Game Time: Arkansas St. vs. Nebraska

The Huskers head into week-two and host the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Check out our game preview as Nebraska looks to stay undefeated.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves

--by Vince Campisi

September 12th, 2009
1:10 PM CT
Lincoln, NE
Television Coverage: Fox Sports PPV

ARKANSAS STATE (1 - 0) (0 - 0)
#22/#24 NEBRASKA (1 - 0) (0 - 0)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Arkansas State

Latest Line
Nebraska by 21.

Arkansas State
09/05/09 - vs. Mississippi Valley State - W 61-0
09/12/09 - at. Nebraska
09/26/09 - vs. Troy
10/03/09 - at. Iowa
10/13/09 - at. Louisiana-Monroe
10/24/09 - vs. Florida International
10/31/09 - at. Louisville
11/07/09 - vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
11/14/09 - at. Florida Atlantic
11/21/09 - at. Middle Tennessee
11/28/09 - vs. North Texas
12/03/09 - at. Western Kentucky

09/05/09 - vs. Florida Atlantic - W 49-3
09/12/09 - vs. Arkansas State
09/19/09 - at. Virginia Tech
09/26/09 - vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
10/08/09 - at. Missouri
10/17/09 - vs. Texas Tech
10/24/09 - vs. Iowa State
10/31/09 - at. Baylor
11/07/09 - vs. Oklahoma
11/14/09 - at. Kansas
11/21/09 - vs. Kansas State
11/27/09 - at. Colorado

Player Breakdowns

Arkansas State Offense

Arkansas State's offense, predicated on a strong running game, can be an imposing force.  Consistency is questionable, however, dating back to last season.  The Red Wolves are currently ranked 24th nationally in total offense (496 ypg), 95th in passing (138 ypg), 26th in passing efficiency (170.67 rating), 6th in rushing (358 ypg), 4th in scoring offense (61 ppg), 1st in interceptions thrown (0), 43rd in fumbles lost (1), and 21st in giveaways (1).  

QB: Sr. Corey Leonard (8 of 13, 129 yds, 1 TD) is a four-year starter for the Red Wolves.  He finished 2008 ranked 47th in the nation with a 130.70 QB rating, throwing for 2,347 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions.  He is a dangerous dual-threat QB that loves to take off and run with the football.  In 2008, Leonard rushed for 516 yards and 4 touchdowns.  He wasn't asked to do much in the opener against Mississippi Valley State, however, carrying the ball just once for 7 yards.  Leonard has been a very elusive runner through his career, doing a great job of escaping potential tacklers.  He's been so successful that he holds the Arkansas State record for career all-purpose yards.  While he isn't known for winning a lot of games throwing the football, he is capable.  He has a nice arm, goes through his progressions well, and throws a pretty accurate deep ball.  At times last season, he was threading the needle throughout crucial drives.  Leonard was voted as the Pre-season co-offensive Sun Belt player of the year.  He has also been named to the watch-lists for the Manning Award as well as the Unitas Award.  Behind Leonard is RFr. Ryan Aplin (1 of 1, 9 yds).  Aplin had a nice fall camp, throwing the ball very well, especially during third-down drills.  Against MVSU last week, Aplin rushed for 10 yards and a touchdown on 3 carries.

RB: Arkansas State has a very good crew of running backs that will be causing problems for opponents this season.  Sr. Reggie Arnold (12 carries, 126 yds,4 TDs) is the top back in the group, in his fourth season as a starter.  He has gained over 1,000 yards in each of his past seasons, and has a chance to enter elite company if he can make it a fourth this season.  Arnold is a legit playmaker, with excellent speed and good vision in the backfield.  He's got a lot of tools, with a great stiff-arm, and ability to bounce off of defenders.  Arnold was voted as a first-team All-Sun Belt RB, and also on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award.  Behind Arnold is a tandem of So. Derek Lawson (12 carries, 76 yds, 1 TD) and RFr. Don Jones (9 carries, 84 yds, 1 TD).  Lawson is a talented young back that had some injuries last season, but when healthy, he showed flashes.  He is definitely fleet of foot, and shakes off arm tackles.  Jones has track speed, and showed his potential last week against MVSU.  The backs don't typically get a lot of passes thrown their way, however, Jones (2 catches, 26 yds, 1 TD) did get a pair of receptions in the season opener.  At FB, Jr. Jeff Blake (1 carry, 0 yds; 1 catch, 7 yds) starts, with So. Jermaine Robertson (7 carries, 32 yds, 1 TD) backing him up.  Blake is a former HS QB that has been used in trick plays.  The fullbacks typically didn't see much action last season, however, the pair accounted for 39 yards on the 9 times they touched the ball.  

