Nebraska hosts Louisiana-Lafayette

The Huskers hosts Louisiana-Lafayette and celebrate the 300th consecutive sellout, the longest such streak in NCAA college football history. Check out our game preview as Nebraska tries for victory number three, and their fans cement their legacy as the best in the country.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

--by Vince Campisi

September 26th, 2009
6:10 PM CT
Lincoln, NE
Television Coverage: FoxSports PPV

#24/#25 NEBRASKA (2 - 1) (0 - 0)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Nebraska

Latest Line
Nebraska by 28.

09/05/09 - vs. Southern - W 42-19
09/12/09 - vs. Kansas State - W 17-15
09/19/09 - at. LSU - L 3-31
09/26/09 - at. Nebraska
10/10/09 - vs. North Texas
10/17/09 - at. Western Kentucky
10/24/09 - vs. Florida Atlantic
10/31/09 - at. Florida International
11/07/09 - at. Arkansas State
11/14/09 - at. Middle Tennessee State
11/21/09 - vs. Louisiana-Monroe
11/28/09 - vs. Troy

09/05/09 - vs. Florida Atlantic - W 49-3
09/12/09 - vs. Arkansas State - W 38-9
09/19/09 - at. Virginia Tech - L 15-16
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

Louisiana-Lafayette Offense

Louisiana-Lafayette's offense has some pretty good athletes, but is overall, just decent.  The Ragin' Cajuns are currently ranked 69th nationally in total offense (364 ypg), 60th in passing (224.33 ypg), 78th in passing efficiency (122.13 rating), 68th in rushing (139.67 ypg), 97th in scoring offense (20.67 ppg), 60th in interceptions thrown (3), 107th in fumbles lost (5), and 99th in giveaways (8).  

QB: So. Chris Masson (54 of 96, 627 yds, 3 TDs, 3 INTs) is in his first season as the starting QB, taking over for the productive Michael Desormeaux.  He has a pretty nice arm and when he has good protection, he'll make some great throws.  However, he does tend to throw the ball a little too hard for his receivers.  This shouldn't be a big problem, but in last week's game against LSU, there were at least half a dozen incomplete passes that bounced right off the receivers' hands and straight up in the air.  This resulted in one interception for LSU last week.  With a little more touch on the ball, those will be complete, something he can fix as the season goes along.  Until then, opponents will have chances to pick these balls off.  He struggled under the pressure from LSU, and forced a few passes that shouldn't have been thrown.  He does have good foot speed, and utilized that to escape pocket pressure more than a few times.  He has rushed for 78 yards on 12 attempts and has not been tackled for loss this year.  Behind Masson is So. Brad McGuire (1 of 1, 4 yds), who hasn't seen much action this season, but nearly led a scoring drive last week against LSU in the final minutes.  Similar to Masson, he can run with the ball well, and has rushed for 35 yards on 4 carries.  Last season, he led the team to a come from behind victory over Arkansas State.

RB: The Ragin' Cajuns' running backs are a serviceable group, as they try to replace the graduated Tyrell Fenroy (rushed for 1,000+ yds for 4 straight seasons).  So. Undrea Sails (56 carries, 240 yds, 2 TDs) is the top back for the Cajuns.  Sails is a short, 5'8" back that is very quick, however, is 200lbs. which allows him to run between the tackles and grind well.  RFr. Draylon Booker (7 carries, 15 yds) and So. Julian Shankle (5 carries, 16 yds, 1 TD) split time behind Sails.  Booker is a promising athlete, however, is still pretty raw in terms of tackling and catching.  Shankle is quick footed and has a nice burst.  The backs aren't the primary targets in the passing game, but will see a throw or two come their way each game.  Sails (5 catches, 91 yds, 1 TD) and Booker (1 catch, 33 yds) are the only two that have caught balls this season, and Booker needs to get better after dropping an easy one last week.  At FB is Sr. Geoffrey McCullough (4 carries, 35 yds).  He's a very good blocker that is already seeing the ball more this year than all of last.  Behind McCullough are Jr. Matt Desormeaux (1 catch, 13 yds) and RFr. Yobes Walker (3 carries, 17 yds).  Walker showed off quick feet and good speed on a 15 yard carry last week in the fourth quarter against LSU.

