Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Colorado Buffaloes
--by Vince Campisi
November 28th, 2008
2:30 PM CT
Television Coverage: ABC
COLORADO (5 - 6) (2 - 5)
NEBRASKA (7 - 4) (4 - 3)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Colorado
Latest Line: Nebraska by 18.
08/31/08 - vs. Colorado State - W 38-17
09/06/08 - vs. Eastern Washington - W 31-24
09/18/08 - vs. West Virginia - W 17-14
09/27/08 - at. Florida State - L 21-39
10/04/08 - vs. Texas - L 14-38
10/11/08 - at. Kansas - L 14-30
10/18/08 - vs. Kansas State - W 14-13
10/25/08 - at. Missouri - L 0-58
11/01/08 - at. Texas A&M - L 17-24
11/08/08 - vs. Iowa State - W 28-24
11/15/08 - vs. Oklahoma State - L 17-30
11/28/08 - at. Nebraska
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 - W 32-20
11/01/08 - at. Oklahoma - L 28-62
11/08/08 - vs. Kansas - W 45-35
11/15/08 - at. Kansas State - W 56-28
11/10/08 - vs. Colorado
Colorado's offense has struggled to put up much of an offense this season, ranking near the bottom nationally. After playing eleven games, they rank 91st nationally in total offense (321 ypg), 86th in passing (189 ypg), 92nd in passing efficiency (112.19 rating), 76th rushing (132 ypg), 105th scoring offense (19.18 ppg), and 88th in turnover margin (-0.45mrg).
QB: So. Cody Hawkins (169 of 296, 1643 yds, 16 TDs, 7 INTs) and TFr. Tyler Hansen (34 of 65, 280 yds, 1 TD, 4 INTs) have shared snaps in four games this season, however, Hawkins took all of the snaps in Colorado's last game against Oklahoma State. Hawkins had a decent day against the Cowboys, completing just 51% of his passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. He is ranked 78th in the nation with a 116.80 QB rating, dead last among Big XII starting QB's. He has puts a pretty good zip on the ball, but doesn't have great accuracy and tends to make less than stellar decisions. Hawkins isn't much of a threat to rush the ball, but like many QB's, he can scoot ahead for a few yards when all else breaks down. He has rushed for 10 net yards and 3 touchdowns on 49 carries (16 sacks). Hansen is more of a running threat, but doesn't have quite as solid of an arm that Hawkins does. Hansen is third on the team in rushing with 250 net yards on 60 carries with a long of 24. Hansen probably won't play on Friday, unless Hawkins is really struggling and turning the ball over.
RB: Colorado's running backs were looking like a pretty decent group mid-way through the season. TFr. Rodney Stewart (132 carries, 622 yds, 2 TDs) emerged as the units' top playmaker, however, went down with an ankle injury a few weeks ago and is out for the season. The group is now led by So. Demetrius Sumler (54 carries, 186 yds, 2 TDs), has been an average runner in his playing time this season. TFr. Darrell Scott (85 carries, 344 yds, 1 TD) returns to the line-up this week after getting injured a few weeks ago. He has some excellent skills, but hasn't produced as well as expected this season. Jr. Kevin Moyd (7 carries, 30 yds) and Jr. Corey Nabors make up the rest of the top rotation on the depth chart, but neither has done much this season. Moyd and Nabors are very small runners, each standing at 5'7", 185 lbs. These top four active backs for Friday's game have combined this season to average just 3.84 yards per carry. The backs are used occasionally in the passing game for the Buffs. Sumler (18 catches, 167 yds) grabbed four passes in the last game against Oklahoma State and leads the group in catches, while Scott (9 catches, 105 yds) and Moyd (1 catch, -1 yds) have also seen passes come their way this season. At fullback, Jr. Jake Behrens and Sr. Maurice Cantrell share duties. Neither has rushed with the football this season, but Behrens (12 catches, 75 yds, 2 TDs) and Cantrell (4 catches, 21 yds) have both been featured in the passing game.
