only backs with catches.
WR/TE: The Bears' receiving crew isn't a great group, but they have been serviceable for QB Robert Griffin this season. Starters at WR are Jr. David Gettis (23 catches, 319 yds) and Jr. Ernest Smith (3 catches, 86 yds, 2 TDs). Gettis is a great athlete at 6'4", 210 lbs., and has track star speed. Surprisingly though, he isn't making the kind of impact one would expect, unable to score a single touchdown this season. Smith is another player that has a great combination of size and speed, but just hasn't transferred that into great success on the field this year. Top reserves at wide receiver include Jr. Kyle Mitchell and Jr. T.J. Scranton (1 catch, 10 yds). Starting at IR are TFr. Kendall Wright (33 catches, 413 yds, 3 TDs) and Sr. Thomas White (18 catches, 200 yds, 1 TD). Wright is having a solid season, performing at a top level nationally for a Freshman and close to some Baylor Freshman records. He has very good hands and can be slippery on the inside routes. White is doing well this season, utilizing his quickness to be a solid possession receiver. Top back-ups at inside receiver include Jr. Justin Fenty (3 catches, 20 yds, 1 TD), So. Brad Taylor (3 catches, 33 yds), and TFr. Romie Blaylock (2 catches, -6 yds). Taylor had a fantastic season last year, but hasn't done much in 2008. At tight end are Jr. Justin Akers (10 catches, 136 yds, 2 TDs) and Sr. John David Weed. Akers had 43 catches last season, but just 10 so far this season due to the less importance put upon the tight end position in Briles' offense.
OL: Baylor's offensive line is a veteran unit with plenty of starting experience, but hasn't been as dominant of a front five as hoped. So far this season, they are allowing for an average of 4.6 yards per carry and have given up 16 sacks and 46 tackles for loss in seven games. Starting at tackle is Sr. Jason Smith (6'6", 305 lbs) on the left and Sr. Dan Gay (6'5", 295 lbs) on the right. Smith is one of the best tackles in the nation, very solid in pass protection. Gay is also a quality tackle, stronger as a pass protector than run blocker. RFr. Joe Korbel (6'5", 270 lbs) is the top reserve at tackle. Starting at guard is Jr. Jordan Hearvey (6'5", 285 lbs) on the left and Jr. James Barnard (6'4", 290 lbs) on the right. Barnard is one of the main reasons the run game has been better this season as he is very good as pushing around his opposition. Top back-ups at guard are Jr. Chris Griesenbeck (6'6", 270 lbs) and RFr. John Jones (6'5", 300 lbs.). At center is Jr. J.D. Walton (6'3", 300 lbs), with RFr. Courtney Green (6'4", 275 lbs) backing him up. Walton is a solid center that is in his second year as starter after transferring from Arizona State a few years ago.
Baylor's defense is giving up a lot of yards this season with their tough schedule having a lot to do with that. There is some good talent here and they do a very solid job of creating turnovers. Through seven games, they rank 73rd nationally in total defense (366.29 ypg), 78th pass defense (219.57 ypg), 67th pass efficiency defense (124.69 rating), 70th rush defense (146.70 ypg), 77th in scoring defense (26.9 ppg), 28th in fumbles recovered (7), and 52nd in interceptions (7).
DL: Baylor's defensive line is a solid unit on the defense. The veteran led crew is doing a very good job of getting into the backfield and disrupting play. Through seven games, they are allowing 3.4 yards per carry while also helping the defense to pick up 13 sacks. Starting at defensive end is Sr. Leon Freeman (25 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 QBH) on the left end and Jr. Jason Lamb (19 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right end. Freeman has been the best at getting into the backfield, leading the team in both sacks (2) and tackles for loss (6). Lamb is a quick 6'6", 270 lbs., and has also done a nice job at putting pressure on the opposing QB. Top reserves on the ends are So. Jameon Hardeman (8 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 PBU) and RFr. Zac Scotton (4 tackles, 1 QBH, 2 PBU). Starting at nose guard is Jr. Trey Bryant (18 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH, 2 PBU), with RFr. Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (8 tackles) performing back-up duties. Bryant is doing a better job against the run than he did last season and has also gotten his hands up, batting a pair of passes away this season. Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. Vincent Rhodes (19 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 QBH), with Jr. Sam Sledge (9 tackles, 1.5 sacks) serving as the top reserve. Rhodes is a solid d-tackle that can get a good pass rush from inside and has a good motor to bounce outside and make plays.
