Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Baylor Bears
--by Vince Campisi
October 31st, 2009
11:30 AM CT
Floyd Casey Stadium
Television Coverage: Versus
NEBRASKA (4 - 3) (1 - 2)
BAYLOR (3 - 4) (0 - 3)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Baylor
Opening: Nebraska by 12.5.
Current: Nebraska by 13.
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 - L 10-31
10/24/09 - vs. Iowa State - L 7-9
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
09/05/09 - at. Wake Forest - W 24-21
09/19/09 - vs. Connecticut - L 22-30
09/26/09 - vs. Northwestern State - W 68-13
10/03/09 - vs. Kent State - W 31-15
10/08/09 - at. Oklahoma - L 7-33
10/17/09 - at. Iowa State - L 10-24
10/24/09 - vs. Oklahoma State - L 7-34
10/31/09 - vs. Nebraska
11/07/09 - at. Missouri
11/14/09 - vs. Texas
11/21/09 - at. Texas A&M
11/28/09 - vs. Texas Tech
Nebraska's offense is struggling at an alarming rate. The unit has looked inept in every game they've played this season involving BCS conference opponents. Last week against Iowa State, they had success moving the ball, but turned the ball over an incredible 8 times, 4 of which were inside the ISU 5-yard line. Up until last week, Nebraska had turned the ball over just 7 times total in 6 games. The Huskers currently rank 58th nationally in total offense (381.43 ypg), 42nd in passing (235.14 ypg), 56th in pass efficiency (130.85 rating), 61st in rushing (146.29 ypg), 48th in scoring offense (28.71 ppg), 51st in interceptions thrown (7), 81st in fumbles lost (8), and 76th in giveaways (15).
QB: Jr. Zac Lee (118 for 197, 1461 yds, 10 TDs, 6 INTs) looked great against Nebraska's Sun Belt opposition this year, but has yet to have an above average performance against a BCS conference team. He went 11 for 30 (37%) and threw 2 interceptions against Virginia Tech, was 14 of 33 (42%) at Missouri, was abysmal against Texas Tech (16 for 22, 128 yds, 4 sacks), and threw 3 interceptions against Iowa State last week. He seems very hesitant to throw downfield, instead choosing to check down to much shorter routes. He doesn't have great pocket presence, and when pressured chooses to run to the perimeter instead of stepping up into the pocket. This has been an issue because he just isn't great throwing on the run. When Lee has been "on", he's shown great arm strength and accuracy. The question is whether or not he can turn it on against a school that isn't part of the Sun Belt Conference. He has pretty decent foot speed, but hasn't been running the ball much lately. He has rushed for 73 yards on 43 attempts (has lost 55 yards on sacks). Behind Lee are TFr. Cody Green (19 for 33, 185 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT) 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. He saw a lot of action two weeks ago in the loss to Texas Tech and showed a willingness to take chances downfield, unlike Lee. He was expected to see some snaps last week against Iowa State, but did not. He has carried the ball 8 times for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns (lost 6 yards on sacks). Once again, it will be a game time decision as to who the starter will be, but it is likely that Lee will start.
RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (112 carries, 644 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 is being bothered by an injured shoulder and hasn't been 100% for at least a few weeks. He carried the ball just 5 times last week and fumbled twice, due to his injured shoulder. He is still likely to start on Saturday. The top back-up to Helu Jr. was 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 a few weeks ago and could miss the remainder of the season. A #2 back needs to emerge from the group of TFr. Dontrayevous Robinson (15 carries, 77 yds, 1 TD), So. Marcus Mendoza (4 carries, 10 yds), So. Austin Jones (4 carries, 11 yds), RFr. Lester Ward (1 carry, 8 yds), and RFr. Collins Okafor (1 rush, 9 yds). Robinson might have separated himself from the pack, but needs to take better care of the football after fumbling at the ISU 4 last weekend. Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, with Helu Jr. (15 catches, 131 yds), Burkhead (8 catches, 66 yds, 1 TD), Mendoza (6 catches, 40 yds), and Jones (1 catch, 2 yds) each catching passes on this season. At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate (2 catches, 14 yds, 1 TD) is the top guy and but doesn't see much time on the field.
WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving corps needs to be more consistent if they want this offense to be successful. There are still too many instances of dropped passes and lackadaisical play at this point in the season. Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (23 catches, 359 yds, 3 TDs). He has a great combination of size, quickness, and route running skills. He is very inconsistent, however, as it seems for every great catch he makes, he'll drop just as many easy ones. Starting at "X" this week will be RFr. Khiry Cooper (6 catches, 55 yds, 1 TD). He's probably got the most up-side of Nebraska's receivers, and after sitting out with injury last week is expected to be thrust into a starting role. Sr. Menelik Holt (15 catches, 175 yds, 1 TD), who has great size as well as speed has been demoted in favor of Cooper this week. A lot of this has to do with his frequent dropped passes, poor blocking, and a costly fumble last week. Reserves include So. Curenski Gilleylen (16 catches, 299 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (13 catches, 177 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Brandon Kinnie (4 catches, 32 yds), TFr. Antonio Bell (1 catch, 3 yds), Jr. Will Henry (1 catch, 1 yd), Sr. Wes Cammack (1 catch, 2 yds). Gilleylen is a speedster that developed into Nebraska most dangerous deep threat, but may have also been demoted this week after continuing to drop passes this year. Brooks turned into a solid possession receiver this year, appearing to have the best hands of the entire group, but is injured and will not play this week. Kinnie has great measurables, but can't seem to hold onto the football. Henry is a big body (6'5") but hasn't made an impact in his career. RFr. Steven Osborne and RFr. Tim Marlowe got more work in practice this week and could see themselves on the field Saturday as Nebraska looks for players that won't drop as many balls. Nebraska's top TE is Jr. Mike McNeill (16 catches, 182 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 (4 catches, 30 yds) competing behind McNeill. McNeill does a nice job of picking up yards after catch, as well as getting open in the endzone. This is a deep and talented group of tight ends, which are a big strength for the Huskers' offense, however, haven't been seeing many passes come their way as of late.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line still has a long way to go in terms of being a good unit. The group is far too inconsistent at this stage in the year. At times, the front 5 looks capable of being very good, but most 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 has had his share of issues as well this year. Jones is the largest of the linemen, and has great potential to be a rock on the right side. He's young and has made a number of mistakes, however. 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. doesn't have great torque in the hips and gets beat often by athletic linemen. 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 has caused a few personal foul flags this year. 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. Hickman was injured last week and Caputo performed well in his absence. He isn't a prototypically sized center, but he has very good technique and leverage.
Nebraska's defense has been very good this season, much better than they have performed in years. They have been keeping their team in games while the offense has been sputtering. The one thing they really need to work on, however, is creative turnovers, which has been severely lacking. The Huskers are currently ranked 8th nationally in total defense (266.43 ypg), 13th in pass defense (164.14 ypg), 11th in pass efficiency defense (97.33 rating), 22nd in rush defense (102.29 ypg), 5th in scoring defense (11.43 ppg), 73rd in interceptions (5), 80th in fumbles recovered (5), and 92nd in total takeaways (10).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line is one of the best in the nation. They're big, strong, athletic, and just make plays. Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (28 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (25 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 7 QBH, 2 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 (12 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. He should be getting a lot of action on the right side, with Allen nursing an injury. Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Ndamukong Suh (44 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 12 QBH, 7 PBU, 2 BK), 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. So. Jared Crick (36 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 FR, 10 QBH, 1 BLK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler (14 tackles) providing back-up. Crick has really turned into a big time d-tackle this season, making opponents think twice about always doubling up on Suh.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is young and has seemed to really gel over the past month. With two of the three starters being redshirt-freshmen, they should continue getting better each week. Starting at weakside linebacker is Sr. Phillip Dillard (35 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 that has been invaluable. He has arguably been the best player on the defense other than Suh. Behind Dillard is So. Matthew May (8 tackles). May has not seen much action this season. Starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Will Compton (31 tackles, 0.5 sack, 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 (29 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, and kept up a pretty high level of play no matter the competition. Other than a couple of big plays given up, they have done a nice job in coverage and making solid tackles. Jr. Prince Amukamara (37 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 4 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (17 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 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 has looked very good when on the field. Jr. Anthony West (7 tackles, 1 PBU) has typically started at RCB, but looks to have been replaced by So. Alfonzo Dennard (15 tackles, 4 PBU). So. Lance Thorell (5 tackles, 1 PBU) is another reserve at corner that occasionally sees time. West has been average, and needs to play more with his head on a swivel. Dennard, whom got the start the last two weeks, has looked very good. He makes plays on the football and is a solid tackler. At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (35 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 5 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (19 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 2 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 (32 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU) 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 is usually a dependable tackler and blitzes well. Behind O'Hanlon is Hagg, So. Austin Cassidy (5 tackles, 1 PBU), and RFr. Courtney Osborne (1 tackle).