WR/TE: The Buffaloes' receiving corps has a few quality players within, but not much exists in terms of true gamebreakers. This is a small group of receivers that has just one receiver at 6'2" out of the top six. Starting at "X" receiver is So. Josh Smith (27 catches, 335 yds, 3 TDs). Smith is an outstanding athlete that plays a lot of special teams as well for the Buffs. He is a playmaker for the offense, and the best deep threat, but seems to spread himself thin with all of the special teams work. He had just one catch for 2 yards against Oklahoma State. Sr. Cody Crawford (29 catches, 249 yds, 2 TDs) and So. Cameron Ham are the top reserves at "X", with Crawford making the sizeable impact, tied for second on the team in receptions. Starting at "Z" receiver is Sr. Patrick Williams (29 catches, 319 yds, 2 TD), with So. Scotty McKnight (42 catches, 461 yds, 5 TDs) and Sr. Steve Melton (1 catch, 8 yds) serve as the top reserves in the rotation. McKnight has been the steadiest performer of the group, leading the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns through the air. He had an outstanding touchdown catch against Oklahoma State in which he nabbed a tipped pass and took it into the endzone. At tight end are Jr. Riar Geer (11 catches, 97 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Patrick Devenny (13 catches, 115 yds, 2 TDs), and TFr. Ryan Deehan (4 catches, 39 yds, 1 TD). This group of TE's hasn't produced much in terms of catches this season, and probably won't be a big factor in the game on Friday through the air.
OL: Colorado's offensive line has not been very good this season, struggling with some injuries among other problems. Through eleven games this season, they are allowing for an average of 3.48 yards per carry and have given up 25 sacks (88th nationally) and 76.5 tackles for loss (106th nationally). Starting at tackle is So. Nate Solder (6'9", 300 lbs) on the left and RFr. Matthew Bahr (6'4", 285 lbs) on the right. Solder has been pretty solid this season and should be able to grow into an animal, given his 6'9" frame. He definitely has room to grow. Bahr earned the starting job after incumbent Ryan Miller went down with injury early in the season. Top reserves at tackle include TFr. Bryce Givens (6'6", 250 lbs) and TFr. Ryan Bannewitz (6'6", 280 lbs). Starting at guard is RFr. Blake Behrens (6'3", 300 lbs) on the left and Jr. Devin Head (6'4", 305 lbs) on the right. Head is one of the few experienced linemen in this group, but hasn't been a stand-out in the unit. Top back-ups at guard are RFr. Ethan Adkins (6'4", 310 lbs) and RFr. Eugene Goree (6'1", 300 lbs). At center is Sr. Daniel Sanders (6'3", 295 lbs), with So. Keenan Stevens (6'2", 295 lbs) backing him up. Sanders is far and away the best player on the offensive line, and one of the better centers in the Big XII conference. He has done a great job individually at keeping pressure away from Hawking (allowed just 1 of the 25 sacks this season)
Colorado's defense has not been an impressive unit this season, although they played well against Oklahoma State for a half in their last outing. Through eleven games, they rank 78th nationally in total defense (379.27 ypg), 73rd pass defense (214.09 ypg), 71st pass efficiency defense (127.65 rating), 84th rush defense (165.20 ypg), 82nd in scoring defense (28.30 ppg), 97th in fumbles recovered (6), and 75th in interceptions (9).
DL: Colorado's defensive line has been decent this season, but hasn't been among the better units in the Big XII. Through eleven games, they are allowing 4.49 yards per carry while also helping the defense to pick up 11 sacks. Starting at defensive end is Sr. Maurice Lucas (36 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 4 QBH) on the left end and So. Marquez Herrod (13 tackles, 4 sacks) on the right end. Lucas is having a good season, making 10 stops at the line of scrimmage or better. Herrod is a good athlete, and has ranks second on the team with 4 sacks. Top reserves on the ends are RFr. Conrad Obi (1 tackle) and RFr. Lagrone Shields. Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. George Hypolite (40 tackles, 3 sacks, 12 QBH), with TFr. Curtis Cunningham (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) and Jr. Taj Kaynor (2 tackles, 0.5 sack) performing back-up duties. Hypolite is the best player on the line, and arguably the top player on the defense. He has the strength to plug running lanes and the quickness to get after the quarterback. His 12 hurries place him second on the team. Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Brandon Nicolas (29 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU), with RFr. Eugene Goree (3 tackles) and So. Eric Lawson (1 tackle) serving as the top reserves. Nicolas is a tough run stopper at nose, and has played well this season.
LB: Colorado's linebacking corps isn't a great unit, but has been improving pretty steadily after finding some starting stability about a month into the season. Starting at middle linebacker is Jr. Jeff Smart (103 tackles, 1 sack, FR, 6 QBH, 3 PBU), with So. Michael Sipili (19 tackles, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), and RFr. Tyler Ahles backing him up. Smart is the team leader in tackles this season, and is an excellent athlete. He opened the season at WLB, but moved to the middle after a few games, where he has played well, despite being somewhat undersized (6'). At weakside linebacker is Jr. Shaun Mohler (87 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 QBH), while Jr. Bryan Stengel (10 tackles, 1 PBU) and Jr. Marcus Burton (8 tackles) back him up. Mohler is a JUCO transfer and has quickly become one of the Buffs' most productive defenders tied for second on the team in tackles (87). Sr. Brad Jones (69 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 FF, 13 QBH, 1 PBU) starts at strongside linebacker, with So. B.K. Beatty (15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) and RFr. Josh Hartigan serving as his top reserves. Jones has had a nice Senior season, and does an excellent job of getting after the opposing QB, especially in designed blitzes.
