Big Red Breakdown: Texas Tech vs Nebraska

The Huskers look to keep unblemished conference record, but it won't be easy as they host the offensive juggernaut that is the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Check out our game preview as we give you the complete breakdown on the game to come.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

10/15/09
--by Vince Campisi




October 17th, 2009
2:30 PM CT
Lincoln, NE
Television Coverage: ABC



TEXAS TECH (4 - 2) (1 - 1)
VS
#15 (AP)/#17 (C) NEBRASKA (4 - 1) (1 - 0)



Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Texas Tech


Latest Line
Nebraska by 10.5.


Schedules/Results
Texas Tech
09/05/09 - vs. North Dakota - W 38-13
09/12/09 - vs. Rice - W 55-10
09/19/09 - at. Texas - L 24-34
09/26/09 - at. Houston - L 28-29
10/03/09 - vs. New Mexico - W 48-28
10/10/09 - vs. Kansas State - W 66-14
10/17/09 - at. Nebraska
10/24/09 - vs. Texas A&M
10/31/09 - vs. Kansas
11/14/09 - at. Oklahoma State
11/21/09 - vs. Oklahoma
11/28/09 - at. Baylor

Nebraska
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 - W 55-0
10/08/09 - at. Missouri - W 27-12
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

Texas Tech Offense

Texas Tech's offense under Mike Leach continues to succeed no matter the QB.  They don't run the football well, but they'll chuck it all over the field in the Air Raid offense.  The Red Raiders are currently ranked 2nd nationally in total offense (521.50 ypg), 2nd in passing (443.50 ypg), 11th in passing efficiency (161.27 rating), 114th in rushing (78 ypg), 2nd in scoring offense (43.17 ppg), 96th in interceptions thrown (8), 79th in fumbles lost (6), and 97th in giveaways (14).  

QB: Jr. Steven Sheffield (53 of 70, 780 yds, 11 TDs, 2 INTs) has looked excellent since filling in for Jr. Taylor Potts (159 of 235, 1817 yds, 13 TDs, 6 INTs), who went down with a concussion two weeks ago against New Mexico.  Head Coach Mike Leach has said it will be a game-time decision as to which QB will get the starting nod, but it will be a big surprise if it isn't Sheffield.  Sheffield has put up almost ridiculous numbers the past two games against New Mexico and Kansas State, and currently holds an outstanding 215.5 efficiency rating.  He hasn't played in enough games to be eligible for national rankings, but if he continues with those numbers, he would easily be the nation's best.  Potts has also been prolific in his time leading the offense, completing 67.7% of his passes and holding a 145.80 efficiency rating (27th nationally).  Both QB's have good size, with Sheffield checking in at 6'4" and Potts at 6'5".  The biggest difference between the two is that Sheffield is much better on his feet.  While Potts is more of a pocket passer, Sheffield will often be seen scrambling around the backfield, waiting for one of his receivers to become open and striking.  He won't take many designed runs, but did have a nice 16 yard scamper last week to pick up a first down.  The one concern is if those gaudy numbers were just a product of playing at home against poor competition.  Behind Sheffield and Potts is RFr. Seth Dodge (6 of 8, 64 yds, 1 TD).  He saw his first career action last week against KSU, and kept the offense clicking.  

RB: The Red Raiders' running game has been almost non-existent this season, after looking like a promising threat for the offense a year ago.  The running backs are pretty good, but don't see a lot of carries, and haven't had a consistent push up-front from their blockers.  Sure, the ground game looked better against Kansas State, as did the entire team, but most teams do against a team of that caliber.  Jr. Baron Batch (53 carries, 312 yds, 5 TDs) is the top back for the Red Raiders.  Batch's production is down nearly 10 yards per game and 1 yard less per carry from 2008.  He had 86 yards and a TD on just 9 carries against KSU last week.  Batch is very quick, has very good speed as well as cutting ability.  Top reserves to Batch include TFr. Eric Stephens (23 carries, 98 yds) and RFr. Harrison Jeffers (26 carries, 180 yds, 4 TDs).  Both reserves are 5'8"-5'9", and are very fast.  Jeffers has been particularly explosive, averaging nearly 7 yards per rush.  The backs are used often in the passing game, through screens, shovel passes, and quick outs to the flats.  Batch (15 catches, 133 yds), Jeffers (19 catches, 191 yds, 1 TD), and Stephens (7 catches, 62 yds, 1 TD) have all caught passes this season.  If they aren't accounted for, they'll quickly gash the opposing defense for big yards.

WR/TE: The Red Raiders' receivers this season have been what they usually are - good.  They don't drop many passes, all have adequate or better speed, and do a pretty good job of getting open.  Of course, they are missing a big-time home run hitter in Michael Crabtree, but his replacements have done a fine job this season.  The Tech QB's do a great job of spreading the ball around, so a defense can't really key in on any one or two guys.  Starting at "H" is So. Tramain Swindall (24 catches, 464 yds, 5 TDs), with So. Adam James (10 catches, 85 yds, 1 TD) backing him up.  Swindall has great hands and good enough speed to take it to not get caught from behind and take it to the house.  He's been the team's best deep threat, averaging 19.3 yards per catch.  Swindall and James are the tallest of the Tech receivers, each at 6'3".  Starting at "X" is Sr. Edward Britton (20 catches, 218 yds, 1 TD), with Jr. Lyle Leong Jr (24 catches, 328 yds, 6 TDs) backing him up.  Britton has nice hands, typically making the tough catches and does well in getting yards after catch.  Leong has really come along this year and made an outstanding catch against Kansas State, laying out for the ball.  Starting at "Y" is Jr. Detron Lewis (30 catches, 385 yds, 4 TDs), while RFr. Austin Zouzalik (18 catches, 228 yds, 1 TD) backs him up.  Lewis has great jumping ability, agility, and very good speed.  Zouzalik has done a nice job in getting open downfield.  RFr. Alex Torres (31 catches, 335 yds, 3 TDs) starts at "Z", with So. Jacoby Franks (15 catches, 200 yds, 1 TD) backing him up.  The thing that jumps out to you about Torres is that he really works hard for yards after catch.  He's also tough to bring down and is sure handed, holding onto the ball even when getting hit very hard.  Franks has good speed and good hands to match.  He had a 72 yard touchdown reception against KSU last week by simply outrunning the defensive back to get to the deep ball.