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units, like the Husker offense, have been inconsistent this year. They have some of the best kickers in the nation, but the return and coverage units aren't always upper tier performers. The Huskers rank 88th in net punting (34.16 yd avg), 57th in kickoff returns (22.17 yd avg), 51st in punt returns (9.77 yd avg), 43rd in kickoff coverage (20.29 yd avg), and 57th in punt coverage (8.46 yd avg).
K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation. He has made 9 of his 11 attempts this season, with a long of 46. He's made 22 straight kicks from under 50 yards, but has missed both attempts from 50+ this season. Jr. Adi Kunalic has a booming leg and is arguably the best kickoff specialist in the nation. Kunalic has pushed 18 of 42 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 68.5 yard average, kicking to the 1 to 2 yard line.
P: Jr. Alex Henery has averaged 40 yards on his 31 punts with a long of 76 this season. 14 of his 31 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20 so far this year. He added punting duties to his repertoire this season, and has been somewhat inconsistent when required to punt for length. When directional punting, or attempting to get the ball to down inside the 10, he's been outstanding.
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (10 kick returns, 24.8 yd avg, 33 yd long), and RFr. Tim Marlowe (4 kick returns, 21.8 yd avg, 30 yd long). At punt returner is Jr. Niles Paul (21 punt returns, 8.8 yd avg, 55 yd long). These units have been great at times, but have been pretty average the past three games.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been pretty good this season, but have had occasional tackling problems. They seem to allow one good sized kick return each week. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 20.3 yards on 24 kickoff returns (76 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 8.5 yards on 13 punt returns (27 yd long).
Baylor's offense has struggled to produce much since the season-ending injury to top QB Robert Griffin a few games ago. The Bears are currently ranked 75th nationally in total offense (355.57 ypg), 53rd in passing (223.71 ypg), 73rd in passing efficiency (124.67 rating), 77th in rushing (131.86 ypg), 83rd in scoring offense (24.14 ppg), 51st in interceptions thrown (7), 32nd in fumbles lost (5), and 39th in giveaways (12).
QB: The Bears' quarterback situation took a turn just a few games into the season as So. Robert Griffin (45 of 69, 481 yds, 4 TDs) went down with a season ending ACL injury. The good news is that he's eligible for a medical red-shirt. The bad news is that there isn't another QB that has anything near the skill set that Griffin possesses. TFr. Nick Florence (65 of 109, 720 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) got the start last week and should get the start again this Saturday. He's very young and inexperienced, and without a running game will struggle greatly in every game. Last week against Oklahoma State, he showed a decent arm, he tended to push his throws and was off the mark on a number of passes, often throwing just a bit too high for the receiver. Typical for a young QB, he stares down his first choice and throws into coverage. He is also susceptible to mistakes, as he threw a blind pass under pressure that was picked off last week. He does have decent wheels, and while he won't out run defenders like Griffin, he is still able to pick up some yards with his legs. On the season, he has rushed for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries. Behind Florence is Sr. Blake Szymanski (30 of 49, 329 yds, 1 TD, 4 INTs). Szymanski doesn't have the foot speed to run the zone-read as effectively as Florence does, but he does have a slightly better arm. He injured his shoulder earlier in the season and has struggled since the injury. He can in the game last week to spell Florence and try to provide the offense with a spark, however, he ended up taking a sack and landing on his injured shoulder, re-aggravating it.