DB: The Buffaloes' defensive backfield has been pretty decent at times this season, with only two teams (Eastern Washington, Missouri) able to throw for over 300 yards. However, that has been due to many teams having success with a balanced attack against Colorado. On the season, opponents are completing a very high 63.80% of their passes with 10.4 yards per completion average. Starting at cornerback is Jr. Cha'pelle Brown (84 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 10 PBU) at left corner and So. Jimmy Smith (29 tackles, 1 FF, 5 PBU) on the right. Brown is just 5'7", however, has been one of the defense's top performers this season, making plays all over the field. He leads the team in interceptions (2) and pass break-ups (10), while also making 9 stops at or behind the line of scrimmage. Smith is putting together a pretty decent season, ranking fourth on the team in break-ups (5). Top reserves are So. Jalil Brown (50 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PBU) and Sr. Gardner McKay (41 tackles, 6 PBU). When the Buffs are in a nickel package, Cha'pelle Brown will become the nickel back while Jalil Brown will take his place at LCB. Starting at strong safety is RFr. Anthony Perkins (31 tackles, 1 FF), with RFr. Travis Sandersfeld serving as his top back-up. Perkins has been filling in for the injured D.J. Dykes (illness), and hasn't been too bad for someone in their first season on the field. At free safety is Sr. Ryan Walters (87 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 FF, 3 FR, 1 QBH, 7 PBU), while TFr. Patrick Mahnke (6 tackles, 2 PBU) backs him up. Walters is banged up and was questionable, however, has now been ruled out for Friday's game. He is a great veteran playmaker that Colorado will sorely miss.
Colorado Special Teams
Colorado's special teams units have not been very good this season. Nearly all phases of the special teams have been quite mediocre to poor. The Buffaloes currently rank 74th in net punting (34.16 yd avg), 43rd in kickoff returns (21.98 yd avg), 57th in punt returns (9.16 yd avg), 116th in kickoff coverage (27.36 yd avg), and 83rd punt coverage (10.74 yd avg).
K: So. Aric Goodman has made just 4 of his 13 field goal attempts with a long of 32. Many of his misses have been very close, however, and one has been blocked. On kickoffs, TFr. Jameson Davis has pushed 15 of his 40 kickoffs for touchback.
P: Sr. Tom Suazo is listed as the starter this week and averages 40.42 yards on his 19 punts with a long of 59. 5 of his 19 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. Jr. Matt DiLallo has gotten the bulk of the punting work this season, however. DiLallo has averaged 40.49 yards on his 41 punts with a long of 64. Of his 64 punts, 12 were downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: Colorado's top kickoff returners are So. Josh Smith (43 kick returns, 25.2 yd avg, 1 TD, 93 yd long) and So. Demetrius Sumler (7 kick returns, 10.9 yd avg, 20 yd long). The top punt returnmen are So. Josh Smith (28 punt returns, 10.4 yd avg, 51 yd long) and So. Scotty McKnight (1 punt return, 4 yd avg, 4 yd long).
Coverage: The Buffaloes' kick and punt coverage units have been quite poor this season. They are allowing an average of 27.36 yards on 28 kickoff return attempts with 2 touchdowns allowed. The punt coverage team is allowing an average of just 10.74 yards per return on 19 punts.
Nebraska's offense is one of the best units in the nation. Their offense is a combination of the west coast and spread offenses. After eleven games, Nebraska ranks 9th nationally in total offense (462.91 ypg), 13th in passing (289.80 ypg), 14th in pass efficiency (156.55 rating), 38th in rushing (173.09 ypg), 18th in scoring offense (35.82 ppg), and 110th in turnover margin (-1.09 mrg).
QB: Sr. Joe Ganz (247 for 358, 2833 yds, 21 TDs, 10 INTs) has had a highly successful Senior campaign, most recently putting up 365 yards of offense (270 passing, 95 rushing) and 4 touchdowns (2 passing, 2 rushing) against Kansas State. He ranks 155.60 QB efficiency rating places him 14th in the nation. He has an accurate arm (69%) and while he doesn't throw it deep often, he has shown pretty solid arm strength. He does have a tendency to keep plays alive too long, which has resulted in taking unnecessary sacks. He also forces passes too often instead of just throwing it away, which has caused a number of interceptions. He does a great job when rolling out and also in quick timing patterns. He runs well with the football and rushed for a career high 95 yards in his last game against Kansas State. He has rushed for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns on 72 carries (17 sacks) this season. Overall, he ranks 12th nationally in total offense with 304.6 yards per game. One concern this week is that Ganz injured his throwing shoulder last week in practice, but how it may impact his play is unknown. Behind Ganz is RFr. Patrick Witt (6 for 8, 48 yds) and So. Zac Lee (1 for 2, 5 yds). Both saw snaps in the fourth quarter of the Kansas State game, doing little else than handing the ball off. Lee was able to rush for 17 yards on 2 carries, however.