LB: Baylor's linebacking corps is a hard working, solid tackling bunch. They make up three of the top four tacklers on the Bears' defense. Starting at middle linebacker is Jr. Joe Pawelek (82 tackles, 2 INT, 1 FR, 5 QBH, 4 PBU), with So. Chris Francis (16 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR) providing back-up. Pawelek is one of the better linebackers you'll find and the top tackler in the Big XII. He helps those around him, with 52 of his 82 tackles being assists. Last week against Oklahoma State, Pawelek had 14 tackles (13 solo) and 2 pass breakups, one of his best games of the season. He doesn't have great speed, but makes up for that with football smarts. At weakside linebacker, or Fritz, is So. Antonio Johnson (48 tackles, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), while RFr. Elliot Coffey (8 tackles, 1 PBU) backs him up. Johnson is a quick backer that does a pretty good job in coverage. Jr. Antonio Jones (41 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 QBH) starts as the strongside linebacker, with So. Earl Patin (31 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH) serving as his top reserve. Jones is a hard-hitting athletic linebacker. He leads all linebackers in sacks at 2.
DB: The Bears' secondary has given up a pretty large chunk of yards this season, but has also done a nice job of breaking up passes and getting some turnovers. Opponents are completing 61.8% of their passes with an 11 yards per completion average. Starting at cornerback is So. Antareis Bryan (29 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PBU) on the left, and Sr. Dwain Crawford (32 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 3 PBU) on the right. Crawford is one of the most experienced defensive backs for the Bears and has been a dependable performer this year. Bryan has done a nice job in coverage this season, leading the team in breakups (7). So. Krys Buerck (13 tackles, 1 PBU) and So. Dominique Criss (1 tackle) are the top reserves at corner. Buerck and Bryan have shared the starting spot at left corner this season, with Bryan getting the nod this week. Buerck switched from wide receiver to cornerback during the off-season. Starting at strong safety, or "Hero", is Jr. Jeremy Williams (35 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 4 PBU), with Sr. Marlon Price (14 tackles) and Sr. Jake La Mar (24 tackles) serving as his top back-ups. Williams has pretty good wheels and is a sure tackler. La Mar is the team's top option as nickel back when the package calls for him. At free safety is Jr. Jordan Lake (51 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 5 PBU), while So. Tim Atchison (17 tackles) serves as the top reserve. Lake is the best player on the defense. He's a good athlete that seems to always be around the ball. One problem for the secondary is that both corners Crawford and Bryan were injured last week and their status is still up in the air.
Baylor Special Teams
Baylor's special teams units have been pretty solid in 2008, especially in the punting game. The Bears currently rank 7th in net punting (40 yd avg), 118th in punt returns (1.70 yd avg), and 15th in kickoff returns (24.79 yd avg).
K: TFr. Ben Parks handles field goals, extra points, and kickoffs for Baylor. He has made 4 of his 5 field goal attempts with a long of 36. He has a pretty accurate leg, but isn't one of the stronger kickers in the conference. On kickoffs he has pushed just 2 of his 38 kickoffs for touchback and has just a 55.4 yard average.
P: So. Derek Epperson is having a solid season, an improvement over last year. He is averaging 43.3 yards on his 32 punts with a long of 62. 9 of his 32 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: Baylor's top kickoff returners are Jr. Mikail Baker (12 kick returns, 28.8 yd avg, 1 TD, 93 yd long) and Sr. Jake La Mar (6 kick returns, 20 yd avg, 44 yd long). The top punt returnman is Sr. Joe Bennett (9 punt returns, 1.9 yd avg, 11 yd long).
Coverage: The Bears' kick and punt coverage units have been very good this season. They are allowing an average of 19.4 yards on 32 kickoff return attempts. This low number can also be attributed to the lack of leg strength from the kicker, however. The punt coverage team has allowed an average of just 4.2 yards per return on 5 punts.
Nebraska's offense looks to be gaining some confidence as the middle of the season wears on. After seven games, Nebraska ranks 18th nationally in total offense (438.86 ypg), 12th in passing (291.40 ypg), 13th in pass efficiency (156.54 rating), 60th in rushing (147.43 ypg), 27th in scoring offense (33.29 ppg), and 96th in turnover margin (-0.71 mrg).