WR/TE: The Cajuns' receiving corps is a decent group, but not as strong as they were a year ago after the graduation of Jason Cherry.  The group has had difficulty pulling down some of the hard throws that Masson fires at them.  This should get better as they play more games together.  Starting at "X" is Sr. Louis Lee (8 catches, 119 yds), with Jr. Richie Falgout (1 catch, 3 yds) and So. Ross Goodlett backing him up.  Lee has good hands, will make some outstanding catches that look like they shouldn't be caught, then drop some relatively "easy" ones.  Falgout was a quality performer a season ago, and should again be a dependable third or fourth option at receiver.  He does a good job of getting open, has solid hands and good speed.  Starting at "Z" is Jr. Marlin Miller (11 catches, 91 yds), while So. Andrew Joseph (5 catches, 36 yds) and So. Pierre Hill (3 catches, 70 yds, 1 TD) are the top reserves.  Miller has been excellent this season after missing 2008 for academic reasons.  He has very good quickness, has a nice juke move and gets a lot of yards after catch.  Joseph is a JUCO transfer with the ability to be a consistent playmaker for the offense.  At tight end is So. Ladarius Green (9 catches, 118 yds), with Sr. Luke Aubrey (11 catches, 87 yds, 2 TDs) serving as his top back-up.  Green is the stud of the receiving group.  He is a big 6'6" tall with great speed and nice hands.  He's tough to bring down, breaks a lot of tackles, and was one of the top red-zone threats on the team a year ago.  He needs to work on consistency, however.  Aubrey is a similarly sized target to Green at 6'5", and has become a go-to player in the offense.

OL: Louisiana's offensive line returned all 5 starters from last year's team, but has been pretty decent this season.  They have yet to allow a sack, however, Masson has escaped the pocket a number of times to avoid them as well.  Starting at tackle is Sr. Kyle Pirtle (6'6", 311 lbs) on the left and Jr. Jonathan Decoster (6'5", 305 lbs) on the right.  Pirtle is a good run blocker, but does not have great torque in his hips and has problems with pass protection.  Both this year and last, he has a tendency to get beaten badly off the edge.  Decoster is a powerful, driving blocker that does an excellent job in run blocking.  The top reserves at tackle are RFr. Leonardo Bates (6'5", 327 lbs) and So. Kyle Plouhar (6'7", 296 lbs).  Starting at guard is Sr. Brad Bustle (6'3", 302 lbs) on the left and Jr. Ian Burks (6'4", 297 lbs) on the right.  Burks is one of the better players on this line, has good size and quickness.  Bustle is head coach Rickey Bustle's son and has worked his way from walk-on to an All-Sun Belt talent.  Top back-ups at guard are So. Josh Robinson (6'6", 303 lbs) and RFr. Jaron Odom (6'7", 337 lbs).  At center is Sr. Chris Fisher (6'3", 291 lbs), with So. Matthew Autrey (6'3", 299 lbs) backing him up.  Fisher is probably the best of the group, doing a nice job as a rush blocker as well as in pass protection.  

Louisiana-Lafayette Defense

Louisiana-Lafayette's defense is an athletic group that has done a pretty nice job this season against BCS conference teams, most recently against LSU.  The Ragin' Cajuns currently rank 75th nationally in total defense (362.33 ypg), 59th in pass defense (204 ypg), 67th in pass efficiency defense (124.71 rating), 85th in rush defense (158.33 ypg), 54th in scoring defense (21.67 ppg), 13th in interceptions forced (5), 89th in fumbles recovered (1), and 46th in total takeaways (6).  

DL: The Ragin' Cajuns' defensive line is an experienced group, with only one starter lost from last year's team.  They were pushed around at times against LSU, however, won't see many opposing lines as strong as theirs throughout the rest of the season.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Hall Davis (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 QBH) on the left end and Jr. Terrell Richardson (5 tackles, 1 PBU) on the right end.  Davis is the best of the unit and had a solid game last week against LSU.  He is a good tackler against the run, and gets a good push up-front.  He's often able to get the best of his man, getting a good rush off the edge and into the backfield.  Richardson has good size, but hasn't quite shown the speed to go with it.  Top reserves on the ends are Sr. Chris Lanaux (5 tackles, 1 FR, 1 BK), So. Tyrell Gaddies (4 tackles), and RFr. Trace Wilson.  Starting at defensive tackle are So. Derreck Dean (7 tackles) and Jr. Sharrick Moore (3 tackles, 1 PBU).  Dean has quick feet and does a good job against the run.  He's quite small at 5'11", and hasn't been much of a disruptor to opponents' passing games.  Moore is a hard hitting tackle, but like much of this group, he is not the biggest guy that teams will line up against.  Top back-ups at d-tackle include Jr. Jermaine Rogers (5 tackles), Jr. Jordan Topp (8 tackles, 1 BK), and RFr. Tory Day.  Rogers will split time with Moore, and is more of the prototypical size for a tackle (6'5", 290lbs).  Topp has been a nice addition to the line since transferring from Junior College earlier this year.  He'll push for more playing time as the season progresses.
LB: Louisiana's linebacking corps is a veteran crew and possesses a lot of speed.  Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Antwyne Zanders (31 tackles, 1 QBH, 2 PBU), with So. Richard Brooks (8 tackles) and So. Kyron Benoit (2 tackles) backing him up.  Zanders is a machine, is quick off the ball, doesn't miss tackles, and delivers some huge hits.  He looked good last week against LSU, even against their speedy skill position players in the open field.  Brooks is questionable due to an arm injury this week.  Benoit has looked sluggish at times in pass coverage this season.  At weakside linebacker is Jr. Grant Fleming (15 tackles, 2 FF), while So. Devon Lewis-Buchanan (7 tackles) backs him up.  Fleming is a good, all-around linebacker that leads the team with two forced fumbles.  Jr. Daylon McCoy (14 tackles, 2 QBH) starts at strongside linebacker, with Sr. Jezreel Washington (10 tackles) providing back-up.  McCoy is an exciting player to watch on this defense.  He's a converted safety that just makes plays.  He's good in pass coverage, has great sideline-to-sideline speed, and flies to the ball.