RB: Nebraska's crew of running backs is excellent and has been running for big yards with the recent offensive line improvements. Sr. Marlon Lucky (125 carries, 517 yds, 7 TDs), So. Roy Helu Jr. (95 carries, 638 yds, 7 TDs), and So. Quentin Castille (76 carries, 330 yds, 5 TDs) are co-number 1's on the depth chart. Lucky has gotten a majority of the carries this season, however, Helu Jr. has been on fire over the last month or so and leads the team in yards. Lucky does well when he has space, and has had success receiving direct snaps from shotgun. Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability. His knack for breaking tackles continues to spring big plays for the offense. Castille is the power runner of the group and is not afraid to take defenders head-on. He has a fumbling problem and needs to get his knees higher when he runs, but has excellent quickness. RFr. Marcus Mendoza (15 carries, 103 yds, 1 TD) has showcased his excellent speed when on the field, albeit on a limited number of carries. Lucky (22 catches, 275 yds, 1 TD) has great hands out of the backfield and has made two spectacular one-handed grabs this season for big yards. Helu Jr. (20 catches, 217 yds) and Castille (7 catches, 86 yds) have also looked good catching passes this season. The backs can be a great weapon out of the backfield for Nebraska, but were not used in that capacity against Kansas State. 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 solid, but does need to be more consistent with their hands and holding onto the ball after the catch. Sr. Nate Swift (58 catches, 899 yds, 8 TDs) starts at "X", and is the top playmaker in the group. He holds Nebraska's career receptions record with 161. He has great hands, good speed, and excellent balance which serve him well for yards after catch. Starting at "Z" is Sr. Todd Peterson (54 catches, 646 yds, 3 TDs), a dependable receiver with great hands. Top back-ups at "X" are Jr. Menelik Holt (25 catches, 278 yds, 1 TD), So. Will Henry, and Jr. Chris Brooks (2 catches, 27 yds, 1 TD). Holt has recovered from a knee injury suffered last month and provides a great third threat when healthy. Top reserves at "Z" are So. Niles Paul (20 catches, 190 yds) and RFr. Curenski Gilleylen (2 catches, 11 yds). Paul has shown explosiveness, but not consistently this season. Gilleylen has great speed, but struggles with catching passes. At TE is So. Mike McNeill (26 catches, 345 yds, 5 TDs) and So. Dreu Young (9 catches, 140 yds, 1 TD), with Sr. Hunter Teafatiller (3 catches, 27 yds) and RFr. Ryan Hill (3 catches, 9 yds, 1 TD) as the top pair of back-ups. This is a decent group of tight ends, with McNeil being the most consistent performer. McNeil needs just 5 more receptions this season to break Johnny Mitchell's single-season mark set in 1991.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line has been outstanding over the last month after having a rocky start to the season. They still continue to commit a few crucial penalties which have helped kill drives. This season the line is allowing 4.8 yards per carry. 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 among the more consistent performers on the line. Murtha was injured against Oklahoma three games ago but is expected to be ready to go this week. 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 there isn't a huge drop-off when they are in the line-up. 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 has been shaky this season, but Slauson has been a rock. So. D.J. Jones (6'5", 305 lbs) and Sr. Mike Huff (6'4", 300 lbs.) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. 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 stretch.