OL: Texas Tech's offensive line has had to replace three starters from last year's group.  This has presented some problems with finding consistency with a certain line-up.  Play hasn't been great, having difficulties in both pass protection as well as run blocking.  Starting at tackle is RFr. Terry McDaniel (6'7", 335 lbs) on the left and Sr. Marlon Winn (6'6", 312 lbs) on the right.  McDaniel isn't all that athletic and is helped by the extra wide splits the Red Raiders O-line employs to make it difficult for rush ends to get to the QB.  Winn has been pretty solid on the right in pass protection this season.  The top reserves at tackle are Jr. Chris Olson (6'5", 296 lbs) and RFr. Joe King (6'6", 319 lbs).  Starting at guard is Jr. Chris Olson (6'5", 296 lbs) on the left and Sr. Brandon Carter (6'7", 334 lbs) on the right.  Olson has really been moved around this year, playing at both tackle and guard.  It appears that he has found a home at LG, and has been decent.  Carter came back last week after serving a one-game suspension.  He played fairly well, but not consistently.  He was seen having trouble matching-up just one-on-one up-front with a KSU DT.  Carter may play Guard or Tackle this week.  Top back-ups at guard are So. Lonnie Edwards (6'5", 290 lbs) and So. Mickey Okafor (6'7", 319 lbs).  Okafor had a tough game against New Mexico, getting beat often.  At center is Jr. Justin Keown (6'4", 302 lbs), with Sr. Shawn Byrnes (6'4", 307 lbs) backing him up.  Keown has been fair, but isn't much of a lead blocker, especially downfield.  He had a chance last week to spring the runner for a score, but made a sloppy attempt at a block downfield and allowed the RB to be brought down.  Byrnes has struggled with injury this season, and could get back into the starting spot now that he is healthy.


Texas Tech Defense

Texas Tech's defense has been fair this season.  They aren't one of the best in the Big XII, but aren't the worst, either.  There has been some excitement about the defense with recent wins over New Mexico and Kansas State, though hardly good tests for a defense.  The Red Raiders currently rank 55th nationally in total defense (349.67 ypg), 92nd in pass defense (242.50 ypg), 44th in pass efficiency defense (117.74 rating), 28th in rush defense (107.17 ypg), 42nd in scoring defense (21.33 ppg), 76th in interceptions forced (4), 27th in fumbles recovered (6), and 59th in total takeaways (10).  

DL: The Red Raiders' defensive line is an experienced unit, with all upperclassmen in the starting line-up.  As a whole, they show flashes of being a solid d-line with a good pass rush, but not consistently enough to make opposing offensive lines sweat too much.  Starting at defensive end is Sr. Ra'Jon Henley (8 tackles, 2 sacks) on the left and Sr. Brandon Sharpe (8 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 FF, 1FR, 2 PBU) on the right.  Henley dropped about 20 pounds from last season, and has shown some improved quickness off the edge.  Sharpe was among the best defenders against KSU last weekend, registering a pair of sacks.  He needs to work on consistency, though, as much of the time he was lost at the line.  Neither starter has been a great help against the rush, however.  Top reserves on the ends are Sr. Daniel Howard (22 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), and RFr. Ryan Haliburton (2 tackles).  Howard missed last week's game with a stinger, and he might be back in the line-up this week, but not necessarily as a starter.  A very good pass rusher, he is averaging 1 sack per game.  Starting at defensive tackle is Sr. Richard Jones (24 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU), with So. Chris Perry (4 tackles, 1 sack) backing him up.  Jones is not much of a pass rusher, getting most of his action bringing down opposing running backs.  He's undersized at just 6'1" and was swallowed up pretty well by the poor KSU offensive line last week.  Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Colby Whitlock (18 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PBU), with Sr. Victor Hunter (11 tackles) serving as his back-up.  Whitlock was pushed around for the most part last week against KSU, but did manage to make a pair of tackles while pancaked on the ground, showing that he doesn't give up on plays.  
 