WR/TE: The Red Wolves' receiving corps is not the largest group of receivers you'll see, but there are a few playmakers in the group.  This unit takes a lot of short passes and gets plenty of yards after catch.  Starting at "W" receiver is Sr. Brandon Thompkins (60 catches, 935 yds, 9 TDs).  Thompkins averaged 16 yards per catch (32) last season.  He is just 5'9", however, his speed makes him a threat when he gets the ball.  He does a nice job of getting open, has very good hands, and is a surprisingly good blocker.  Behind Thompkins is Sr. Taylor Clements (25 catches, 257 yds, 2 TDs), who really emerged in fall camp as a solid target.  He'll be a bigger factor in games once ASU has to throw the ball, which will be this week.  Starting at "Z" receiver is Sr. Jahbari McLennan (22 catches, 422 yds, 3 TDs), with RFr. Andre Smith (6 catches, 46 yds) in a reserve role.  McClennan tied Thompkins last season as the team's leader in receptions (32).  He has good hands and speed, plus at 5'11", is one of ASU's bigger receivers.  At tight end is Sr. Trevor Gillot (45 catches, 642 yds, 4 TDs), RFr. Kedric Murry (32 catches, 519 yds, 4 TDs), and Sr. J.T. Jordan.  The unit is without last year's top TD getter (5), David Johnson, due to graduation.  That is a big loss, and these TE's must step up their game to replace him.  This is a much shorter group of TE's than what you would typically see in today's offenses.  Each of the three is either at or below 6'3".  Gillot is the best of the group, and despite catching just 15 passes last season, did show a knack for getting open, and blocked well.

OL: Arkansas State's offensive line was already in a tough spot to start the season, having to replace three of last year's starters.  The going got tougher last week as they lost Sr. LG Dominic Padrta (6'4", 312 lbs) for the season.  While the new starters all gained a lot of experience as back-ups last season, with the injury to Padrta, there has been additional line shuffling, which can't help the situation.  Starting at tackle is Jr. Kiano Prater (6'3", 292 lbs) on the left and Jr. Derek Newton (6'5", 313 lbs) on the right.  Prater did not start last week, but with the line shuffling, he will now start protecting the QB's blindside.  Newton is the biggest of the linemen and has shown strong run-blocking skills.  The top reserve at tackle is So. Delano Moore (6'3", 306 lbs), who is going to be the guy to spell both Prater and Newton.  Starting at guard is Jr. Alfred Louis (6'3", 306 lbs) on the left and Jr. Drew Hilton (6'3", 302 lbs) on the right.  With the shuffling of the line, Hilton, arguably the best of the line, has moved from LT to RG.  Hilton was named to the All-Sun Belt team in the pre-season.  Louis is the guy that is replacing Padrta.  He did a nice job last week, but wasn't challenged much by MVSU.  Top back-ups at guard are TFr. Cliff Mitchell (6'4", 270 lbs) and Jr. Sifa Etu (6'1", 304 lbs).  Etu started at RG last week, but was pushed down as the unit tries to find the best mix of guys.  At center is Jr. Tom Castilaw (6'3", 297 lbs), with RFr. Eric Allen (6'0", 300 lbs) backing him up.  Castilaw played very well in his first start last week, grading out better than anyone else on the line.

Arkansas State Defense

Arkansas State's defense is a talented group that is loaded with speed.  They'll face their first test against a quality offense this week.  The Red Wolves are currently ranked 2nd nationally in total defense (69 ypg), 3rd in pass defense (39 ypg), 6th in pass efficiency defense (57.98 rating), 7th in rush defense (30 ypg), 1st in scoring defense (0 ppg), 71st in interceptions (0), 6th in fumbles recovered (2), and 35th in total takeaways (2).  

DL: Arkansas State's defensive line is a definite strength of the defense.  They are quick, get after the QB, and do a nice job in rush defense as well.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Alex Carrington (2 tackles) on the left end and Sr. Stanley Wakwe on the right end.  Carrington was one of the nation's top sack machines last season, racking up 10.5, with an impressive 19 total tackles for loss.  He is lightning quick off the end, with a good amount of power as well, making him tough to block.  He is the pre-season Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, and has also been named to the Lott Trophy, Lombardi Award, and Ted Hendricks Award watch lists.  Wakwe is a new starter for this season, but has the skills to be a nuisance in the backfield.  Top reserves on the ends are So. Jeremy Gibson (1 tackle) and RFr. Timothy Starson (2 tackles).  Both are quick, 6'5" ends that give a promising future for the Red Wolves' d-line.  Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. Khari Mays (1 tackle) at nose and Jr. Bryan Hall (4 tackles, 1.5 sacks) at the three.  Hall is a good pass rusher with an explosive first step and does not miss tackles.  Mays isn't going to wow with big numbers, but often helps free up Hall and company.  Top back-ups at d-tackle include So. Dorvus Woods (3 tackles, 0.5 sack) and So. Greg McCall (2 tackles).  McCall is a rarity on the line these days, at just 5'11".  
LB: Arkansas State's linebacking corps is experienced and possesses a good mix of speed and overall athleticism.  The group is without their top performer from last year, Ben Owens, due to graduation, but his replacement should do a fine job.  This unit was very good against the run last year, but was not at their best in pass coverage and will look to improve in that area this season.  Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Greg Hardy (3 tackles), with RFr. Nathan Herrold (2 tackles) backing him up.  Hardy was a reserve last season, but saw action in 10 games.  He has bulked up since last year, going from 225 to 246, a big jump in just one season.  At weakside linebacker is Jr. Javon McKinnon (5 tackles, 1 FF), while So. Michael Adams backs him up.  McKinnon, a hard hitter with great speed, could be the best of the linebackers.  Adams has track speed on a 245 lb. frame, which makes him an asset in this group.  So. Demario Davis (3 tackles, 1 FF) will start at strongside linebacker, with Jr. Darius Glover providing back-up.  Davis had a great fall camp and earned the starting spot over incumbent Glover.  