Nebraska's defense earned the Blackshirts before their last game against Kansas State, and is much improved over last season's unit. They still aren't great defensively, especially against the pass, but they do continue to improve. After playing eleven games, the Huskers rank 68th nationally in total defense (367.91 ypg), 90th pass defense (234.45 ypg), 97th pass efficiency defense (138.63 rating), 49th rush defense (133.50 ypg), 91st scoring defense (29 ppg), 115th in fumbles recovered (4), and 96th in interceptions (7).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line has been the strength of the defense this season, and continues to improve and impress. They struggled in a few games earlier this season, but have been dominant as of late. Opponents are averaging 4.0 yards per rush this season, an ever-decreasing number. Starting at defensive end is So. Pierre Allen (47 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Zach Potter (40 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 4 QBH, 4 PBU, 3 BK) on the left. Potter has been the most consistently solid player on the line, while Allen has also played well and flies to the ball. TFr. Cameron Meredith and Sr. Clayton Sievers (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH) are the top reserves at defensive end. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Ndamukong Suh (65 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 3 PBU, 1 BK), with Sr. Shukree Barfield (8 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Terrence Moore (8 tackles, 2 sacks) backing him up. Suh is a great athlete and makes more plays than most nose tackles around the country (leads team in tackles). He has been among the Big XII's best over the last few weeks. Sr. Ty Steinkuhler (38 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Jared Crick (2 tackles, 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 crew has had continuous problems with injuries, and has rarely played a game without at least one starter out. Starting weakside linebacker, Sr. Cody Glenn (51 tackles, 1 FF, 4 QBH, 4 PBU) was indefinitely suspended just before the Kansas State game, and will not be back for the Colorado game this week. Glenn was the group's best athlete, and he is a big loss for the team. However, Nebraska's linebackers played well in his absence last week against Kansas State. Starting middle linebacker, Jr. Phillip Dillard (38 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), is expected to be ready for action this week after missing the last few games with an ankle injury. Dillard is the best all-around linebacker of the group, and having him injured weakened the unit. So. Blake Lawrence (14 tackles, 1 PBU), TFr. Matt Holt (14 tackles), Jr. Colton Koehler (15 tackles), and RFr. Mathew May (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) have helped fill the void left by Glenn and Dillard. Starting at buck linebacker is Sr. Tyler Wortman (29 tackles, 1 PBU), with So. Latravis Washington serving as his top back-up. The group hasn't been great in coverage, lacks great lateral speed, and has had issues taking improper angles to the ball carrier this season.
DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield has been lackluster this season against good passing teams. Opposing receivers are frequently seen running wide-open throughout the secondary. Tackling has been a problem this season as well, with numerous big plays sprung by a missed tackle or two. Sr. Armando Murillo (36 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 9 PBU) starts at LCB, with So. Eric Hagg (34 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 6 PBU) and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (4 tackles) backing him up. Murillo has been the best of the group, but is not immune from getting beat on occasion. Hagg has played well, just not with great consistency. So. Anthony West (27 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 9 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Prince Amukamara (33 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FF, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) and So. Lance Thorell (21 tackles) serving as his back-ups. West and Amukamara have played well for Sophomores, but have also given up big plays this season. At strong safety Jr. Larry Asante (63 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) starts, with Jr. Major Culbert (10 tackles) backing him up. Asante is a very good athlete that is getting better in most areas of his game, but still has much room for improvement in coverage. Jr. Rickey Thenarse (15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (46 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) share the top spot at free safety. Both have made mistakes in coverage this season, but Thenarse is a harder hitter and better athlete.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units have been pretty decent this season. Their coverage units have been a weakness, but the returners are solid and the punt game is improving after being very poor through much of the year. The Huskers rank 91st in net punting (33.23 yd avg), 53rd in kickoff returns (21.55 yd avg), 12th in punt returns (14.17 yd avg), 101st in kickoff coverage (23.76 yd avg), and 53rd punt coverage (7.94 yd avg)..
K: So. Alex Henery (10 for 13, 48 yd lng, 1 BK) is a dependable kicker with a solid leg. So. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs because of his outstanding leg strength. Kunalic has pushed 26 of 72 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 66 yard average.
P: Sr. Dan Titchener averages 39.3 yards on his 34 punts with a long of 58. 11 of his 34 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He is starting to get back to last season's form (41 ypp), after struggling for much of this season. When he is at his best, he can be an excellent weapon as far as field position.
KR/PR: Nebraska's kick return team is made up of So. Niles Paul (35 returns, 23.5 yd avg, 1 TD, 85 yd long), TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (6 returns, 15 yd avg, 23 yd long), and Jr. Larry Asante (2 returns, 15.5 yd avg, 20 yd long). At punt returner is Sr. Nate Swift (16 returns, 15.6 yard avg, 1 TD, 88 yd long) and So. Niles Paul (7 returns, 11 yd avg, 28 yd long). The return game has been a bright spot for the Huskers this season.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have struggled with missed tackles this season, leading to extra yards for opponents. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 23.8 yards on 39 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing an average of 7.9 yards on 16 punt returns. So. Prince Amukamara forced a key fumble in the first half of last week's game against Kansas State on a punt return that helped put momentum back on Nebraska's side. The kick coverage unit allowed Kansas State's Brandon Banks to return a kickoff for a 99 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, the first touchdown given up by the Huskers on special teams this season.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Colorado's Defense
Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz continues to play great football for the Huskers. He had a rough start to his last game against Kansas State, throwing a pick-6 early-on, however, bounced back immediately. He ended up throwing for 270 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 16 completions. He ran the ball with great effectiveness as well, totaling 95 yards and 2 touchdowns. His escapability in the pocket has been a real challenge for many teams to defend this season. Colorado's defense did a decent job against Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson in their last game, but was unable to really rattle him or keep them from making key plays in the second half. Robinson connected on 15 of his 23 attempts for 217 yards and a touchdown. The Buffs were able to force an interception as well, from LB Shaun Mohler. On the season, Colorado is allowing opponents to complete 63.80% of their passes, while Joe Ganz is completing 69% of his attempts.