LB: Texas Tech's linebacking corps is the strength of the defense.  They have played pretty well this season, but not great.  Even in the throttling of KSU last week, there were problems with filling run lanes as well as mediocre pass coverage.  You can get away with that against teams such as KSU and the like and not get burned often, but not against the Big XII's better offenses.  Starting at middle linebacker is Jr. Brian Duncan (43 tackles, 4 PBU), with So. Sam Fehoko (7 tackles, 1 FR, 1 PBU) backing him up.  Duncan is a pretty consistent performer, he's a solid tackler, has good athleticism, and works hard to make plays.  He's been among the best defensive players for Texas Tech since his freshman season with his field smarts.  At weakside linebacker is Sr. Marlon Williams (43 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU), while So. Riley Harvey (1 tackle) backs him up.  Williams is in his third year as a starter, and is currently tied with Duncan for the team lead in tackles with 43.  He's arguably the fastest of the group, and does a very nice job when blitzing.  Jr. Bront Bird (28 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at strongside linebacker, with So. Tyrone Sonier (4 tackles) providing back-up.  Bird has excellent size (6'3", 240 lbs) and is used in many ways on the defense.  He often plays on or close to the LOS, especially when Tech runs a 3-man front.  He's a strong tackler, usually good in pass coverage, and uses his athletic ability to his advantage, flying to the ball.  Although this group is typically pretty good tacklers, against Kansas State, they did have some issues tackling RB Daniel Thomas on a few moderate gains.  

DB: The Red Raiders' defensive backfield has been decent this season, as they give up chunks of yards, but not many scores.  They rank 11th in terms of yardage given up in the Big XII (242.5 ypg), but are 3rd in the Big XII in passing touchdowns give up (5).  Starting at cornerback is Sr. Jamar Wall (27 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 4 PBU) at left corner and Jr. LaRon Moore (22 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 3 PBU) on the right.  Wall is the best of the secondary, good in pass coverage, and also wraps up well on the ball carrier.  He had a nice forced fumble against New Mexico two weeks ago.  Moore is the smallest of the group at just 5'9", and will be a primary target for passing offenses to pick on.  However, he has good speed and jumping ability, which can negate some of that height discrepancy he will have with the Big XII's bigger receivers.  Players in the reserve rotation include Sr. Brent Nickerson (8 tackles, 1 FR, 2 PBU), So. Taylor Charbonnet (6 tackles), and TFr. D.J. Johnson (10 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 3 PBU).  Nickerson has looked pretty good when on the field, making a couple of nice break-ups the past few weeks.  Johnson looks like a future star of the secondary, making big plays whenever given the chance this season.  Starting at strong safety is So. Brett Dewhurst (18 tackles, 3 PBU), with Brent Nickerson providing back-up here as well.  Dewhurst, a walk-on, has been decent this season, but doesn't have the athleticism of the other defensive backs.  At free safety is Jr. Franklin Mitchem (12 tackles, 1 PBU), while So. Jared Flannel (2 tackles) backs him up.  Mitchem was finally healthy enough to return to the line-up last week against KSU, and should help to strengthen the defensive backfield for the Red Raiders as the season moves forward.


Texas Tech Special Teams

Texas Tech's special teams units have been pretty solid, but not spectacular.  The Red Raiders currently rank 63rd in net punting (36.06 yd avg), 20th in kickoff returns (25.79 yd avg), 57th in punt returns (9.64 yd avg), 41st in kickoff coverage (19.88 yd avg), and 72nd in punt coverage (9.67 yd avg).  

K: Jr. Matt Williams has made 3 of his 4 field goal attempts with a long of 41 this season.  His only miss was a 38 yarder against Rice early in the season.  So. Donnie Carona works as the kickoff specialist, pushing 8 of his 42 kickoffs for a touchback this season.  He is averaging 64.6 yards per kickoff, kicking to between the 5 and 6 yard line.  

P: TFr. Ryan Erxleben is averaging 41.2 yards on his 14 punts with a long of 54 this season.  9 of his 14 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.

KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Red Raiders is TFr. Eric Stephens (16 kick returns, 24.9 yd avg, 54 yd long) and Sr. Edward Britton (6 kick returns, 25.2 yd avg, 47 yd long).  Others slated to possibly return kicks include RFr. Austin Zouzalik (1 kick return, 29 yds) and Sr. Jamar Wall.  The top punt return man is TFr. Austin Zouzalik (10 punt returns, 9.1 yd avg, 18 yd long), while Sr. Jamar Wall (4 punt returns, 11 yd avg, 24 yd long) has also fielded punts this season.  

Coverage: The Red Raiders' kick and punt coverage units have been pretty average this season, but did keep the explosive KSU returnman Brandon Banks from breaking anything big last week.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 19.9 yards on 33 kickoff return attempts, with a long of 61.  The punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 9.7 yards on 6 punt return attempts, with a long of 46.



Nebraska Offense

Nebraska's offense has looked very good at home this season, but has really struggled on the road.  When playing at home, they have shown good balance, able to beat teams running and throwing the football.  Statistics were hurt badly over the past week, due to a miserable game in torrential rain at Missouri.  The Huskers currently rank 40th nationally in total offense (404.60 ypg), 44th in passing (236.60 ypg), 29th in pass efficiency (144.26 rating), 43rd in rushing (168 ypg), 15th in scoring offense (36.80 ppg), 19th in interceptions thrown (3), 7th in fumbles lost (2), and 8th in giveaways (5).  

QB: Jr. Zac Lee (82 for 138, 1085 yds, 10 TDs, 3 INTs) has been a very efficient QB that has looked great at home against Sun Belt teams, but has not looked very good on the road.  He went 11 for 30 (37%) and threw 2 interceptions against Virginia Tech in his first road game, and was 14 of 33 (42%) at Missouri in the heavy rain last week.  He had an excellent fourth quarter against Missouri, however, tossing 3 touchdown passes to lead the Huskers to a win.  When Lee 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 pretty good speed and is able to escape pressure in the backfield and also pick up yards in designed run plays.  Lee has rushed for 68 yards on 28 attempts (has lost 31 yards on sacks).  Behind Lee are TFr. Cody Green (12 for 17, 98 yds, 1 TD) and Jr. LaTravis Washington.  Green has a lot of potential to be a big-time dual-threat QB.  He can run well, and has shown a very strong arm.  Green has carried the ball 6 times for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Washington has a strong arm with good speed as well, but he has not made the strides that Green has.

RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (91 carries, 552 yds, 6 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.  He struggled with the flu and a bruised shoulder, but should be 100% on Saturday.  The top back-up to Helu Jr. has been TFr. Rex Burkhead (23 carries, 118 yds, 1 TD), an impressive, young back that has had some nice rushes this season.  He broke his foot in practice on Monday of this week, and will now be out for a good chunk of the season.  A #2 back must emerge from the group of RFr. Lester Ward (1 carry, 8 yds), So. Marcus Mendoza (1 carries, -1 yds), So. Austin Jones (3 carries, 11 yds), and RFr. Collins Okafor.  Another back that might be in the mix is TFr. Dontrayevous Robinson, who has plenty of skills, but has been sitting out to red-shirt up to this point.  There's potential in the reserve group, but nothing really proven yet.  Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, and should become a bigger part of the offense as Big XII play gets rolling.  Helu Jr. (11 catches, 91 yds) and Burkhead (8 catches, 66 yds, 1 TD) have each caught passes, both having great ability to break a few tackles after the catch and motor downfield.  Mendoza has shown the ability to catch passes in his limited action a year ago, and he might be the top option to replace the injured Burkhead.  At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate (2 catches, 14 yds, 1 TD) is the top guy and but doesn't see much time with the ball .    

WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps has been pretty solid this season, but struggles with consistency.  They had some issues with dropped passes in the rain last week against Missouri.  Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (16 catches, 212 yds, 3 TDs).  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.  Paul had two touchdown receptions against Missouri in the 4th quarter, putting the team in the lead.  Starting at "X" will be Sr. Menelik Holt (11 catches, 124 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 and hasn't been a very good blocker.  Reserves include So. Curenski Gilleylen (11 catches, 269 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (8 catches, 111 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Brandon Kinnie (1 catch, 5 yds), TFr. Antonio Bell (1 catch, 3 yds), RFr. Khiry Cooper (3 catches, 32 yds), Jr. Will Henry (1 catch, 1 yd), and Sr. Wes Cammack (1 catch, 2 yds).  Gilleylen is a speedster and has developed into Nebraska most dangerous deep threat.  Brooks is turning into a solid possession receiver this year, and is becoming a big contributor for the unit.  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 (12 catches, 146 yds, 3 TDs), with So. Dreu Young (2 catch, 61 yds), So. Ryan Hill (1 catch, 7 yds), RFr. Ben Cotton (2 catches, 10 yds), and RFr. Kyler Reed (3 catches, 29 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 has a ways to go consistency-wise.  At times, the front 5 looks capable of being a very good line, but other times they are committing costly penalties and getting beat by opposing linemen.  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 is typically among the best linemen for the Huskers, but had a rough go of it last week against Missouri.  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, even though Marcel sees more snaps.  D.J. really struggled greatly against Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds a few games ago.  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, which can sometimes get him in trouble.  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.  He has had a couple of off target shotgun snaps the past two weeks, one led to a lost fumble last week.


Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's defense has been excellent this season, much better than they have performed in years and among the best nationally in many categories.  The Huskers are currently ranked 13th nationally in total defense (273.40 ypg), 14th in pass defense (162.60 ypg), 3rd in pass efficiency defense (86.48 rating), 33rd in rush defense (110.80 ypg), 2nd in scoring defense (8 ppg), 55th in interceptions (5), 49th in fumbles recovered (5), and 59th in total takeaways (10).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line is playing like one of the best units in the nation.  They're big, strong, athletic, and just make plays.  Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (21 tackles, 1 sack, 3 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (18 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 FR, 5 QBH, 1 PBU) on the left.  Both Allen and Turner have excellent athleticism, but have been fairly inconsistent this season.  If they can reach the level of play they've been at in the past, they'll be tough for opposing tackles to control.  RFr. Cameron Meredith (9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 1 PBU) and RFr. Josh Williams (3 tackles) are the top reserves at defensive end.  Meredith has been impressive in his back-up role, and is pushing for more playing time.  Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Ndamukong Suh (32 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 7 PBU), with So. Terrence Moore (2 tackles) backing him up.  Suh is an elite tackle that has a motor that doesn't quit, flies to the ball and forces turnovers.  He very rarely comes off the field, yet still has the energy to bring it in the fourth quarter.  He is now getting early Heisman attention from various media outlets.  So. Jared Crick (23 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR, 3 QBH, 1 BLK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler (13 tackles) providing back-up.  Crick is counted on to make plays with Suh being doubled up, and is getting better each week.  

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is young and has seemed to really gel with the return of Phillip Dillard three games ago.  With two of the three starters being redshirt-freshmen, they are getting better each week.  Starting at weakside linebacker is Sr. Phillip Dillard (11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU).  Dillard is a former starter at MIKE that didn't play in the first two games, but is doing a great job at WILL.  He brings athleticism and experience to the field, invaluable, especially as they get into league play.  Behind Dillard are Jr. Blake Lawrence (10 tackles) and So. Matthew May (8 tackles).  Both have been bothered by minor injuries this season.  Starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Will Compton (26 tackles, 2 QBH, 1 PBU), while Sr. Colton Koehler (5 tackles) is the top reserve.  Compton works hard to get after the ball carrier, but is still learning the defense and will make mistakes.  Starting at buck linebacker is RFr. Sean Fisher (20 tackles, 1 FR. 3 QBH), with TFr. Eric Martin (7 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.  In nickel and dime situations, Compton and/or Dillard are the Huskers' options at LB.  

DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield has played very well this season, much better than anyone thought they would be at this point in the season.  Other than a couple of big plays given up, they have done a nice job in coverage and making solid tackles.  Jr. Prince Amukamara (30 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 4 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and TFr. Andrew Green listed as the top reserves.  Amukamara has been pretty solid and has great athleticism, and getting better at consistency in coverage.  Gomes played a lot last week, looked very good, and had a huge interception in the fourth quarter.  Jr. Anthony West (7 tackles, 1 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Alfonzo Dennard (8 tackles, 1 PBU) and So. Lance Thorell (5 tackles, 1 PBU) listed as the top reserves.  West has been average, and needs to play more with his head on a swivel.  Dennard played a lot last week in place of West and looked very good.  He makes plays on the football and is a solid tackler.  At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (29 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 5 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH) and RFr. P.J. Smith (6 tackles) backing him up.  Asante has great athleticism and is a big hitter.  He's probably the best of the defensive backfield, with Amukamara coming a close second right now.  Hagg is used often as a blitzing safety, and also as a nickel back.  Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (24 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR) starts at free safety.  O'Hanlon is often picked on and susceptible to being burned, however, has made some big plays in his career as well.  He usually a dependable tackler and blitzes well.  Sr. Rickey Thenarse (11 tackles, 1 FF) was a co-starter at the position, however, suffered a likely season ending knee injury two games ago.  Behind O'Hanlon is Hagg, So. Austin Cassidy (4 tackles, 1 PBU), and RFr. Courtney Osborne (1 tackle).  


Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams units have been very good this year, except had a terrible showing in the rain at Missouri last week.  Return teams struggled mightily, as did long snapping.  In dry conditions, however, these have been mostly non-issues.  The Huskers rank 94th in net punting (33.61 yd avg), 77th in kickoff returns (21.10 yd avg), 49th in punt returns (9.94 yd avg), 37th in kickoff coverage (19.70 yd avg), and 67th in punt coverage (9.30 yd avg).

K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation.  He has made 8 of his 9 attempts this season, with a long of 46.  He's made 21 straight kicks from under 50 yards.  Jr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and is arguably the best kickoff specialist in the nation.  Kunalic has pushed 17 of 37 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 68.5 yard average.  

P: Jr. Alex Henery has averaged 41 yards on his 22 punts with a long of 76 this season.  9 of his 22 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20 so far this year.  He added punting duties to his repertoire this season, and is getting better each week.  TFr. P.J. Mangieri is the long snapper and really had a bad outing last week in the rain, with inaccurate placement that caused a safety.
 
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (8 returns, 24.2 yd avg, 32 yd long), and TFr. Rex Burkhead (1 kick return, 15 yds).  With Burkhead now out with injury, others that could possibly return kicks are So. Curenski Gilleylen and So. Alfonzo Dennard.  At punt returner is Jr. Niles Paul (13 returns, 8.5 yd avg, 55 yd long).  TFr. Rex Burkhead (4 returns, 18.2 yd avg, 33 yd long) has also had some returns, but with his injury, RFr. Tim Marlowe could now see time returning punts.  These units have been great at times, but last week was miserable, as everyone seemed to have trouble fielding balls.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been pretty good this season, but did struggle on punt coverage in the rain last week.  There were some problems with footing and getting tackles on the returners.  The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 19.7 yards on 20 kickoff returns (76 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 9.3 yards on 10 punt returns.    



Unit Match-Ups

Nebraska's Offense vs. Texas Tech's Defense

Nebraska's offense has appeared unimaginative and predictable at times this season.  In a downpour at Missouri last week, the offense seemed inept for much of 3 quarters, finally awaking in the fourth to rattle off four touchdowns, three through the air by QB Zac Lee.  It's hard to tell if Lee has what it takes to be a great QB because his 2 big tests this year, both on the road, were not ideal conditions to necessarily see where he's at as a QB.  He looked like an All-American in his first two outings against Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State, spreading the ball around and looking comfortable in the pocket.  His first ever road game was against Virginia Tech and he struggled, not surprisingly.  He returned to Lincoln the next week, helping to throttle Louisiana-Lafayette 55-0.  Then, last week against Missouri in one of the wettest games you'll see all season, he again struggled on the road.  
Is this a QB that can't play on the road, or a QB with small hands that only struggled because of the adverse weather condition?  Don't forget that Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert was really not any better than Lee in the rain, when looking at the game as a whole.  Something of note is that Lee was told he would have to do something with the ball or he would be pulled in favor of back-up Cody Green on the next series with the score 0-12.  All Lee did was go out and throw a 56-yard touchdown pass to WR Niles Paul, getting Nebraska back in the game.  We'll find out this week if that fourth quarter was the maturation of a quarterback or nothing more than a few nice plays.  When Lee has been at home, he's shown that he can make all the throws does a very nice job of spreading the ball around.  To date, 17 different receivers have caught passes from the Nebraska quarterbacks.  Lee's scrambling ability is worth noting, and although he isn't going to blaze downfield, he will move the chains.  The Red Raiders' defense has allowed their opponents to complete a high 63.5% of their passes this season, while Zac Lee is completing 59.4% of his attempts on the year.   
Nebraska's receiving corps is still looking for that one big-time playmaker, but they do possess a good group of receivers.  WR Niles Paul has been the best of the unit and had a pair of touchdowns receptions last week against Missouri, putting his team ahead of the Tigers in the fourth quarter.  Curenski Gilleylen is Nebraska's most exciting receiver, as the speedster averages an impressive 31.9 yards per catch this year.  The group of tight ends, led by Mike McNeill, is probably the deepest in the conference.  
Texas Tech's secondary is serviceable, but not a stand-out unit.  They gave up 435 yards to the high-octane Houston Cougars earlier this season, and also 316 to a New Mexico team that ranks 79th in passing offense just two games ago.  A chunk of those 316 yards came on New Mexico's final two drives of the game, but they typically were picking up yards on each possession.  The Red Raiders' linebackers haven't been great in coverage this season, and there have been a good amount of receivers left open by the DB's, but most of the opposing QB's couldn't hit them.  Last week against Kansas State, the secondary was pretty consistent, although the Wildcats were vastly overmatched.  One thing that will be interesting to watch is how the secondary plays against QB Zac Lee.  Lee was very good against undersized defensive backfields this season, and the TT corners are 5'9"-5'10".  CB Jamar Wall is the best of the unit and will likely go head-to-head against WR Niles Paul.  In pass coverage, the Red Raiders' secondary ranks 44th, allowing a rating of 117.74, while Nebraska's QB Zac Lee dropped from 16th to 30th nationally in pass efficiency (145.03) after the game in the rain at Missouri.  