QB: Sr. Joe Ganz (157 for 224, 1967 yds, 12 TDs, 6 INTs) is on a hot streak as of late, and ranks as one of the top efficiency rated QB's in the nation at 12th (156.20 rating). While he has been playing great football the past couple of games, he has struggled at times this season as well. He has a tendency to keep plays alive too long, forcing throws that aren't there which have resulted in turnovers. He is at his best when on the roll-out, able to buy some extra time for his receivers to get open. He can run with the football, and has executed a number of option plays this season. He has rushed for 114 yards and 3 touchdowns on 42 carries (11 sacks) 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 handling snaps in the two games he played in this season.
RB: Nebraska crew of running backs can be excellent when they have holes to run through. The push has been better up front the past two games, which has led to more yards for the backs. Sr. Marlon Lucky (87 carries, 372 yds, 6 TDs), So. Roy Helu Jr. (48 carries, 296 yds, 2 TDs), and So. Quentin Castille (51 carries, 209 yds, 3 TDs) are co-number 1's on the depth chart, with Lucky getting a majority of the carries this season. Lucky is doing a nice job now that holes are present, as he isn't the best back to get something from nothing. Helu Jr. has a good combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability. He does a solid job at finding the hole, and has a nice burst as well. Castille is the strongest runner of the group that likes contact and is the top option inside the 5. Lucky (17 catches, 190 yds, 1 TD) is fourth all-time in total offensive yards in Nebraska history, due to his great hands out of the backfield. He has seen more passes come his way over the last two weeks than in earlier portions of the season. Helu Jr. (10 catches, 137 yds) and Castille (5 catches, 66 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.
WR/TE: Nebraska's group of receivers is overall pretty solid, but had an odd game last week. Although the unit seems to catch about every pass that comes their way, against Iowa State they fumbled 4 receptions (losing 2), something that has not been an issue at all this season. Sr. Nate Swift (33 catches, 486 yds, 4 TDs) starts at "X", and is the top playmaker in the crew. He has great hands, good speed, and excellent balance, which is why he is averaging nearly 15 yards per catch. He is just seven catches behind Johnny Rodgers' record of career receptions (143). Starting at "Z" is Sr. Todd Peterson (34 catches, 397 yds, 2 TDs), a typically dependable receiver with great hands. Top back-ups at "X" are Jr. Menelik Holt (24 catches, 270 yds, 1 TD), So. Will Henry, and Jr. Chris Brooks. Holt has a good frame at 6'4", 220 lbs., and is seeing more throws come his way. Holt and Peterson each lost a fumble last week. Top reserves at "Z" are So. Niles Paul (11 catches, 111 yds) and RFr. Curenski Gilleylen (1 catch, 5 yds). Paul and Gilleylen are Nebraska's speedsters that could break some big plays. At TE is So. Mike McNeill (14 catches, 226 yds, 3 TDs) and So. Dreu Young (5 catches, 86 yds, 1 TD), with Sr. Hunter Teafatiller (3 catches, 27 yds) and RFr. Ryan Hill (2 catches, 3 yds) as the top pair of back-ups. McNeill emerged as a solid TE this season, which has been helpful for the offense in getting better each week.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line has shown a lot of improvement over the past two games. Over the entire season, the line committed many false start and holding penalties, however, had just one false start last week. This season the line is allowing 4.3 yards per carry, and rushed for 5.4 per carry last week. Starting at tackle is So. Jaivorio Burkes (6'5", 325 lbs) on the left and Sr. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) on the right. They have been a big reason why this line is improving. So. Mike Smith (6'6", 285 lbs) is the top reserve at LT, while RFr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) is the top back-up at RT. Smith and Burkes have rotated as starters this season, and both play a lot no matter who the starter is. Starting at left guard is So. Keith Williams (6'5", 305 lbs), while Sr. Matt Slauson (6'5", 320 lbs) starts at right guard. Guard play hasn't been very good this season, but Slauson has been the best of them. So. D.J. Jones (6'5", 305 lbs) and Sr. Mike Huff (6'4", 300 lbs.) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. Williams and Huff 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 appears to be getting slightly better over the past couple of games, but still lacks the speed to play with the top talent out there. After playing seven games, the Huskers rank 64th nationally in total defense (360 ypg), 89th pass defense (234 ypg), 85th pass efficiency defense (131.76 rating), 48th rush defense (126 ypg), 63rd scoring defense (24.9 ppg), 96th in fumbles recovered (3), and 84th in interceptions (5).