DB: The Red Wolves' secondary isn't big on size, but like the rest of the defense, has a lot of speed.  The group took a big hit last week, though, as Sr. FS Evan Van Dolah (1 tackle) was injured and is now out for the season.  Van Dolah was an excellent athlete and will be missed.  Starting at cornerback is Sr. Cordarious Mingo (1 tackle) at left corner and Sr. Daylan Walker (2 tackles, 1 PBU) on the right.  Walker is a returning starter from last season that is a pure cover-corner.  He had a few huge hits in the season opener last week, playing much bigger than his 5'9" frame would suggest.  Mingo is a great athlete that should flourish this season as a starter.  Top reserves include Sr. Greg Smith (1 BLK), Jr. Walter Moody (2 tackles, 1 PBU), Sr. Marcus Brown (4 tackles), and Jr. Isaiah Shepard (3 tackles, 1 sack).  This is a quality group of reserves, with many games of experience between them.  Brown was solid in his time last year, showing his ability as a hard hitter.  Starting at strong safety is So. Kelcie McCray (1 tackle, 2 FR, 1 PBU), with So. Graham Bates (3 tackles, 1 PBU) serving as his top back-up.  McCray will jump to the starting role because of the injury to Van Dolah, and he will likely be tested often.  Last season, he showed to be a solid tackler, and a good special teamer.  At free safety is Jr. M.D. Jennings (1 tackle), while So. Jaquan Kilcrease (2 tackles) backs him up.  Jennings started the opener at SS, but has moved to FS to help the secondary after the injury to Van Dolah.  Jennings is a playmaker in the d-backfield, and is not afraid to take a big chance on a pass if he thinks he has a shot to make a play on it.

Arkansas State Special Teams

Arkansas State's special teams units weren't tested much last week against Mississippi Valley State, but showed good speed and sure tackling.  The Red Wolves currently rank 104th in net punting (20.50 yd avg), 22nd in kickoff returns (30 yd avg), 15th in punt returns (17.17 yd avg), 5th in kickoff coverage (12.63 yd avg), and 83rd in punt coverage (No Punts Returned).  

K: Sr. Josh Arauco did not attempt any field goals last week, however, had 2 extra points blocked, which is going to be a concern for the unit.  Arauco made 17 of his 20 field goal attempts with a long of 44 in 2008, however, two of his three misses happened on a very windy day against Florida Atlantic.  He was a finalist for the Groza Award last year, and was named to the watch list for the award this season.  RFr. Brandon Parker is the kickoff specialist and had 10 kickoffs last week, none going for a touchback with an average of 58.6 yards.  He had some troubles with accuracy, as 2 of those 10 kickoffs went out of bounds.  

P: So. Ryan Wilbourn averaged 20.5 yards on his 2 punts with a long of 27 in the opener last week.  1 of his 2 punts was downed inside the opponents' 20.  He shanked his first punt for 14 yards, but his second was an angled punt that went out of bounds at the opponents' 17.

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Red Wolves is Sr. Brandon Thompkins (1 kick return, 30 yd avg, 30 yd long) and Sr. Jahbari McLennan.  Not much work has been done, thanks to pitching a shut-out last week.  The top punt return man is Sr. Daylan Walker (3 punt returns, 20.3 yd avg, 32 yd long), while Sr. Brandon Thompkins (1 punt return, 29 yd avg, 29 yd long) will also field punts this season.

Coverage: The Red Wolves' kick and punt coverage units were pretty solid last week in the opener.  The kick coverage unit allowed an average of just 12.6 yards on 8 kickoff return attempts, with a long of 20.  The punt coverage unit did not get a chance, thanks to neither of the two punts being returned.  

Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's offense was mistake-laden in week one, especially early, but got enough done to put 49 points on the board.  Many of the mistakes are typical first game rust, they'll play a better opponent this week and will hope to eliminate a majority of those mistakes.  Nebraska currently ranks 27th nationally in total offense (490 ypg), 46th in passing (231 ypg), 32nd in pass efficiency (164.02 rating), 19th in rushing (259 ypg), 14th in scoring offense (49 ppg), 46th in interceptions thrown (1), 1st in fumbles lost (0), and 21st in giveaways (1).  