Nebraska's running game took a bit of a blow this week with the injury to top back-up, Rex Burkhead.  Just as he started to see more snaps and become a bigger part of the offense, he goes down with a broken foot and will be out for quite some time.  Starter Roy Helu Jr was favoring his shoulder late in the fourth quarter after his game clinching touchdown run, however, he is expected to be ready to go on Saturday.  He's the workhorse for the Huskers, so his health is very important to the success of the offense.  As long as he is healthy, he's the best back in the Big XII conference this season.  The talk of the week is which of the young running backs will take over for Burkhead and assume the role of #2 back.  Coaches aren't saying who they are favoring at this point, so it's really anyone's guess as to who comes in to spell Helu on Saturday.
Texas Tech's rush defense has been pretty decent, but has yet to play against a good rushing attack.  Helu, by far, will be the best back they've seen this season.   Through six games, the Red Raiders are allowing their opponents to rush for 4 yards per carry (taking sacks out).  The one team that stands out is Houston, who does not run the ball very well (ranks 86th), but was able to put up 144 yards on the ground.  The front four, who's strength is pass rushing, have been good at times against the run, but not consistent.  The linebackers are solid, but like the line, just not consistent in filling run lanes and making tackles on first contact.  Last week against Kansas State, the Wildcats rushed for over 6 yards per carry on 24 attempts (147 yds) when you take sacks out of the equation.  

Focusing on third downs and red zone play, Nebraska is converting a solid 47.06% of their third downs (22nd nationally), and scoring on an excellent 95% of red-zone opportunities (14 TDs, 5 FGs) (7th nationally).  Nebraska performed at their season average of 47.06% on third downs last week against Missouri (8 for 17).  The Red Raiders' defense is allowing their opponents to convert a fairly high 38.95% of their third downs (68th nationally), and have allowed those opponents to score on 78% of their red-zone chances (11 TDs, 3 FGs) (40th nationally).  Texas Tech held Kansas State to a 25% (3 for 12) 3rd down conversion rate last week.

Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Texas Tech's average defensive lineman is 6'2", 267 lbs.  On the season, Nebraska has averaged 5.4 yards per carry while Texas Tech is giving up 4.1 yards per carry.  Nebraska has allowed 4 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in five games this year, while Texas Tech has picked up 18 sacks and 45 tackles for loss in six games this season.  Nebraska's offensive line cannot continue to commit the large amount of costly penalties, or it will continue to cost them scoring drives, not what you want especially in tight games.  There's a lot of good talent for the Huskers, but they need to play disciplined, consistent football.  The Red Raiders' d-line has had their own issues with consistency this season.  They've been pretty hit or miss the past month or so of the season.  Nebraska was able to play very well up-front against Texas Tech last year, helping to speed up the game by chewing up the clock throughout the game.  If the Huskers choose to employ that same strategy this year, the offensive line will have to be better.  