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line has been the strength of the defense this season, and really stepped up their play last week against Iowa State. Opponents are averaging 3.9 yards per rush this season. There was just one breakdown last week, resulting in a 67 yard touchdown. Taking that out of the equation, ISU gained just 1.58 yards per carry. Starting at defensive end is So. Pierre Allen (31 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Zach Potter (25 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 3 PBU, 2 BK) on the left. Potter is the best all-around player on the line, while Allen is also playing well and flying to the ball. TFr. Cameron Meredith and Sr. Clayton Sievers (7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH) are the top reserves at defensive end. Sievers had a great game last week with a sack and a forced fumble. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Ndamukong Suh (34 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 3 PBU), with Sr. Shukree Barfield (7 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Terrence Moore (8 tackles, 2 sacks) backing him up. Suh is a great athlete and makes a lot of tackles for a nose tackle. Suh has had some penalty problems, but played a disciplined game last week. Sr. Ty Steinkuhler (33 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Jared Crick (1 tackle, 1 PBU) listed as his top back-up. Steinkuhler is having a solid season after suffering through many injuries throughout his career.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps has struggled with injuries this season but was healthy last week and looked pretty good. As a whole on the year, they haven't been great in coverage and have also had issues with taking improper angles to the ball carrier. However, they do play hard and do a good job of getting after the football. They do lack lateral speed, though, which has helped opponents pick up big chunks of yards. Jr. Phillip Dillard (34 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH) starts at middle linebacker, with TFr. Will Compton and Jr. Colton Koehler (2 tackles) backing him up. Dillard is a quality player that made some nice plays last week against Iowa State. Sr. Cody Glenn (40 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. Both Glenn and Dillard have had some injuries this season, and should both be 100% heading into the Baylor game. So. Blake Lawrence (5 tackles) and TFr. Matt Holt (13 tackles) perform back-up duties for Dillard. Starting at buck is Sr. Tyler Wortman (6 tackles, 1 PBU), with TFr. Sean Fisher and So. Latravis Washington serving as his back-ups. Wortman saw more work than usual last week, as the Huskers didn't have to play as much nickel against Iowa State. Don't expect to see Fisher or Compton this season as Nebraska hopes to red-shirt them this season.
DB: Nebraska's secondary was great last week against a poor passing offense in Iowa State. The defensive backs did a nice job of playing the ball, swatting a few passes away that otherwise would have been catches. Tackling has been a problem this season though, with a few of the big plays sprung by a missed tackle or two. Sr. Armando Murillo (29 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 6 PBU) starts at LCB, with So. Eric Hagg (24 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (1 tackle) backing him up. Murillo has been the best of the group, but does get beat on occasion. Hagg has played well, just not with great consistency. So. Anthony West (14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 3 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Prince Amukamara (22 tackles, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) and So. Lance Thorell (20 tackles) serving as his back-ups. West and Amukamara have played well for Sophomores, but have also given up big plays this season. At safety, Jr. Larry Asante (35 tackles, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) starts at SS, with Jr. Major Culbert (7 tackles) backing him up. Asante is a good athlete that has had two pretty solid performances in a row after having a rough first 5 games. Jr. Rickey Thenarse (8 tackles, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (31 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) share the top spot at FS. Both have made mistakes in coverage this season, but Thenarse is the harder hitter and better athlete. If Thenarse can stay healthy, he should see a larger percentage of the plays.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units have been a mixed bag this season. While the kickoff and punt return units have been outstanding, the punters and coverage units have been very poor. The Huskers rank 118th in net punting (27.38 yd avg), 19th in punt returns (14.55 yd avg), and 19th in kickoff returns (24.18 yd avg).
K: So. Alex Henery (8 for 10, 48 yd lng) is a dependable kicker with a solid leg. So. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs because of his leg strength. Kunalic has pushed 19 of 42 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 66.8 yard average.
P: Sr. Dan Titchener averages a poor 35.7 yards on his 18 punts with a long of 54. 4 of his 18 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He hasn't performed as he did last season when he averaged over 41 yards per punt. Sr. Jake Wesch has also had some punting opportunities, but he has been no better. He is averaging 40.2 yards on 5 punts, with a long of 55. 2 of his 5 punts have sailed for touchbacks.