DB: The Ragin' Cajuns' secondary is a fairly small group, with good quickness and speed.  They had a lot of problems with LSU's fast and tall receivers last week, but the score doesn't reflect that because of LSU's QB's inability to deliver the ball.  Starting at cornerback is Jr. Orkeys Auriene (11 tackles, 2 PBU) at left corner and So. Dwight Bentley (16 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU) on the right.  Auriene is a solid corner that usually does a pretty good job on taller receivers, despite being 5'10".  Bentley has not been great so far, and was beaten often by the talented LSU receivers.  He is a dependable tackler, however.  Players in the reserve rotation include So. Melvin White (2 tackles, 1 PBU), RFr. Tim Jackson (1 PBU), Jr. Julian Jones (3 tackles), and Sr. Junior Jean (1 tackle).  Starting at strong safety is So. Chris Richard (7 tackles, 1 PBU), with Sr. Phillip Nevels (10 tackles) and So. Lance Kelley (5 tackles) serving as his back-ups.  Richard and Nevels have been splitting time, with both playing in Nickel situations.  Richard lost position on the LSU receivers a couple of times, but fortunately wasn't burned for the mistakes.  At free safety is Sr. Gerren Blount (8 tackles, 1 INT), while Jr. Maurice Rolle Jr. (8 tackles, 2 INTs) backs him up.  Blount is a good athlete and pretty heady, but needs to show more consistency.  Against LSU, he picked off a home-run ball, but also missed a few crucial tackles, one led to a touchdown on an option play.  He was also beaten badly on a touchdown toss.

Louisiana-Lafayette Special Teams

Louisiana-Lafayette's special teams units may not be the best overall in the Sun Belt, but they do a very good job in coverage, rarely missing tackles.  The Ragin' Cajuns currently rank 28th in net punting (38.85 yd avg), 105th in kickoff returns (17.64 yd avg), 77th in punt returns (6 yd avg), 20th in kickoff coverage (17.62 yd avg), and 36th in punt coverage (5 yd avg).  

K: Jr. Tyler Albrecht has made 2 of his 2 field goal attempts with a long of 48 this season.  The 48 yarder provided the game winner over Kansas State two games ago.  RFr. Brett Baer is the kickoff specialist and has not pushed any of his 13 kickoffs for a touchback this season.  He averages just 55.1 yards per kickoff.  

P: Jr. Spencer Ortego is a quality, accurate punter.  He is averaging 41.5 yards on his 13 punts with a long of 55 this season.  4 of his 13 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Cajuns is So. Orkeys Auriene (1 kick return, 12 yd avg) and Jr. Marlin Miller (9 kick returns, 19.2 yd avg, 29 yd long).  So. Andrew Joseph and So. Julian Shankle are other possibilities to return kickoffs.  The top punt return man is Sr. Louis Lee (3 punt returns, 8 yd avg, 14 yd long), while Jr. Orkeys Auriene (1 punt return, 0 yds) also fields punts this season.  

Coverage: The Ragin' Cajuns' kick and punt coverage units have been really good this season.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 17.6 yards on 13 kickoff return attempts, with a long of 27.  The punt coverage unit is allowing an average of just 5 yards on 7 punt return attempts, with a long of 12.  The tackling has been excellent, which has been a nice surprise, considering the sloppy tackling the coverage units displayed a season ago.

Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's offense, which looked very good in their opening pair of games, stumbled in last week's game against Virginia Tech, settling for 5 field goals, instead of being able to punch in touchdowns.  Nebraska currently ranks 23rd nationally in total offense (442.33 ypg), 40th in passing (241.67 ypg), 45th in pass efficiency (138.21 rating), 31st in rushing (200.67 ypg), 33rd in scoring offense (34 ppg), 60th in interceptions thrown (3), 1st in fumbles lost (0), and 19th in giveaways (3).  