QB: Jr. Zac Lee (15 for 22, 213 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT) saw his first start last week in the season opener against Florida Atlantic.  He was pretty impressive, completing 68.18% of his passes.  It would have been higher, however, his receivers were dropping far too many passes.  His only poor throw of the game was picked off, a pass that just didn't come off his hand right.  He has good speed and is able to escape pressure in the backfield as well as pick up yards in designed run plays.  While Lee managed the offense well against FAU, bigger and better defenses that are on the schedule will provide a real test to show how good he is.  Behind Lee are TFr. Cody Green (2 for 3, 18 yds) and Jr. LaTravis Washington.  Green joined the team in January, and has a lot of potential to be a solid dual-threat QB.  He played well in his limited snaps in the opener, highlighted by his 49 yard run which set up a 1 yard touchdown run for him just few moments later.  Washington is a converted linebacker that hasn't thrown a ball in a real game since high school.   He has a strong arm with good speed, but he has not made the strides that Green has in the same amount of time.  Washington had one rush for 7 yards last week.

RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (16 carries, 152 yds, 3 TDs).  Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability.  He can beat defenders by running around them, by them, and over them.  He has really turned into the complete back over the past season.  Behind Helu, Jr. is TFr. Rex Burkhead (9 carries, 39 yds, 1 TD), an impressive, young player that had a solid first game last week, finding the endzone one time.  RFr. Lester Ward, So. Marcus Mendoza (1 carries, -1 yds), and So. Austin Jones are also possibilities to see carries in the backfield.  Mendoza has excellent speed, but doesn't have the strength yet to be an every down player.  Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, but in the opener did not play a factor.  Burkhead (1 catch, 9 yds) was the only back to catch a pass last week, but expect the backs' production to rise swiftly as they step up their level of opposition and will be counted on more.  At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate is the top guy.  The FB doesn't see much time with the ball for Nebraska, being used almost exclusively as a lead blocker.    

WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps looked decent last week, but still had their share of mistakes, most notably a few dropped passes that bounced right off of their hands.  That won't get it done against better teams than Florida Atlantic.  Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (2 catches, 13 yds).  He was the best receiver in fall camp, but didn't see many passes come his way in the opener.  Starting at "X" will be Sr. Menelik Holt (3 catches, 45 yds, 1 TD), who has great size as well as speed.  He made a great cut on his touchdown last week, but needs to work on his consistency.  Reserves include So. Curenski Gilleylen (4 catches, 92 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (1 catches, 15 yds), Jr. Will Henry, Jr. Brandon Kinnie, TFr. Antonio Bell, RFr. Khiry Cooper, and Sr. Wes Cammack.  Gilleylen is a speedster and seems to have fixed his issue with drops, as he was Nebraska's top target in the opener.  Brooks will play mostly in the slot, and could become a solid target for the Huskers.  Henry is a big body that if he puts it all together, could be an excellent threat.  Kinnie and Cooper are two exciting young players that could work their way up as the season moves forward.  Nebraska's top TE is Jr. Mike McNeill (4 catches, 51 yds), with So. Dreu Young, So. Ryan Hill, RFr. Ben Cotton (1 catch, 3 yds), and RFr. Kyler Reed competing behind McNeill.  McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, and showed some good footwork last week.  Reed is also being used as a HB this season, as the coaches are looking to get his skills onto the field.  This is a deep and talented group of tight ends that should be considered a strength for the Huskers' offense.

OL: Nebraska's offensive line did not look great in the opener last week.  They were not very consistent and drew a few penalties.  Whether that was opening game rust or not will be seen on Saturday.  Starting at tackle is Jr. Mike Smith (6'6", 295 lbs) on the left and So. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) on the right.  Smith was a part-time starter in 2008, and has a history of back problems.  It is critical for him to stay healthy.  Jones is the largest of the linemen, and has great potential to be a rock on the right side.  Jr. D.J. Jones (6'5", 315 lbs) is listed as a co-starter with Marcel Jones and will remain that way until the coaches find the right chemistry with the line.  Starting at left guard is Jr. Keith Williams (6'5", 315 lbs), while Jr. Ricky Henry (6'4", 300 lbs) starts at right guard.  Williams is a great blocker, and should continue to improve.  Henry is a player known for his strength and his nasty streak.  Sr. Andy Christensen (6'3", 305 lbs) and Sr. Derek Meyer (6'5", 315 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard.  Christensen is a former starter that missed last season mostly due to a suspension.  Sr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with So. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs) backing him up.  Hickman is the leader of the group, but isn't a dominant center.  

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's defense was inconsistent against Florida Atlantic last week, but kept the Owls out of the endzone.  They'll face a tough challenge this week in Arkansas State, a team that has the ability to beat you through the air and on the ground.  Nebraska is currently ranked 71st nationally in total defense (358 ypg), 81st in pass defense (236 ypg), 29th in pass efficiency defense (87.40 rating), 64th in rush defense (122 ypg), 10th in scoring defense (3 ppg), 12th in interceptions (2), 26th in fumbles recovered (1), and 12th in total takeaways (3).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line was pretty decent in the opener, but wasn't the dominant force they were expected to be out of the gate.  The front four was not able to get a pass rush established against a pretty mediocre Florida Atlantic o-line.  There is much room for improvement.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (4 tackles, 1 QBH) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (2 tackles) on the left.  Allen had a decent opening game, but like most players, just wasn't consistent.  Turner didn't seem to have the same burst as he had before his broken leg from last year, but it was just his first game back.  RFr. Cameron Meredith (1 tackle, 1 FR, 1 QBH) and RFr. Josh Williams (2 tackles) are the top reserves at defensive end.  Meredith looked pretty good, and showed good awareness as he scooped up a fumbled snap from FAU's QB.  Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Ndamukong Suh (7 tackles, 1 PBU), with So. Terrence Moore backing him up.  Suh is an elite tackle that has a motor that doesn't quit, flies to the ball and forces turnovers.  So. Jared Crick (3 tackles, 1 BLK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler providing back-up.  Crick will be counted on to make plays with Suh being doubled up, and help take pressure off of Suh.  