KR/PR: Nebraska's kick return team is made up of So. Niles Paul (21 returns, 27 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 Sr. Nate Swift (6 returns, 18.5 yard avg, 1 TD, 88 yd long) and So. Niles Paul (5 returns, 9.8 yd avg, 28 yd long). The return game has been a bright spot for the Huskers this season.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams continue to struggle with missed tackles leading to extra yards for opponents. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 23 yards on 25 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing an average of 10.6 yards on 10 punt returns.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Baylor's Defense
Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz seems to be turning the corner on his season, doing a great job of spreading the ball around and making better decisions. Over the past two games, he has completed 78% of his throws for 677 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is putting up some great numbers right now, and it is critical for Nebraska's success that he continues to do so. The Bears' secondary is suspect and gave up a lot of yards to both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in conference play. Factor in that two of Baylor's starters might either be out for Saturday's game or at least not at 100% and Ganz should be on his way to another big day. On the season, Baylor is allowing opponents to complete 61.8% of their passes, while Joe Ganz is completing 70.1% of his attempts. Ganz can run a little bit as well, and if he does a good job of escaping the pocket to keep plays alive, the talented Nebraska receivers could find openings on the field easily.
Speaking of the Nebraska receivers, they have been quite good this year. There was a bit of a slip up last week however, with the unit fumbling 4 caught passes. That was an anomaly and should not be expected to take place again. WR's Nate Swift and Todd Peterson continue to be the best of the bunch at finding open space and making sure to catch everything coming their way. Menelik Holt is starting to make noise and with his impressive size and speed combination, it is only a matter of time before he turns into a big playmaker. With Baylor's injury woes in the secondary, having Dwain Crawford and Antareis Bryan banged up, it just doesn't bode well for the Bears.
The match-ups are heavily in Nebraska's favor as FS Jordan Lake is really the only healthy and legitimate playmaker in the secondary for Baylor. Nebraska's group of receivers and tight ends are simply bigger and faster than Baylor's defensive backfield. Swift could easily get enough catches this week to break the Nebraska all-time receptions record (He needs 7 to tie). Nebraska's running backs are also dangerous out of the backfield, adding another dimension that the Bears will have to contend with.
The Nebraska running game is starting to come around, now having two consecutive games of over 100 yards on the ground. This is a big part of the reason why they have led the league in time of possession the past two weeks, and why they just might be able to pile a few more wins on their record before this season is through. Despite the great passing attack, Nebraska needs a strong run game to supplement it and they appear to have it going in the right direction. The problem this season hasn't been the backs, as Nebraska's stable is very talented, but with the line. A line that is improving each week. The more they improve, the better this Nebraska run game will be. Baylor's rush defense has been pretty mediocre and is giving up about the same number of yards each week that Nebraska gains. Baylor has to take something away from Nebraska, and it doesn't appear it will be the pass. Therefore, it will be critical to slow down Nebraska's ground attack.
Nebraska' trio of Marlon Lucky, Roy Helu Jr., and Quentin Castille are beginning to show what they can do. They've missed a hole or two here and there through the season, but as the blocking continues to improve, they will be making a larger impact on the game. Baylor's linebackers are all good tacklers and will try to make work difficult for the Husker backs. MLB Joe Pawelek and company will have to make it a miserable day for the Nebraska backfield for the Bears to keep this game from getting out of their grip.
Seven games into the season, Nebraska is converting 47.2% of their third downs (20th nationally), and is scoring on 87% of red-zone opportunities (23 TDs, 4 FGs) (35th nationally). The Bears' defense is allowing their opponents to convert 45.3% of their third downs (105th nationally), and allowing them to score on 86% of their red-zone chances (18 TDs, 6 FGs) (74th nationally).
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 311 lbs, while Baylor's average defensive lineman is 6'3", 278 lbs. It will be interesting to see how well Baylor's defensive ends Leon Freeman and Jason Lamb can get into the face of QB Joe Ganz. With the way Nebraska's tackles Jaivorio Burkes and Lydon Murtha playing, it will likely be difficult to do. Nebraska has given up 11 sacks and allowed 43 tackles for loss on the year, while Baylor has picked up 13 sacks and 35 tackles for loss through seven games this season. On the season, Nebraska averages 4.3 yards per carry while Baylor is giving up 3.4 yards per carry.