Nebraska's top receiving threats are Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. They are very dependable wide-outs that rarely drop a ball. Swift has been excellent this season in gaining yards after catch, sometimes in spectacular fashion. TE Mike McNeil is having one of the best single-seasons statistically that a Nebraska tight end has had in 17 years. His emergence this season has been a big key to the Husker offense's success this season. Nebraska typically likes to use their RB's quite often as pass catchers, even though they didn't go to one in their last game. Nebraska's top three backs have all shown good ability not only to catch the ball, but also pick up chunks of yards afterwards.
Colorado's defense is going to have to step up this week and play their best football possible against Nebraska. The unit really needed FS Ryan Walters to be healthy enough to play, because now there will be three starting underclassmen in that group against a veteran Nebraska offense. CB Cha'pelle Brown has been a very solid contributor, but is limited with his 5'7" size. Nebraska doesn't have many big men at receiver, but he will have his hands full this week. In pass coverage, the Buffs' unit is ranked towards the bottom nationally (71st), allowing a high rating of 127.65. Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz ranks 14th nationally in pass efficiency (155.60) and will be another tough test for Colorado (Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson ranks 3rd at 178.00).
Nebraska's running game has come out of the proverbial cellar over the past five or so games to be pretty respectable. This is in large part due to increased production from the offensive line. The Nebraska running back stable is full of talent, and they were just waiting for someone to help them out of the backfield. The line is by no means a group of maulers right now, but they are opening sizeable holes for the backs to scoot through. Marlon Lucky, Roy Helu Jr., and Quentin Castille have been looking good in the three-man rotation, with each bringing a little something different to the table. Helu Jr. has been running better than anyone over the past month and always seems to break at least a couple of big runs each week. Fourth option, Marcus Mendoza, also has performed well in his carries this season. Because of how deep this unit is, they haven't really had a chance to be worn down. The only exception has been Lucky, who has battled a nagging toe injury for the past few games.
Colorado's rush defense has not been very good this season. In their last game against Oklahoma State, the Cowboys were allowed 5.7 yards per rush, gaining a total of 226 yards on the ground. The Buffs have some quality defenders, but many of them are young and are making mistakes. Some are just not getting it done though. If Nebraska is allowed to do on the ground what Oklahoma State did against the Buffs, this game is going to be very ugly to watch. The linebackers for Colorado are going to need to step up and make plays at or around the line of scrimmage. Colorado cannot afford to let Nebraska have a good day on the ground, not with their ability to throw the ball as well.
Eleven games into the season, Nebraska is converting an outstanding 49% of their third downs (11th nationally), and is scoring on 86% of red-zone opportunities (38 TDs, 6 FGs) (34th nationally). The Buffaloes' defense is allowing their opponents to convert a moderate 39% of their third downs (68th nationally), and allowing them to score on a too-high 94% of their red-zone chances (23 TDs, 9 FGs) (116th nationally). Colorado is going to have a big challenge in front of them on Friday afternoon.
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 311 lbs, while Colorado's average defensive lineman is 6'3", 280 lbs. Colorado's defensive line may not be great in but there are some quality players such as DT George Hypolite that have made the unit one of the strengths for the Buffs this season. Nebraska's offensive line has been up-and-down this season, but over the last two games against the state of Kansas, they seem to be peaking. Assuming OT Lydon Murtha is 100%, that will only further strengthen the group. Nebraska has given up 17 sacks and allowed 63 tackles for loss on the year, while Colorado has picked up 20 sacks and 61 tackles for loss through eleven games this season. On the season, Nebraska has averaged 4.8 yards per carry while Colorado is giving up 4.5 yards per carry.