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps was banged up, inexperienced, and lacked depth last season.  This year there is a stockpile of young talent waiting to show what they can do.  They were decent in the opener, but as expected, made many first game mistakes.  There is a lot of room for improvement, but that's not a surprise given the youth of this group.  The main problem they had in the opener was they were tackling too high on the ball carrier and needed a teammate to help out.  Starting at weakside linebacker is Jr. Blake Lawrence (6 tackles), with So. Matthew May (1 tackle) listed as a possible co-starter.  Both were fair in the opener, but like the other linebackers, were not always in position to make plays.  Starting at middle linebacker will be RFr. Will Compton (5 tackles, 1 PBU), while Sr. Colton Koehler (1 tackle), and Sr. Phillip Dillard are in the mix as the top reserve.  Compton was impressive in camp, and works hard to get after the ball carrier.  He's young, with plenty of potential, and had a pretty good first game last week.  Dillard went from being a starter last season to the third string MIKE this year, which has to be considered a big disappointment.  Starting at buck linebacker is RFr. Sean Fisher (6 tackles),  TFr. Eric Martin (4 tackles) and with RFr. Micah Kreikemeier providing back-up.  Fisher is a huge linebacker, standing at 6'6", had a great camp, and will get better each week.  Martin has the ability to be a force for the Huskers.  He was amped up to say the least in the opener and made a few nice tackles.  As he gains more knowledge about the defense, he'll shine even brighter.

DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield was fair in the opener last week.  They didn't give up any touchdowns, and were credited with 2 interceptions that should have been 4 if not for a penalty and a drop, but also had their share of mistakes.  They did allow FAU to pick up 236 yards through the air, but as said before, they didn't give up any touchdowns.  Jr. Prince Amukamara (6 tackles, 1 INT) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (2 tackles) and TFr. Andrew Green listed as the top reserves.  Jr. Anthony West (2 tackles, 1 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Alfonzo Dennard (3 tackles) listed as a possible co-starter, and So. Lance Thorell (1 tackle, 1 PBU) is a reserve that will see time.  Nebraska will need more consistency from their corners this season if they are to have a successful season.  At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (7 tackles, 2 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (1 tackle, 1 QBH) and RFr. P.J. Smith backing him up.  Asante has great athleticism and it a big hitter, but needs to be more consistent.  Hagg moved from corner to safety in the off-season, which should suit him better.  Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF) and Sr. Rickey Thenarse (8 tackles, 1 FF) are listed as co-starters at free safety.  O'Hanlon and Thenarse both have experienced plenty of ups and downs in their careers, and just like the corners, the safeties need to show improvement as well as consistency this season.

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams units were not real sharp in the season opener last week, and like in all other areas, were pretty inconsistent.  The Huskers rank 95th in net punting (29 yd avg), 35th in kickoff returns (24.50 yd avg), 95th in punt returns (No Punts Returned), 35th in kickoff coverage (17.83 yd avg), and 32nd in punt coverage (3.33 yd avg).

K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  He did not get an opportunity to kick a field goal in the season opener, but hit 18 of 21 last season with a long of 57 yards.  Jr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg, and is one of the best kickoff specialists in the nation.  Kunalic pushed 2 of 8 kickoffs for touchback last week, with an excellent 69 yard average.  

P: Jr. Alex Henery averaged 37 yards on his 2 punts with a long of 43 in the opener last week.  1 of his 2 punts was downed inside the opponents' 20. He has added punting duties to his repertoire this season, and was pretty good in the opener, however, his second punt was partially blocked, which hurt his numbers.  
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (2 returns, 24.5 yd avg, 32 yd long), and So. Alfonzo Dennard.  Others expected to possibly return kicks this season are So. Curenski Gilleylen, TFr. Rex Burkhead, and TFr. Antonio Bell.  At punt returner will be Jr. Niles Paul.  TFr. Rex Burkhead and RFr. Tim Marlowe could also see time returning punts.  The return units were solid in 2008, and should be again in 2009, however, didn't get much of a chance last week.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams struggled last season with missing tackles, but looked much improved in the season opener last week.  The kick coverage unit allowed an average of 17.8 yards on 6 kickoff returns, while the punt coverage unit allowed an average of 3.3 yards on 3 punt returns.    