Texas Tech's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

Texas Tech's "Air Raid" passing attack continues to run like a fine oiled machine no matter who is plugged in at QB.  Taylor Potts put up gaudy numbers against the likes of North Dakota, Rice, and Texas; while Steven Sheffield has come in put up gaudy numbers against New Mexico and Kansas State.  None of those defenses are anything to get hung up about, but the fact is that these quarterbacks are very good in this offense, a credit to head coach Mike Leach.  Last week against Kansas State, Sheffield threw for 490 yards and 7 touchdowns on 41 passes.  Although most of the passes are quick timed routes, when he does throw deep, his athletic ability, superior to Potts', allowed him to scramble and let someone shake coverage.  He has spread the ball around very well, but a lot of times locks on to one receiver from the start of a play.  He has yet to start a game on the road, however, and that will be something to watch on Saturday, assuming he gets the start.  Leach will not name a starter until game time, but you would think he'll go with the hot hand in Sheffield.  In addition to being his first road game, his opponent, Nebraska, is many notches above that of Kansas State and New Mexico defensively.  Playing in three games, Sheffield is completing 75.7% of his passes, while Potts, who played in five games, is completing 67.7% of his throws.  On the other side of the football, Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 47.5% of their passes this season.   
Texas Tech's receiving corps doesn't have the number of game-breaking speedsters that they possessed a year ago, but it is still a very good, very deep group.    14 different receivers have caught passes this season, and 10 of those 14 have caught at least 10 passes this season.  Texas Tech runs many quick outs, which are difficult to defend when timed correctly.  One thing to keep an eye on is how the Tech receivers hold on to the football after a catch.  Many times, especially last week against KSU, they appeared very loose with the ball, susceptible to fumbling.  It wasn't a problem last week, but could be at some point soon.  While this is a very sound group of receivers, they all looked like All-Americans against the abysmal defenses of New Mexico and Kansas State the past two games.  They exploited their poor coverage by finding plenty of open space at the 2nd level and beyond.  WR's Tramain Swindall, Alex Torres, Detron Lewis, Edward Britton, and Lyle Leong Jr have all been impressive through the first half of the Red Raiders' season.  They'll run a lot of quick slants, as well as an occasional WR slip screen that usually produces nice gains.   
Nebraska's pass defense has been pretty solid this season, and faced their first great passing attack last week in Missouri.  Unfortunately, the rain impacted how the game was played on both sides of the ball by both teams.  Nebraska's defense had two interceptions against the Tigers' QB Blaine Gabbert, but dropped four more easy ones because of the slippery ball.  The Huskers were able to get pressure on the Missouri QB often, and that disrupted what he wanted to accomplish.  While Texas Tech runs a spread attack, it's not the same as the Tigers' offense.  The distance the offensive line is split apart, and the fact that Red Raiders' QB doesn't hold onto the ball nearly as long as Missouri's are just two simple ways in which they differ.  Still, Nebraska will likely run plenty of nickel and dime defenses, and with the way some of the younger defensive backs stepped up against Missouri, they have to be pretty confident right now.  Tech's passing game will be the best Nebraska sees this season, so this will be a great test for both sides.  One thing that will help Nebraska's back seven is if they can get the same amount of pressure from the front four that they got against Missouri.  If they can't get pressure from the front four, Sheffield (or Potts) should have a typical Tech day through the air.  In pass coverage, the Huskers' secondary ranks 3rd nationally, allowing a rating of just 86.48, while Texas Tech QB's as a unit rank 11th nationally in pass efficiency (161.27).  

The Red Raiders rushing game has taken a backseat to the pass this season, somewhat of a surprise after they rushed for over 1400 yards last season.  In some game they just haven't really tried to run the ball, other than as an occasional change of pace.  Their only two successful games on the ground this year were against Houston (163 yds) and last week against Kansas State (185 yds).  Nice numbers, but when you consider that Houston is 116th nationally against the run and Kansas State, who is in total disarray this season, it becomes less impressive.  RB's Baron Batch, Harrison Jeffers, and Eric Stephens all have the tools to be solid backs, but if the offensive line isn't getting a good push up-front, those skills don't do you much good.    
Nebraska's rush defense will present a lot of challenges for the Red Raider offense.  In Tech's only other game against a good defense, at Texas, they were stifled to the tune of -6 yards on 18 rushes.  The Huskers' defense contained Virginia Tech's explosive rushing attack as well or better than Alabama's vaunted defense did this season.  The Huskers also kept their three Sun Belt opponents in check.  They get a great push up-front and the linebackers have been doing their job filling lanes as well.  Since Nebraska brought veteran LB Phillip Dillard back into starting line-up two games ago, the defense has been even stingier.  The Red Raiders believe that after blasting through the hapless KSU defense that things are on the upswing for the ground game.  We'll find out on Saturday if that is indeed the case.

Looking at how these teams perform on third downs and red-zone opportunities, Texas Tech has converted a solid 43.08% of their third downs (37th nationally), with a mediocre 83% red-zone scoring average (23 TDs, 2 FGs) (57th nationally).  The Red Raiders were an excellent 62.5% (5 for 8) on 3rd downs last week against Kansas State, also scoring on all 6 red zone opportunities.  Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 33.77% of their 3rd down attempts (31st nationally), and has allowed a solid 75% red-zone scoring percentage (4 TDs, 2 FGs) (29th nationally) this season.  

Up front, Texas Tech's average offensive lineman is 6'6", 316 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'4.5", 279 lbs.  On the season, Texas Tech is averaging 5.2 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Nebraska is giving up just 3.7 yards per carry.  The Red Raiders have allowed 33 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in their six games, while the Huskers have picked up 36 tackles for loss and 12 sacks in their five games.  Texas Tech uses larger splits between each lineman, which allows for a couple of advantages.  One advantage the wide splits give you is that against good edge rushers, the tackles can try to push them to the outside, which is much further length to run around than against traditional line splits.  A second advantage of the splits is that it opens large passing lanes for the Tech QB.  While Nebraska's All-American NT Ndamukong Suh has dominated everyone he's come up against this season, he might have some issues with these wide splits and quick outs Tech uses.  While Tech has Brandon Carter back and clicking, it's unclear if he will play at tackle or guard on Saturday.  If he plays guard, look for him to be matched-up with Suh.  That could be a great battle to watch.  Tech QB Steven Sheffield hasn't had to deal with a consistent pass rush yet, especially on the road.  The offensive line must be very good on Saturday.