Colorado's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Colorado's QB Cody Hawkins has struggled this season to make the offense score in bunches. There are times when he is an efficient quarterback and leads the Buffs down the field like a very good field general, however. In his last game against Oklahoma State he was 19 of 37 for 171 yards and a touchdown. His stats suffer from a number of drops, though, which at times stunted drives for the Buffs. His only touchdown pass was a fluky tipped ball that receiver Scotty McKnight snatched-up going into the endzone. Hawkins also had 2 fumbles against the Cowboys, however, both were recovered by the Buffs. He will have to be more efficient this week and not turn the ball over to beat Nebraska. Hawkins is completing 57.10% of his passes this season, while Nebraska's defense is allowing opposing QB's to complete 59.30% of their passes. Hawkins isn't much of a runner, but can be successful on bootlegs, something that might be focused on this week against a good pass rushing defense in Nebraska.
Colorado has a pretty good group of receivers, but there isn't much of a home run threat in the bunch and no real bona fide consistent playmakers either. Josh Smith is the best athlete of the group, and averages a team best 12.4 yards per catch, but had only found the endzone three times this season. Production from your playmakers is always paramount, and Colorado just doesn't always get it. Scotty McKnight has arguably the best hands of the group and leads the team in receptions by a wide margin at 42, but hasn't been much of a deep threat, with a long of just 37. In fact the longest reception by a Buff receiver this season is 38, shared by Josh Smith and RB Darrell Scott. TE Riar Geer is a good tight end, but seems to be underutilized in the pass catching phase, averaging just over 1 catch per game.
Nebraska's pass defense is pretty young and has not been very good this season. They have left many receivers running free in the defensive backfield, something that is likely to happen on Friday, and possibly giving Colorado some opportunities for big plays. The unit has good athletes throughout much of the secondary, but athleticism hasn't been the problem for the group, typically it is in either blowing coverage or missing tackles - mental errors. They need to shore up those mistakes to get better in the future, but they also need to play well this week. Colorado may not possess one of the better passing attacks Nebraska has seen this season, but they can have a good day if there is a plethora of open receivers.
Colorado's running game took a hit when team leader Rodney Stewart went down with a season ending injury a few games ago. The unit was also without Darrell Scott against Oklahoma State who was out with injury, but will be back this week to get back in the rotation. Demetrius Sumler led the team against the Cowboys, rushing for 86 yards on 22 carries (3.9 ypc). Those are pretty good numbers against Oklahoma State's defense, but not great numbers (OSU opponents have averaged 3.86 ypc). The backs aren't playing behind a great offensive line, which is part of the problem. Colorado has been such an injury-plagued team this season, not many positions have been safe. The offensive line and running backs have both been bitten by the injury bug this season.
Nebraska's rush defense has been stifling the past couple of games, making it difficult for opponents to find any running room between the tackles. Most of the rushing yardage gained recently has been going outside the tackles, which has been successful at times due to Nebraska's lack of lateral speed in the LB unit. The Huskers should get MLB Phillip Dillard back this week, which will be a big boost if he is at full speed. Colorado's WR Josh Smith has had success with some occasional rushes and will likely give Nebraska's lateral speed a test a couple of times on Friday.
Colorado is converting 37.4% of their third downs (73rd nationally), with a 71% red-zone scoring average (19 TDs, 5 FGs) this season (108th nationally). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 35% of their 3rd down attempts (34th nationally), and has allowed a solid 77% red-zone scoring percentage (27 TDs, 7 FGs) this season (28th nationally). Colorado converted on just 3 of their 15 third downs (20%) last week against a solid Oklahoma State defense (36.3% avg on 3rd downs). Nebraska held Kansas State to a 15% rate on third downs (2 of 13), a team that was converting 41.3% of their third downs coming into that game.
Up front, Colorado's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 301 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'5", 283 lbs. This season, Colorado is averaging 3.48 yards per carry, while Nebraska is allowing 4 yards per carry. The Buffaloes have allowed 76.5 tackles for loss and 25 sacks, while the Huskers have picked up 25 tackles for loss and 63 sacks in eleven games this season. Colorado's offensive line has just two upperclassmen in the starting five, center Daniel Sanders and right guard Devin Head. The match-up everyone will need to keep an eye on is Sanders blocking Nebraska's nose tackle, Ndamukong Suh. Suh has been a man possessed the past few weeks and hasn't shown signs of letting up anytime soon. Sanders is an All-Big XII caliber center that has been the best lineman by far for the Buffs this season. The Huskers have been getting a lot of pressure lately with just a four man rush, the Buffs have to pull out all the stops to make sure that isn't the case this week.
Keys to the Game
1.) Maintain Balanced Offensive Attack - The offense has made strides in the run game over the past few games, and with that ability, they are difficult for opponents to outscore.
2.) Keep Mental Errors Down - Winning the turnover battle is always at a premium and something Nebraska definitely has to get better at. Penalties also should be kept to a minimum.