Unit Match-Ups

Nebraska's Offense vs. Arkansas State's Defense

Nebraska's offense stumbled a bit out of the gate last week, getting off slow in the opening quarter.  However, QB Zac Lee was very impressive in his first start, looking sharp from the early going.  While the Huskers played against a Florida Atlantic defense that is in the middle of a rebuilding mode, they'll face a much stiffer challenge this week in an experienced and athletic Arkansas State defense.  This should give Nebraska a good idea of where they are as an offense.  Arkansas State's defense allowed their opponents to complete 54.74% of their passes last season.  Last week, against a vastly overmatch Mississippi Valley State team, they allowed just 37.5% to be completed.  They'll face a much better quarterback this week in Zac Lee, who completed 68.18% of his attempts last week.   
Nebraska's receivers didn't help Lee as much as they could have, thanks to at least three drops that should have been caught.  That is an area that must improve if the Huskers want to contend for a Big XII crown.  Menelik Holt had some nice moves on his touchdown catch, but his drop took away some of the luster on his overall play.  Even TE Mike McNeill had a drop, a player who needs to be the go-to guy for Lee.  However, it was only the first game, and Florida Atlantic was unable to make any headway when they got the ball.  The Red Wolves' defensive backs will be a better group than what Nebraska saw last week in FAU, so things need to be fixed, and fast.  The ASU defense has to like the fact that FAU's defense was able to get pressure on QB Zac Lee last week.  One would think if FAU can get past the Nebraska o-line as they did, then a bigger and faster group that ASU has should be able to do an even better job.  If they can, it will be imperative for the Husker receivers to get themselves open and help Lee by not dropping any passes.  The Red Wolves aren't very tall at the corners, so Nebraska's tall receivers will pose a tough challenge.  In pass coverage, the Red Wolves' unit ranked pretty highly (33rd), allowing a rating of just 115.02 in 2008.  Last week against FCS foe MVSU, they allowed a rating of only 57.98 (6th nationally).  Nebraska's QB Zac Lee ranks 22nd nationally in pass efficiency (170.42) and will provide the first real test for Arkansas State.    

Nebraska's running game worked well last week, but didn't really look impressive until the 3rd quarter.  Given the incredible amount of new starters that Florida Atlantic had on their defense, Nebraska should have been able to pound away from the get-go.  Unfortunately for Nebraska, this wasn't the case.  The blocking up-front just wasn't up to par for the most part, and needs much improvement.  Even thought just looking at the numbers would lead you to believe the blocking was quite good (8.1 yds per rush), that doesn't tell the whole story.  Many of those yards came in a few big runs, A number of other runs of over 10 yards were thanks to broken tackles and yards after contact. Roy Helu Jr. looked fantastic, bouncing off of tacklers and speeding his way through defensive backfield multiple times.  Rex Burkhead was the only other back to see carries, and looks like he'll be the primary runner between the tackles and for short yardage.  Nebraska's QB's also run the ball well, as evidenced by back-up Cody Green reeling off a 49 yard run last week in his limited snaps.  
Arkansas State's rush defense gave up 3.75 yards per carry in 2008, and stifled MVSU last week for just 2.4 yards per carry.  The linebackers are athletic, and don't miss many tackles.  While the Red Wolves' defense is more noted as great pass rushers, they can also be stingy against the run.  All three of the starting linebackers were very good last season, with Greg Hardy and Darius Glover getting a lot of attention.  Javon McKinnon may have the most potential of the group, though, and should also compete for all Sun-Belt honors at season's end.  Nebraska should have an advantage over the Arkansas State front 7, but don't be too surprised if Arkansas State is able to hold their own for much of the game.  
Last week, Nebraska is converted an average 40% of their third downs (52nd nationally), and scored on 100% of red-zone opportunities (4 TDs, 0 FGs) (1st nationally).  The Red Wolves' defense did not allow their opponent to convert on any of their third downs (1st nationally), and kept their opponent from having a single red-zone chance.  It will be interesting to see just how good each team is.  Nebraska will face stiffer competition in Arkansas State, and Arkansas State will be up against an opponent with a pulse this week in Nebraska.

Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Arkansas State's average defensive lineman is 6'2", 276 lbs.  Nebraska should have the services of LG Keith Williams, one of the best.  He was injured for the opener, so getting him back should strengthen the line for the Huskers.  Nebraska's line did not give a stalwart performance against Florida Atlantic, but they weren't bad either.  On the season, Nebraska has averaged 8.1 yards per carry while Arkansas State is giving up 2.4 yards per carry.  The Nebraska tackles, Mike Smith and Marcel Jones will again have a difficult job of keeping quick ends away from QB Zac Lee.  This time around, they'll be taking on one of the best around, in Alex Carrington as well as the talented Stanley Wakwe.  Also watch ASU DT Bryan Hall and which Nebraska lineman he'll line-up against.  Nebraska did not allow a sack in the opener, and allowed just 2 tackles for loss on the year, while Arkansas State  picked up 4 sacks and 9 tackles for loss in their opener.  