QB: Jr. Zac Lee (53 for 87, 689 yds, 6 TDs, 3 INTs) had been one of the top performing quarterbacks in the nation until last week's game with Virginia Tech.  Up until that game, he was completing 73.70% of his passes and holding a 186.41 efficiency rating.  In that game he was 11 for 30 (37%) and threw 2 interceptions.  It's unclear if those struggles were due to a QB being on the road for the first time as a starter or if those early successes were just a product of lower levels of competition.  He suffered a slight fracture in his non-throwing hand during the game, but is expected to play on Saturday.  When he has been "on", he's shown great arm strength and accuracy.  He does tend to lock onto his target and telegraph his throws, which is something he needs to work on.  He has good speed and is able to escape pressure in the backfield and also pick up yards in designed run plays.  Lee has rushed for 79 yards on 15 attempts.  Behind Lee are TFr. Cody Green (5 for 9, 36 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 can run well, and has shown a very strong arm.  Washington has a strong arm with good speed as well, but he has not made the strides that Green has in the same amount of time.

RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (58 carries, 381 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 a complete back over the past season.  Behind Helu Jr. is TFr. Rex Burkhead (12 carries, 57 yds, 1 TD), an impressive, young back that should be a solid second option.  RFr. Lester Ward (1 carry, 8 yds), So. Marcus Mendoza (1 carries, -1 yds), and So. Austin Jones (1 carry, 2 yds) 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.  There's potential in the reserve group, but nothing proven yet.  Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, and will a bigger part of the offense as the season moves along.  Helu Jr. (9 catches, 80 yds) and  Burkhead (3 catches, 36 yds) have caught passes, both having great ability to break a few tackles after the catch and motor downfield.  At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate is the top guy and got his first career touchdown two weeks ago by way of a 3 yard pass reception.  The FB doesn't see much time with the ball for Nebraska, so that touchdown was a rarity.    

WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps continues to struggle this season with being consistent as a group.  Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (9 catches, 101 yds, 1 TD).  He has a great combination of size, quickness, and route running skills.  In addition to being able to catch the ball, he is also a solid blocker.  Starting at "X" will be Sr. Menelik Holt (9 catches, 98 yds, 1 TD), who has great size as well as speed.  He has potential to turn into a great target, but continues to drop passes (missed on 2 in the endzone last week) and hasn't been a very good blocker.  Reserves include So. Curenski Gilleylen (6 catches, 170 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (5 catches, 61 yds), Jr. Brandon Kinnie (1 catch, 5 yds), TFr. Antonio Bell, RFr. Khiry Cooper (1 catch, 6 yds), Jr. Will Henry, and Sr. Wes Cammack.  Gilleylen is a speedster and has developed into Nebraska most dangerous deep threat.  Brooks will play mostly in the slot, and is turning into a solid possession receiver this year.  Kinnie and Cooper are two exciting young players that could work their way up as the season moves forward.  Henry is a big body (6'5") and if he puts it all together, could be an excellent threat.  Nebraska's top TE is Jr. Mike McNeill (9 catches, 112 yds, 2 TDs), with So. Dreu Young (1 catch, 27 yds), So. Ryan Hill (1 catch, 7 yds), RFr. Ben Cotton (2 catches, 10 yds), and RFr. Kyler Reed (1 catch, 9 yds) competing behind McNeill.  McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone.  Reed will also be used as a HB this season, as the coaches look to get his skills onto the field.  This is a deep and talented group of tight ends that is a big strength for the Huskers' offense.

OL: Nebraska's offensive line was pretty average in their first two games of the season, but for the most part, looked better in last week's game.  The right side of the line has been a problem, both blocking and penalty-wise.  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 has a history of back problems, and it is critical for him to stay healthy.  He wore a boot at practice this week, and it is unknown what percent he is at.  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 one of them steps above and beyond the other.  D.J. really struggled against Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds.  TFr. Jeremiah Sirles (6'6", 310 lbs) is another possibility to see in a reserve role at tackle.  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 only get better.  He does very well as the pulling guard, plowing through his man and opening holes.  Henry is a player known for his strength and his nasty streak, he was called for a costly holding that wiped a touchdown pass off the board last week.  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 and a solid center.  

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's defense's biggest concern appeared to be their rushing defense after two games, but against Virginia Tech last week, held them to 86 yards.  Other than giving up 2 big plays, the Husker defense was dominant.  Nebraska is currently ranked 38th nationally in total defense (306.67 ypg), 46th in pass defense (186.33 ypg), 29th in pass efficiency defense (101.46 rating), 51st in rush defense (120.33 ypg), 7th in scoring defense (9.33 ppg), 66th in interceptions (2), 61st in fumbles recovered (2), and 82nd in total takeaways (4).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line played fairly well in the two opening games, but really came through for the team against Virginia Tech last week.  The front four plugged up the running lanes and contained the versatile Tyrod Taylor from rushing the football.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (12 tackles, 1 sack, 3 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (11 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FR, 4 QBH) on the left.  Both Allen and Turner have just been average this season, but had their best game of the season last week.  They've both been successful in the past, and need to step up in a big way.  RFr. Cameron Meredith (2 tackles, 1 FR, 1 QBH) and RFr. Josh Williams (2 tackles) are the top reserves at defensive end.  Meredith has looked pretty good in his limited back-up role this season.  Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Ndamukong Suh (20 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 QBH, 5 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.  He had a great game last week, batting down 4 passes.  Interesting to note is that he very rarely comes off the field.  So. Jared Crick (15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 BLK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler (9 tackles) providing back-up.  Crick is counted on to make plays with Suh being doubled up, and did a better job of that last week which set up a number of sacks for the tackles as well as the ends.  