3.) Continue defensive pressure - For the past few two games, the Nebraska defensive line has been manhandling their opposition and getting all sorts of pressure on the opposing QB. This has been key in the defense's success.
1.) More Production from the Passing Game - Hawkins needs to have a big day, and completing 51% of his passes like he did against Oklahoma State just isn't going to get the job done.
2.) Find a Way to Slow Down the Husker Offense - Nebraska has been scoring early and often. The Buffs' offense doesn't have that same firepower. The defense has to limit Nebraska's scoring opportunities.
3.) Turnovers - The Buffs have to win the turnover battle and they have to take advantage and get points from the turnovers.
Special Teams: Nebraska
CB - Anthony Blue - knee - out for season
DE - Barry Turner - leg - out for season
LB - Cody Glenn - suspension - out indefinitely
LB - Phillip Dillard - foot - day-to-day
RB - Darrell Scott - ankle - day-to-day
FS - Ryan Walters - knee/ankle - out
DE - Jason Brace - concussion - out for season
CB - Benjamin Burney - knee - out for season
SS - D.J. Dykes - illness - out for season
DE - Drew Hudgins - knee - out for season
WR - Jason Espinoza - collarbone - out for season
OG - Mike Iltis - knee - out for season
LB - Jon Major - knee - out for season
OT - Ryan Miller - leg - out for season
RB - Rodney Stewart - ankle - out for season
OG - Maxwell Tuioti - knee - out for season
TE - Luke Walters - leg - out for season
Saturday marks the 67th all-time meeting between Nebraska and Colorado. Nebraska holds a dominant 46-18-2 advantage since the teams first met in 1898. The series has been more competitive in recent years, however, with Colorado winning four of the last seven games. The last game played in Lincoln, 2006, saw Nebraska break a 14-14 tie late in the 3rd quarter, sparking a 23 point unanswered stretch. Nebraska would win the game 37-14. Last season, these two teams played in a shoot-out in Boulder, with the Buffaloes getting the better of the Cornhuskers, 65-51. This week's contest isn't likely to be a shoot-out, given Nebraska's improved defense from last year, coupled with Colorado's struggling offense.
Colorado is currently (5-6), needing a win on Friday to become bowl eligible. This young Colorado team could use the extra practices that a going to a bowl allows, but will have to be on top of their game to get it done this week. Colorado shut Nebraska out of bowl contention last season, and some Nebraska players have expressed their feelings of wanting to return the favor this week. Nebraska is sitting at (7-4) and with a victory this week is almost assured a spot in the Gator Bowl on January 1st. A loss on Friday and their destination becomes a little less clear, although they cannot drop further than 6th in the Big XII Conference.
For Colorado to win this game, they will need a lot of good luck to fall in their favor. The simple difference between these two teams is that Nebraska has excellent offensive firepower, whereas Colorado just hasn't shown the ability to strike with any consistency. Unless there is a complete turnaround this week from Colorado, they won't be able to keep up with the Huskers unless the Buffaloes' defense can create a high number of turnovers and slow down the Nebraska offense. With defensive leader FS Ryan Walters unable to play, however, this doesn't bode well for the Colorado defense. It is hard to imagine Colorado's injury plagued defense coming through with a phenomenal performance and shutting down Nebraska on Friday.
The Huskers should find success both on the ground and through the air on Friday afternoon, making it difficult for the Buffs to keep them out of the endzone. Nebraska's defense is improving and with the probable return of LB Phillip Dillard this week, Colorado's sputtering offense won't have too much going for them. It's Senior day in Lincoln, and expect those Nebraska Seniors to take control of this game early on and pull away, winning by a fairly large margin. Colorado will put up their best effort, but it won't be enough this week.
Colorado - 21
Nebraska - 49
Nebraska vs Colorado Game Preview
Big Red Report Top Stories
Four-Star DB Set To Announce FridayFresno (Calif.) Central defensive back Jaylon Johnson has moved up his commitment date to this Friday and will announce at the Grizzlies Senior Night.
Scout FootballYesterday at 10:45 AM
Nebraska vs Wisconsin primerNo. 7 Nebraska’s perfect record is in jeopardy this Saturday, as they will face their toughest opponent on the season when they travel to Madison to take on the No. 11 Badgers.
Big Red ReportYesterday at 9:38 AM
Recruiting Breakdown: Nebraska vs WisconsinA look at the Badgers and Cornhuskers from a recruiting perspective. Where did the starters rate coming out of high school?
Big Red ReportYesterday at 7:19 AM
Williams says Westerkamp is "back"Nebraska wide receivers coach Keith Williams on the return of Jordan Westerkamp, DeMornay Pierson-El and the Wisconsin secondary.
Big Red ReportWednesday at 4:40 PM