Arkansas State's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

Arkansas State's QB Corey Leonard can throw the ball around pretty well, but makes his mark more as a runner.  He didn't have to play much against MVSU last week, but easily led the Red Wolves to a big lead in his playing time.  He's been a challenge to defend, even against very good defenses, because of his ability to run the ball effectively.  He will test Nebraska's young and inexperienced linebacking crew, with them having never played against a dual-threat QB.  Leonard isn't usually asked to throw too much, but against a team like Nebraska, he'll likely have to throw it more than normal.  Watch for plenty of quick outs, as the Red Wolves don't often go deep, instead relying on the receivers to pick up yards after the catch.  Leonard completed 62% of his passes against a less than stellar MVSU team last week, while Nebraska's defense allowed their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 49% of their passes last week.   
The Red Wolves' receivers aren't going to put up huge numbers, but do what the offense needs them to.  They block well, and more times than not, when ASU throws the ball, someone gets open.  There isn't much in the way of size here, but there is plenty of speed.  They are slippery in the open field, and Nebraska's defense will have to be wrapping up if they want to keep the short passing game in check.  Brandon Thompkins is particularly dangerous, and uses his smaller, quicker size to his advantage.  We didn't see much out of this group last week against MVSU, but they'll likely see more action this week against a Nebraska defense that the Red Wolves will need more balance to have enough success to make this a game.  
Nebraska's pass defense looked fair in the opener against what is expected to be the Sun Belt's best passing attack in FAU, led by QB Rusty Smith.  The Huskers held the Owls to complete 49% of their passes, but did give up 236 yards.  Some of this was due to the complete lack of a pass rush Nebraska displayed.  They didn't blitz much, instead bringing just the front four, and they didn't seem to follow through into the backfield, which put added pressure on the back seven.  The group appeared to tackle well, got a couple of interceptions, and didn't give up any touchdowns.  However, this group still has a lot of room for improvement in all phases.  

Arkansas State's bread and butter is the run game out of their spread attack.  If QB Corey Leonard isn't hurting opposing defenses by keeping it himself, he is letting Reggie Arnold and Derek Lawson lead the offense down the field.  This is a tough group for anyone to contain that is loaded with experience and skills.  Arnold is the best back in the Sun Belt conference, and can be productive against any defense, provided his offensive line in front of him can give him a slight crease.  He doesn't necessarily have sprinter's speed, but he has great football speed.  The Red Wolves ran all over Mississippi Valley State last week, with Arnold averaging 10.5 yards per carry (12 carries).  Lawson is an explosive young back that, teamed with Don Jones, provides great depth without much of a drop off after Arnold.  
Nebraska's defense was not great against the rush in the opener against Florida Atlantic.  The Owls, who were breaking in a new top running back, behind a mediocre offensive line, were able to rush for 122 yards.  It wasn't a consistent rush, but was more than Nebraska should have given up.  Their starter, Alfred Morris, averaged 4.7 yards per carry (18) against the Husker defense.  The bottom line for this week is that Nebraska needs to play assignment football.  The front seven need to play their gaps and not allow themselves to get pushed around and out of plays.  NT Ndamukong Suh was a force on the line, shutting down a number of running plays the Owls attempted, but he needs help.  Nebraska's young linebackers will need to continually get faster at reading offenses, which will help them make decisions on where to go much earlier.  They can't afford to be thinking too much, or they'll be in trouble.  
Last week, Arkansas State converted 42.86% of their third downs (47th nationally), with a 100% red-zone scoring average (6 TDs, 0 FGs) (1st nationally).  Many of these third downs occurred with the back-ups, and there were only 7 of them.  Nebraska's defense allowed their opponent to convert 40% of their 3rd down attempts (72nd nationally), and allowed just a 50% red-zone scoring percentage (0 TDs, 1 FGs) (15th nationally) last week.  

Up front, Arkansas State's average offensive lineman is 6'3.4", 302 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'4.5", 279 lbs.  Just one game into the season, Arkansas State is averaging 6.8 yards per carry, while Nebraska is allowing 3.5 yards per carry.  The Red Wolves allowed just 1 tackle for loss and no sacks, while the Huskers picked up 3 tackles for loss, but no sacks last week.  The Red Wolves lost their best lineman in Dominic Padrta last week for the season.  His replacement, Alfred Louis, did well in his absence last week, however, you have to look at his competition.  This will be his, and the rest of the line's first real test.  The Nebraska defensive line should be outstanding this season, but was a bit underwhelming in the season opener.  Nebraska NT Ndamukong Suh is one of the nation's best interior lineman, but needs the rest of his fellow linemates to step it up for the unit to live up to their potential.  Back-up DE Cameron Meredith did look good in his snaps and could push Barry Turner if he continues to be a non-factor.  One thing to look for is how quickly Nebraska's defense gets set.  Arkansas State runs a no-huddle predominantly spread attack, and the Huskers can't afford to be looking around, waiting for a play to come in.

Keys to the Game

1.) Contain ASU QB Corey Leonard - Don't allow him to get free and pick up chunks of yards.  Nebraska has had trouble with mobile QB's in the past, and Leonard is a pretty good one.
2.) Keep Alex Carrington and Bryan Hall Out of the Backfield - The offensive line needs to do their best to make sure these guys don't wreak havoc with Zac Lee.
3.) Minimize Mistakes - Between the dropped passes and penalties last week, it wasn't exactly the sharpest Nebraska could have played.   ASU is a better team, and continued mistakes are more likely to cost you.