Position Advantages:
Position/Advantage
QBs: Texas Tech ++
RBs: Nebraska ++
WR/TE's: Texas Tech ++
OL: Nebraska +
DL: Nebraska +++
LB: Even
DB: Nebraska +
Special Teams: Nebraska +
Coaching: Even
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large



Injury Report

Nebraska:
RB - Roy Helu Jr - Shoulder - Probable
RB - Rex Burkhead - Foot - Out Indefinitely
FS - Rickey Thenarse - Knee - Out Indefinitely
CB - Jase Dean - Knee - Out for Season
QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season

Texas Tech:
C - Shawn Byrnes - Leg - Questionable
LB - Cody Davis - Leg - Questionable
QB Taylor Potts - Concussion - Questionable
DB - Nathan Stone - Neck - Out Indefinitely


Keys to the Game

Nebraska:
1.) Throw Off the Timing of Texas Tech's Passing Game - Through pressure on the QB, jamming receivers at the LOS, etc., this has to be down to slow down the Red Raider Aerial Assault.
2.) Balanced Offense - This starts in the trenches.  A consistent running game is needed to take some pressure off QB Zac Lee, which should help his performance.  A solid run game will also keep the Texas Tech offense on the sidelines.
3.) Cut Down on Penalties - Far too many penalties being called for this point in the season.  They're killing drives and taking away scoring chances.

Texas Tech:
1.) Find a Running Game - Nebraska's defense is too good to be one-dimensional against.  Everyone knows the Red Raiders can throw the ball, but Batch and company need opportunities to keep the Huskers honest.
2.) Cut Down on Penalties - The Red Raiders are the most penalized team in the nation, averaging over 10 penalties per game and over 90 yards in penalties per game.  This is far too much, especially on the road.
3.) Find a Way to Neutralize the Nebraska Front Four - Led by Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska's d-line is going to be a challenge to keep from making a big impact in the game.  The offensive line must be able to hold their own against the Husker front, or it is going to be a tough day.



Final Outlook

Saturday marks the 11th all-time meeting between Nebraska and Texas Tech.  Nebraska leads the series 7-3 since first meeting in 1976.  Even though Nebraska leads the all-time number, recent history has proved the Red Raiders to be the better team.  Texas Tech has won 3 in a row, in games from 2004, 2005, and 2008.  Last year, in Lubbock, TX, Nebraska employed a ball control offense, getting over 40 minutes of possession.  This strategy worked to the Huskers' advantage, as they pushed the game to overtime tied at 31.  In the first overtime period, Texas Tech scored a touchdown, but the PAT failed, giving Nebraska a golden opportunity to get a victory.  But on 2nd down from the 25, then-QB Joe Ganz rolled out and threw an interception, sealing the win for Texas Tech.  The last game played in Lincoln, NE (2005) was no less heartbreaking for Nebraska.  In the 4th quarter, Nebraska led 31-27.  With 1:18 left in the game, Texas Tech's then-QB Cody Hodges was picked off by Nebraska's then-DT LeKevin Smith on the Nebraska 12 yard line.  Smith decided to return the pick, making it to the 19 before he fumbled back to the Red Raiders.  Texas Tech would score with 12 seconds remaining to beat the Huskers 34-31.

There are plenty of interesting storylines attached to Saturday's game.  For Texas Tech, they have yet to win a road game this season, falling to their only quality opponents, Texas and Houston.  The Red Raiders have not won an away game since October 25th of last season, a 63-21 win over the Kansas Jayhawks.  Another concern going into the game for Tech is if QB Steven Sheffield is the real deal, or if his numbers have just been inflated due to extremely soft competition from New Mexico and Kansas State.  He'll have to perform well on the road in a tough place to play, Nebraska's Memorial Stadium.  And if Sheffield struggles, does Potts get a chance to play?  And finally, we should find out if the successful running game seen against Kansas State last week was purely a product of playing against a poor defense, or if the Red Raiders have found the right line-up on the offensive line.

Nebraska's questions needing quick answers start with the QB position.  Zac Lee looked great in the 3-game Sun Belt series the Huskers played this year, but in road games against Virginia Tech and Missouri, he did not resemble the QB everyone saw in the Huskers' home games.  Lee may deserve a pass for his game against Missouri last week, due to the tremendous rainfall.  Nothing about his performance was crisp in that game, and considering his counterpart didn't do much in the rain either, it might be able to be written off.  All of that hinges on how well he performs on Saturday.  Lee needs to prove the naysayers wrong by bouncing back strongly against a pretty decent Texas Tech secondary.  He's supposed to have the tools, and he needs to bring them out this weekend.  Another question is whether or not that flurry of fourth quarter touchdowns against Missouri last week will springboard Nebraska's offense into better performances as they move forward.

It will be interesting to see if Nebraska decides to run a similar offensive gameplan to the one they performed last season against Texas Tech, emphasizing ball control and limiting the Red Raiders' offensive touches.  Nebraska's defense is much better than it was a year ago, so a strategy such as that may not be necessary to help that side of the ball out.  Another area to watch is if Texas Tech stacks the box, attempting to stop Nebraska's run game, while daring Husker QB Zac Lee to beat them with his arm.  He hasn't been very consistent and that might be a good plan of attack.  

Texas Tech will want to start quick and score early, but that is something Nebraska's defense has not allowed all season long, giving up just 7 first quarter points this year.  Even that score had to be set up by a kickoff return of over 70 yards against Virginia Tech.  The Red Raiders will have offensive success through the passing game, and should put up a few scores against the stingy Nebraska defense.  The Huskers, back in the confines of home at Memorial Stadium should bounce back from their mediocre game in the rain last week by riding RB Roy Helu Jr and getting a few big plays out of the passing game to get a huge Big XII conference win.  Nebraska by 7-14.

Texas Tech - 21
Nebraska - 31

 


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