Baylor's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Baylor's spread offense has given the Bears a big boost this season thanks to Freshman QB Robert Griffin. It isn't the typical pass heavy spread attack, as they like to employ a lot more running plays into their offense. With Griffin's athleticism, he is a natural fit in this offensive style. He has a decent arm, and makes some very nice throws, however, his best asset is that he doesn't make many mistakes. He has yet to throw an interception this season which is a remarkable feat considering he has thrown 155 passes. His ability to break containment is a big positive for the Bears this season with Griffin at his best when running with the football. Griffin has actually rushed the ball more than some team's starting running backs around the league, including Nebraska's. Griffin is completing 60.6% of his passes this season, while Nebraska's defense is allowing opponents to complete 62% of their passes.
Nebraska's pass defense was torched by Missouri and Texas Tech, as they combined to throw for 545 yards. Last week, however, Nebraska shut down Iowa State's passing game, holding them to just 113 yards through the air. Obviously, there is a difference between Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell, and Austen Arnaud which led to the stat differential. However, the Nebraska defense gave up more yards to lesser QB's than Arnaud earlier in the year, so their performance last week might be a sign of improvement. They still need to work on their tackling and coverage skills, but many of the guys in the two-deep are still young.
Baylor's receivers really aren't match-up nightmares for anyone in the Big XII, but they do have some quality potential within the unit. Freshman Kendall Wright has done an excellent job this season, leading the team in receptions with 33. Ernest Smith has been the team's top deep threat, averaging 28.7 yards per catch. He has just 3 catches, however, 2 of those went for scores. The Bears have just 4 receivers that have caught 10 or more passes this season, and QB Robert Griffin has more rushes than pass completions this season (97 to 94). It should be a pretty even match-up this week between the Baylor receivers and the Nebraska secondary.
Baylor's run game is led by their QB Robert Griffin and RB Jay Finley. They have been pretty explosive out of the backfield this season, as the tandem has rushed for 12 touchdowns and an average of 5.1 yards per carry. This is a much better rushing attack than the Bears have had in years. Jeremy Sanders, Jacoby Jones, and Ray Sims also get their share of carries in the offense, and all have rushed for over 100 yards each this year. This unit came up empty against a great Oklahoma State defense last week, however, with a total of just 42 yards on 31 carries. Nebraska's defense isn't as good as Oklahoma State's, and a few spread offensive teams have been able to run the ball on the Huskers. Baylor will have to find a way to get it done on the ground or risk getting beat handily again this week.
For most of this season, Nebraska's defense has been solid against the run. It wasn't until they played Missouri and Texas Tech that someone was able to really put up some nice numbers against the Huskers. Many of the yards in those two games came because the Husker defense was spread out all over the field and they didn't have the lateral speed to catch up to the running back that had gotten to the second level in a hurry. Tackling has also been an issue where there have been more than a few plays that could have been stopped for a short gain, but instead went for big yards or touchdowns. Last week, Nebraska's defense was very good against the run, however, allowed one big touchdown run of 67 yards in the second half due to players being out of position. That run was 68% of the Cyclones' total rush output for the day.
Baylor is converting a mediocre 37.8% of their third downs (75th nationally), with an 83% red-zone scoring average (16 TDs, 4 FGs) this season (54th nationally). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert a high 40% of their 3rd down attempts (73rd nationally), and has allowed a solid 76% red-zone scoring percentage (15 TDs, 7 FGs) this season (32nd nationally). Nebraska's third down defense was stellar last week, holding Iowa State to convert just 15% of their attempts.
Up front, Baylor's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 295 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'5", 283 lbs. The Baylor offensive line had a particularly mediocre day last week as they allowed 2 sacks and didn't get a very good push up front for the run game. Nebraska's defensive line has been outstanding this season after being a weakness last year. They have athletic ends in Zach Potter and Pierre Allen that can be seen making plays all over the field. Nebraska's interior linemen, Ndamukong Suh and Ty Steinkuhler have also been playing great football this season. It will be a challenge for the Bears' offensive line to keep these guys out of the backfield. The best match-up to watch will be Baylor's excellent left tackle, Jason Smith line-up against Nebraska's left end Zach Potter. This should be a fun battle to watch play out. Baylor is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, while Nebraska is allowing 3.9 yards per carry this season. The Bears have allowed 46 tackles for loss and 16 sacks, while the Huskers have accumulated 38 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in seven games this season.
Keys to the Game
1.) Don't let Baylor QB Robert Griffin break contain - he's a special runner that can make defenses look silly when he gets to the open field.