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is young and struggled quite a bit in their first two games.  The return of Phillip Dillard seemed to help out last week as the unit had their best game of the season.  With two of the three starters being redshirt-freshmen, they should get better each week.  Starting at weakside linebacker is Sr. Phillip Dillard (5 tackles).   Dillard is a former starter at MIKE that didn't even play in the first two games, but started at WLB last week for the first time and did a nice job.  Behind Dillard are Jr. Blake Lawrence (10 tackles) and So. Matthew May (3 tackles).  Both have been bothered by minor injuries this season.  Starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Will Compton (15 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), while Sr. Colton Koehler (2 tackles) is the top reserve.  Compton works hard to get after the ball carrier, but is still learning the defense and makes mistakes.  Starting at buck linebacker is RFr. Sean Fisher (14 tackles, 1 QBH), with TFr. Eric Martin (4 tackles) and RFr. Micah Kreikemeier providing back-up.  Fisher stands at 6'6", and like Compton, will get better each week as they learn how to quickly read and react to the opposing offense.  Martin has the ability to be a force for the Huskers, when he gets the mental aspect of the game down to match his physicality, he'll be a good one.

DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield has played pretty well so far this season.  They played a solid game against Virginia Tech last week until the final two minutes of the game in which they gave up an 81 yard pass followed by an 11 yard touchdown pass, handing the game over to the Hokies.  Jr. Prince Amukamara (19 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (2 tackles) and TFr. Andrew Green listed as the top reserves.  Amukamara has been pretty solid and has great athleticism, just needs to be more consistent in coverage.  Jr. Anthony West (5 tackles, 1 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Alfonzo Dennard (4 tackles) and So. Lance Thorell (1 tackle, 1 PBU) listed as the top reserves.  West has been average, and needs to play more with his head on a swivel.  At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (21 tackles, 1 FF, 3 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH) and RFr. P.J. Smith (3 tackles) backing him up.  Asante has great athleticism and is a big hitter.  He is questionable for Saturday's game, and if he does not play, a number of other safeties will see time.  Hagg is used often as a blitzing safety, and also as a nickel back.  Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (10 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF) and Sr. Rickey Thenarse (10 tackles, 1 FF) are listed as co-starters at free safety.  O'Hanlon is often picked on and susceptible to being burned.  Thenarse is supposed to see more action this week, either at FS or SS.  

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams units have been pretty solid this season, except for allowing a 76 yard kickoff return in last week's Virginia Tech game.  The kicking game has been very good, but one area of improvement is tackling on the coverage units.  The Huskers rank 89th in net punting (33.67 yd avg), 46th in kickoff returns (23.50 yd avg), 33rd in punt returns (11.70 yd avg), 77th in kickoff coverage (22.27 yd avg), and 44th in punt coverage (6 yd avg).

K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  He has made 6 of his 7 attempts this season, with a long of 40.  He was 5 for 5 last week against Virginia Tech.  He's made 19 straight kicks from under 50 yards.  Jr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and is one of the best kickoff specialists in the nation.  Kunalic has pushed 10 of 21 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 69.2 yard average.  

P: Jr. Alex Henery has averaged 41 yards on his 11 punts with a long of 76 this season.  5 of his 11 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.  He has added punting duties to his repertoire this season, and is getting better each week.  Consistency is the only issue.  
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (7 returns, 24.7 yd avg, 32 yd long), and So. Alfonzo Dennard.  Others that could possibly return kicks are So. Curenski Gilleylen, TFr. Rex Burkhead (1 kick return, 15 yds), and TFr. Antonio Bell.  At punt returner is Jr. Niles Paul (9 returns, 11.4 yd avg, 55 yd long).  TFr. Rex Burkhead (1 return, 14 yd avg) and RFr. Tim Marlowe could also see time returning punts.  These units have been great at times, but mediocre at others.  Another area where consistency is needed for Nebraska.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams looked good against lesser competition in their first two games, but were very sloppy in the game against Virginia Tech last week.  Missed tackles galore, most glaringly on kickoff returns.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 22.3 yards on 11 kickoff returns (76 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 6.0 yards on 5 punt returns.    