Arkansas State
1.) Slow Down Nebraska's Run Game - Roy Helu Jr., is one of the better backs in the Big XII, and can't be allowed to run rampant over the defense like he did against FAU last week.  ASU must slow him down, keep him bottled up as well as possible, which will put pressure on NU QB Zac Lee and the receivers who may have a problem with drops.
2.) Control the Clock - Use your ground game to your advantage, shorten the game and try to keep Nebraska from putting up big numbers.  Make the score reachable in the fourth quarter.
3.) Win the Turnover Battle - On the road, against a more talented team, the Red Wolves need to force more turnovers than they commit and take advantage of the situation if they want to win.

Position Advantages:
Position: Advantage
QBs: Even
RBs: Nebraska
WR/TE's: Nebraska
OL: Nebraska
DL: Nebraska
LB: Arkansas State
DB: Even
Special Teams: Nebraska
Coaching: Nebraska

Injury Report

OG - Keith Williams - Probable
OG - Andy Christensen - Questionable
QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season

Arkansas State:
RG - Dominic Padrta - Knee - Out for Season
FS - Evan Van Dolah - Leg - Out for Season
QB - Phillip Butterfield - Knee - Out for Season

Final Outlook

Saturday marks the first meeting between Nebraska and Arkansas State.  The Red Wolves have been a competitive team since joining the Sun Belt, and have not shied away from quality out of conference opposition.  Arkansas State upset Texas A&M last season in College Station by a score of 18-14 in the season opener.  While Texas A&M might not have been very good last year, that should not take away from the fact that the Red Wolves went into Kyle Field in front of all of those hostile fans and won.  Much of that team from last year returned for 2009.  They have also played at Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and Auburn in the past few years.  The most notable game of that group is Texas, whom they played in the season opener of the 2007 season, losing by just 8 points.  This team is used to going on the road to big venues and the crowd in Lincoln isn't likely to unsettle them.

Arkansas State finished 2008 with a (6-6) record and no bowl invite.  It could have easily been a 9 win season, though, as the Red Wolves lost 3 of their games by 5 or less points.  This season, the Red Wolves expect to win the Sun Belt conference, with the possible deciding game being a match-up with Troy next weekend in Jonesboro.  With that big game on the horizon, the Red Wolves would like to hang tough with Nebraska this week, and have a chance in the fourth quarter.  ASU demolished FCS foe Mississippi Valley State in the season opener last week by a score of 61-0.  And despite the fact that MVSU is a pretty poor team by FCS standards, it was still an impressive performance.  They were expected to win handily and they did just that.  

Nebraska is looking to improve on their (9-4) record attained in 2008.  Nebraska is the favorite to win the Big XII North division this season, and looked pretty good after a shaky start in last week's season opener against Florida Atlantic.  The final score looked good, at 49-3, against a team that is expected to contend for the Sun Belt title this year, but there were a lot of mistakes made by Nebraska that the coaches weren't happy with and made that perfectly clear in post game and mid-week press conferences.  Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson seemed to be upset by only scoring 49 points, citing tempo being a problem for the offense.  Nebraska has a big road game against Virginia Tech next week, and if the players start looking ahead to that game before Saturday, they'll be in trouble.

This will be a step-up game for both teams.  While Florida Atlantic is expected to contend for the Sun Belt this season, they sure didn't look the part in the season opener.  Nebraska needs to show continued improvement and consistency in pretty much every area, and they will be a good team this season.  For this week, Nebraska will have an opportunity to play against a good rushing team that possesses a lot of speed.  And for Arkansas State, they're looking at their first legitimate opponent of the season after their dismantling of MVSU.  Offensive production will be something to watch for, as Arkansas State runs the ball effectively, which will, in effect, shorten the game.  Nebraska's balanced attack might look better than they did a week ago, but could be unable to put up big numbers because of less snaps.  This all depends on how well the Nebraska defense plays against the powerful running game of Arkansas State, led by QB Corey Leonard.  Leonard is the most prolific offensive player that Arkansas State has had in their history, would love to upset another Big XII team to finish his career.  Playing close to or beating Nebraska would be a huge confidence booster for this team to enter conference play.   They might just be able to do it by controlling the clock and not turning the ball over.  Without a real test last week, it's hard to say if they can or not.
Unlike Nebraska's prior Sun Belt opponent, FAU, Arkansas State is likely to find the endzone, possibly a few times.  The step-up from MVSU to Nebraska though, is huge, and will be a totally different speed of football, which should affect the performance of ASU early on.  Look for the Huskers to be much sharper than they were in the opener, and get it together much earlier on, despite the better competition.  The one concern Nebraska will have is keeping Alex Carrington and Bryan Hall away from QB Zac Lee, and if they are able to do that consistently, Nebraska will be just fine.  If they can't, and Lee is off the mark, we'll have a great game on our hands.  Overall, Arkansas State is a good team that should be able to stick around and give the Huskers problems at times  Nebraska will be too much for the Red Wolves, and should win by about 18-21 points.

Arkansas State - 20
Nebraska - 38


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