2.) Don't turn the ball over - too many fumbles last week, which is uncharacteristic of this football team. Cannot afford to become a trend.
3.) Establish run game - QB Joe Ganz will likely have a big day throwing the football, but will need support from the run game to keep him upright.
1.) Find offensive balance - the strength of this team is the run game, but it was shut down last week against Oklahoma State and the passing game sometimes looked anemic, unable to mount scores. Improvement must be made this week.
2.) Make Nebraska one-dimensional - secondary is a major concern if they aren't healthy, and if running lanes are also present, Baylor has no chance to win this game.
3.) QB Robert Griffin needs to continue playing mistake-free football - on the road in a hostile environment, this will be paramount.
DB: Baylor - if healthy
Special Teams: Even
CB - Anthony Blue - knee - out for season
DE - Barry Turner - leg - out for season
OG - Andy Christensen - illness - questionable
CB - Dwain Crawford - questionable
CB - Antareis Bryan - questionable
Saturday will be the 10th all-time meeting between Nebraska and Baylor. Nebraska currently holds a large edge in the series at 8-1 since first meeting in 1939. Nebraska has won the last seven outings, with Baylor's only victory coming back in 1956 in Lincoln. The last time these two teams met was in 2005. Nebraska narrowly defeated the Bears in Waco, 23-14. The last meeting in Lincoln saw the Huskers claim a 59-27 victory over Baylor in 2004. A lot has changed for both teams since 2005, with each program having new coaching staffs this season.
This is a big game for both teams, as it presents one of the more winnable games on each team's remaining schedule. Baylor is sitting at (3-4) right now and Nebraska is one of only two teams left on their slate that isn't currently ranked in the top 25. Trying to get 6 wins to become bowl eligible is going to be an improbable chore and a loss to Nebraska on Saturday would make it near impossible. Nebraska sits at (4-3) and is in the opposite situation in that two of their remaining opponents are ranked in the top 25, while three are not. A win on Saturday puts them one win away from bowl eligibility. That is one of the first steps of getting their program back on track to being nationally relevant again.
Something that should be noted again this week is Nebraska's coach Bo Pelini saying he was pleased with the practices this week. Since starting conference play, his analysis of the week of practice has been a great projection on how the Huskers performed on Saturday. Pelini was disappointed in the practices leading up to the Missouri game, the only blowout loss of the season. He liked the way the team looked heading into Texas Tech and Iowa State, which ended up being two of Nebraska's best performances of the season. If Pelini is correct again this week, Nebraska should continue improving and have another solid performance.
Time of possession has been a huge factor for Nebraska over the past two games, and has amazingly held the ball 77:23 to 42:37. They have been able to do that with a steady run game mixed with a great short and intermediate passing game. It isn't going to be a key to winning this week's game for the Huskers, but when you can keep possession of the ball that much, it wears on a defense and makes them more exploitable in the later stages of the game.
Baylor QB Robert Griffin has played against some tough opposition this season, and despite playing Oklahoma and Oklahoma State recently, has still not had an interception. Nebraska on the other hand has not forced an interception since September 13th against New Mexico State. Griffin is what makes this Baylor offense work. More specifically, his legs are what keep this offense in business. He can make something out of nothing, and frustrate defenses when he breaks contain. Nebraska's defense lacks lateral speed and Griffin will make them pay if he does get past the first level. Baylor needs to find a way to get him to make plays with his feet, whether it is the zone-read option or other keepers, he has the ability to do damage to the Nebraska defense. The last real running QB that Nebraska played against was Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor. Taylor was able to keep drives going by making plays on the run, and was a big reason as to why the Hokies beat the Huskers.
As long as Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz does a good job of managing the game and not forcing too much, he should have a great day. He's riding a hot streak over the past couple of games, and matches up against a banged up Baylor secondary that hasn't been that great when healthy. The Bears will try to shut down the Husker run game and pressure Ganz. If the Nebraska offensive line is truly getting better, they shouldn't have too much trouble of putting points on the board and keeping the Baylor defense on the field.
Griffin will cause the Nebraska defense problems, especially early, but the Husker defense will adjust to him to the point where his running won't control the outcome of the game. Nebraska should be able to put up a good number of points on the Baylor defense, which will force Griffin to try to win the game with his arm on the other side of the ball. He'll have some Freshman moments on the road in Lincoln and the Huskers will get the win. Nebraska by about 17.
Baylor - 17
Nebraska - 34
Nebraska vs Baylor
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