Unit Match-Ups

Nebraska's Offense vs. Louisiana-Lafayette's Defense

Nebraska's offense started the season hot in the passing game under QB Zac Lee, racking up big numbers against Arkansas State and Florida Atlantic.  Last week was a different story, however.  While Lee looked like one of the nation's best QB's in those first two games, he was unimpressive in his first road game against Virginia Tech.  It was the first time during the season that he faced consistent pressure, and was very erratic in his throwing.  He did make some good decisions, however, such as throwing a number of passes away instead of forcing them downfield and possibly getting picked off.  One area that he did pretty well in last week was on the ground.  His mobility allowed the Huskers to pick up a few crucial first downs throughout the game.  But taking these extra hits took their toll as he tweaked his knee in the second half and also suffered a minor fracture of his thumb on his non-throwing hand.  There is little doubt he is anxious to get back out on the field and get back to making a number of positive plays through the air.  If he isn't 100% ready to go, freshman Cody Green will get the call, which will change the amount of passing plays that Nebraska will run.  He's shown a strong arm and ability to run the ball very well.  The Ragin' Cajuns' defense has allowed their opponents to complete 56.7% of their passes this season, while Zac Lee, is completing 60.9% of his attempts on the year.   
Nebraska's receivers had a tough game against Virginia Tech last week.  There were some drops, and lackadaisical play at times, even in critical situations.  WR Niles Paul is the best of the group, with a very good mix of speed and strength.  He's got to continue to step up and help out QB Zac Lee, however, as do the other receivers.  The tight ends are solid, but more wide-outs need to show that they can be consistent threats.  Menelik Holt is a veteran that needs to bounce back after having a disappointing game last week where he dropped a sure TD pass, and let another one slide through his fingertips.  Just one man in the Louisiana secondary stands at 6', SS Chris Richard.  When Phillip Nevels is in for him, everyone in the unit is under 6' tall.  LSU's receivers were able to get open against the small defensive backfield last week, however, their QB Jordan Jefferson was unable to connect with them.  There were some opportunities for LSU, especially deep that could have blown the game open, but they just couldn't get there.  If Nebraska QB Zac Lee is healthy, watch for the Huskers to test this questionable secondary with their bigger, fast receivers.  In pass coverage, the Ragin' Cajuns' secondary ranks towards the middle of the country (67th), allowing a rating of 124.71, while Nebraska's QB Zac Lee ranks 40th nationally (7th last week) in pass efficiency (143.31).  

Nebraska's running game is pretty good and should continue to get better as the offensive line gets solidified as a unit.  Roy Helu Jr. had a career day against Virginia Tech last week, rushing for 169 yards on 28 carries.  Surprisingly, top back-up Rex Burkhead did not get a single carry through the game.  The Husker offense became very predictable last week because of this, as the Hokies knew every time that Helu came off the field, there was no threat of Nebraska calling a run play.  If this predictability is a trend that continues, expect more 15 point games.  Also interesting was Nebraska's lack of confidence in their running game in the red-zone, as they preferred throwing the football, even in the 10.  This attributed to being held to 5 field goals and no touchdowns.  Nebraska has some talented rushers, including their QB's, so some of these issues were a bit odd last week.
Louisiana's rush defense has been good this season, but did seem to wear down in the second half of the LSU game last week, which helped the Tigers average 4.6 yards per carry.  The linebackers do a nice job of rush support, are good at filling gaps, and tackle very well.  Antwyne Zanders and Daylon McCoy are the most athletic of the crew and fly to the ball carrier.  One problem the Ragin' Cajuns had against LSU was defending the option.  It went for good gains at least a couple of times thanks to missed tackles and difficulty keeping up sideline-to-sideline.    

Focusing on third downs and red zone play, Nebraska is converting a solid 45% of their third downs (31st nationally), and scoring on 92% of red-zone opportunities (7 TDs, 5 FGs) (21st nationally).  Nebraska's third down percentage was an abysmal 6 of 17 last week against Virginia Tech.  The Ragin' Cajuns' defense is allowing their opponents to convert a high 45.65% of their third downs (101st nationally), and have allowed those opponents to score on just 67% of their red-zone chances (6 TDs, 0 FGs) (14th nationally).  LSU was a perfect 3 for 3 in the red-zone last week against the Cajuns.

Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Louisiana's average defensive lineman is 6'3", 274 lbs.  The match-up to keep an eye on will be DE Hall Davis against RT Marcel Jones.  Davis is the best lineman for the Cajuns, while Jones has not been really consistent on the edge for Nebraska's offensive line.  One of Nebraska's best linemen, Keith Williams, appears to finally be fully healthy and will be a big difference maker on that line.  With the big drop-off after him, his health is very important.  LT Mike Smith is another that needs to stay healthy.  Depth for Nebraska's line is not all that great, especially at tackle.  The Cajuns' d-line was pushed around a number of times against LSU, and Nebraska could have similar success, especially if Smith is ready to go on Saturday.  On the season, Nebraska has averaged 6.3 yards per carry while Louisiana is giving up 4 yards per carry.  Nebraska has allowed 2 sacks and 13 tackles for loss on the year, while Louisiana has picked up 1 sack and 10 tackles for loss in three games this season.  

Louisiana-Lafayette's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

Louisiana's QB Chris Masson has played decently in his first three games as a starter.  He led his team to a big win over Big XII foe Kansas State, but also threw a pair of picks last week against LSU.  He has done well this season when there isn't any pass rush against him, however, when he has been pressured he hasn't looked very good.  He doesn't take many snaps under center, as much of his time is spent in the shotgun, as well as a pistol-like formation.  At some point, he'll have to take a little off his throws and add a bit of touch to make it easier on his receivers.  When he fires his throws out at full force, his receivers have had a very difficult time bringing them in, dropping multiple passes each game.  His scrambling ability has allowed him to keep from being sacked, and has the luxury of having a good offensive line to break-in as the starting QB behind.  After three games, Masson is completing 56.2% of his passes, while Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 48.9% of their passes this season.   
Louisiana's wide receivers are pretty decent, lack big-time size, but do have good speed and are shifty runners.  The top three Cajun wide receivers; Marlin Miller, Louis Lee, and Richie Falgout are all solid targets and have helped move the chains both this year and last.  Lee was expected to be the best of this group coming into the season, but Miller's ability after the catch has turned him into the most dangerous of the unit.  Falgout will likely not play on Saturday, but there are a few of other decent options to replace the #3 receiver.  The true strength of the receiving corps, though, is the tight ends.  Both Ladarius Green and Luke Aubrey are huge targets that present match-up problems for any defensive back or linebacker they are up against.  The duo has combined for over 200 yards receiving and is averaging just over 10 yards per reception.  They should play a big role in this week's game against Nebraska.  
Nebraska's pass defense, overall, has done a solid job this year.  They've given up a few big plays, most notably an 81 yard pass in last week's game against Virginia Tech in the final minutes that set up a touchdown that cost the Huskers the game.  Tackling still needs to be better, and that concern could become bigger is SS Larry Asante isn't 100% ready to go by Saturday.  The young linebackers still have quite a bit of growth in coverage to go as, but probably won't have their first major passing test until they play Missouri in two weeks.  Louisiana will present some problems, especially with their tight ends, but probably not consistently enough to make an impact on the scoreboard.  In pass coverage, the Huskers' secondary ranks 29th, allowing a rating of 101.46, while Louisiana's QB Chris Masson ranks 80th nationally in pass efficiency (115.18).  

While the Ragin' Cajuns have been inconsistent in their passing game, their running game hasn't been much better.  They dominated an overmatched Southern team in the opener, rushing for 208 yards, but have mustered just 2011 total in their last two games.  RB Undrea Sails has looked good at times, but doesn't have the all-around skills that the departed Tyrell Fenroy displayed over his career.  The LSU defense stonewalled Sails last week to a 2.8 yards per carry average.  Booker and Shankle are capable reserves, but neither has looked as good as Sails.  
They'll be up against Nebraska's rush defense that started living up to expectations last week against Virginia Tech.  They held the Hokies to just 86 yards, impressive considering they rushed for 444 yards against Marshall the week prior.  A majority of those yards were gained on one big play of 46 yards, thanks to a missed tackle at the line of scrimmage.  Nebraska inserted Phillip Dillard back into the LB corps starting line-up last week, and that may have had an impact on the defense stepping up their level of play.  It will be difficult for the Ragin' Cajuns to have a consistent rushing attack against the Huskers, expect similar outputs to what they had against LSU last week (101 yds), or possibly less.

Looking at how these teams perform on third downs and red-zone opportunities, Louisiana has converted a very good 47.50% of their third downs (25th nationally), with an 86% red-zone scoring average (6 TDs, 0 FGs) (54th nationally).  The Ragin' Cajuns were just 6 of 16 on 3rd downs last week against LSU.  Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert 37.21% of their 3rd down attempts (62nd nationally), and has allowed them an 80% red-zone scoring percentage (3 TD, 1 FG) (49th nationally) this season.  

Up front, Louisiana's average offensive lineman is 6'4", 301 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'4.5", 279 lbs.  On the season, Louisiana is averaging 4.3 yards per carry while Nebraska is giving up 3.3 yards per carry.  The Cajuns have allowed just 6 tackles for loss and no sacks, while the Huskers picked up 23 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.  The match-up everyone will be watching will be Nebraska's All-American NT Ndamukong Suh up against the talented Louisiana C Chris Fisher.  Suh has dominated nearly everyone he's come up against this season, and if the Ragin' Cajuns want to keep that 0 sacks tally alive, they'll have to keep him from having his way with them.  But if they key in too much on Suh, then one of the other athletic d-linemen will make a play.  Fisher needs to be able to hold his own with Suh, doubling up with Ian Burks or Brad Bustle will help, but it will help free someone else up on the Nebraska front.  

Keys to the Game

1.) Lee Needs to Bounce Back - Forget last week's mistakes and move on, make the throws you made in the first two games and get the ship righted before you enter conference play.
2.) Rush Defense Remains Frosty - After a great performance against a very good rushing team in Virginia Tech, that intensity needs to stay a part of the defense.
3.) Cut Down on Penalties - In a critical possession last week that cost the Huskers 3-7 points, Nebraska went from 1st and goal at the 7 to punting from the 37 thanks to multiple penalties.  Unacceptable.

1.) Experienced OL Must Be Better - There's talent, but the group hasn't been terribly consistent, especially in rush blocking.  Against a great defensive line, you have to put 100% forth.  If you can't run the ball, you can't win.
2.) Defensive Front 7 Needs to Get Pressure - Nebraska QB Zac Lee struggled under pressure last week at Virginia Tech.  Hall Davis and Co. needs to get after him.
3.) Secondary Can't Allow Separation - LSU receivers were open early and often throughout last week's game.  Nebraska QB Zac Lee was torching his previous Sun Belt opponents earlier this season, and is a more accurate QB than LSU's Jordan Jefferson.  If NU's receivers are open, he'll probably hit them.

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

Injury Report

QB - Zac Lee - Thumb - Probable
SS - Larry Asante - Upper body - Questionable
OT - Mike Smith - Ankle - Questionable
QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season

WR - Lance Kelley - Back - Questionable
LB - Richard Brooks - Arm - Questionable
OT - Colin Windsor - Knee - Questionable
WR Richie Falgout - Ankle - Out for game

Final Outlook

Saturday marks the first ever meeting between Louisiana-Lafayette and Nebraska.  It will be a special occasion in Lincoln this weekend, as Nebraska will be celebrating their 300th consecutive sellout of Memorial Stadium dating back to 1962.  A lot has changed to the stadium in that period of time.  The first sell-out in that streak was the November 3rd, 1962 game against Missouri.  It was the Huskers' first loss of the season, seen by 36,501 fans.  Today, Memorial Stadium holds over 85,000 fans and will be filled to capacity for an NCAA record 300th consecutive time.  It is also homecoming for Nebraska.

Louisiana-Lafayette enters this game with a (2-1) record.  They opened with FCS foe Southern, and were victorious 42-19.  It was a tougher than expected game for the Ragin' Cajuns, as Southern led 12-7 at the end of the first quarter.  The Cajuns gave up 380 yards to Southern, including touchdown passes from 26 and 51 yards out.  Louisiana was great offensively in that game, and had 208 yards rushing to go along with 325 yards through the air.  The offense has not looked nearly that good since that opener, gaining just 287 yards in a 17-15 win over Kansas State and 272 yards in a 31-3 loss to LSU.  The win over Kansas State was a big one for the program, despite where Kansas State is right now, and they feel like they can come in and compete well with Nebraska.  They need to improve greatly on both sides of the ball if they want to exit Lincoln with a "W", however.

Nebraska enters this week's game with a record of (2-1), but is just seconds away from a perfect (3-0) record.  They suffered a heartbreaking loss to Virginia Tech last week.  For the most part, Nebraska dominated the Hokies for the entire game up until the final two minutes as VT QB Tyrod Taylor completed an 81 yard pass, followed by an 11 yard touchdown strike that sealed the Huskers fate (15-16 final).  Nebraska settled for 5 FG's, when they had numerous opportunities in the red zone to score a touchdown that helped win the game.  This week, they return home to finish their 3 game series with the Sun Belt conference.  Their first SBC opponent, Florida Atlantic, proved no match for the Huskers as they defeated the Owls handily, 49-3.  The next week against Arkansas State, Nebraska was able to slow down their high powered running game and get a 38-9 victory.  Nebraska dominated these two opponents, despite the appearance that they were sleepwalking through half of each game.  A similar outcome will be expected this weekend against Louisiana.

The Ragin' Cajuns played tightly with LSU through the first half before wearing down in the second half last week.  Had LSU QB Jordan Jefferson been more accurate, it wouldn't have been close for nearly as long.  Nebraska struggled with Virginia Tech's athletic defense on QB Zac Lee's first road start last week.  While Louisiana has some good athletes on their defense, they aren't in the same class as VT.  Lee is expected to get the start despite an injured non-throwing hand thumb injury, and when given time to throw, he has a better arm than LSU's Jefferson.  If the Nebraska receivers are as open as the LSU receivers were, this could be an early night for Lee, making way for some of the back-ups.  The Huskers should also be able to run the ball well against the Cajuns front four, providing good balance that Louisiana will find difficulty slowing down.  The Ragin' Cajun offense, behind QB Chris Masson, hasn't been able to find their way just yet, and isn't likely to this week either.  Ultimately, Louisiana just doesn't have the team this year to compete with Nebraska.  Look for Nebraska to win big.

Louisiana-Lafayette - 6
Nebraska - 45


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