RB: The Bears' running game might be ranked 9th in the Big XII right now, averaging 131.9 yards per game, but that stat doesn't tell the whole story. Most of those yards were gained early in the season when QB Robert Griffin was healthy and the offense was clicking. In three games against Big XII competition, the Bears are averaging just 43 yards per game, and 2.4 yards per carry. Starting at RB for the Bears should be Jr. Jay Finley (34 carries, 242 yds, 1 TD), who has missed 3 of the last 4 games with injury and carried just 10 times for 31 yards in his first game back. Finley looked decent, but there was absolutely nowhere to run against Oklahoma State last week. He's a pretty versatile runner when healthy, possessing both good power and speed capable of breaking off big runs. Behind Finley are RFr. Jarred Salubi (40 carries, 247 yds, 2 TDs) and So. Terrance Ganaway (32 carries, 124 yds, 3 TDs). Salubi is a former Texas High School sprinting champion and possesses great speed when in the open field. Ganaway presents more of a power game to the offense. The backs are thrown to a few times during the game, with Salubi (15 catches, 139 yds) Finley (2 catches, 10 yds), and Ganaway (1 catch 13 yds) all catching passes this season. Salubi has looked very good catching balls out of the backfield this year, and had 3 catches last week for 27 yards.
WR/TE: The Bears' receiving corps has some very good athletes in the group that have plenty of speed. The injuries and inexperience at QB has hurt their production. Had Robert Griffin stayed healthy, this group could be putting up much better numbers. Starting at the receiver positions are Sr. David Gettis (24 catches, 302 yds, 3 TDs) and RFr. Lanear Sampson (15 catches, 130 yds, 1 TD) out wide, with So. Kendall Wright (36 catches, 399 yds, 2 TDs) on the inside. Gettis is probably the best of the group, thanks to his 6'4" frame and track speed to go with it. He's a tough match-up for opponents and has nice leaping ability. He caught a jump ball in the endzone last week for the team's only score. Sampson is also a quality receiver, has good foot speed and had a quick screen last week that netted nice yards. Wright has great speed and leads the team in receiving yards and catches this season. He has the ability to become an all-conference player in the coming years. One thing he needs to work on is that he carries the ball nonchalantly, being susceptible to fumbling. Top reserves for the Bears include Sr. Ernest Smith (24 catches, 259 yds), TFr. Willie Jefferson (3 catches, 76 yds), RFr. Terrance Williams (1 catch, 40 yds), and Jr. Krys Buerck. Smith is occasionally in the starting line-up when the Bears go with 2 inside receivers, and he usually gets most of his yards after the catch. At tight end is Sr. Justin Akers (13 catches, 117 yds, 1 TD), with Jr. Brad Taylor (7 catches, 78 yds) backing him up. Akers is a good sized tight end (6'5", 255lbs), and is averaging about 2 catches a game. He was a big part of the offense last week, though, as he caught 5 balls for 62 yards.
OL: Baylor's offensive line has been getting pushed around by Big XII defensive lines. There have been problems in both run blocking and pass protection. Starting at tackle is Jr. Danny Watkins (6'4", 310 lbs) on the left and So. Philip Blake (6'3", 275 lbs) on the right. Both have struggled to replace the excellent tackles from a season ago (Jason Smith and Dan Gay), and need to step up their level of play. Watkins appeared to especially struggle last week, getting beaten on the edge often. The top reserves at tackle are Jr. Chris Griesenbeck (6'6", 275 lbs) and So. Joe Korbel (6'6", 265 lbs). Starting at guard is TFr. Ivory Wade (6'5", 315 lbs) on the left and Sr. James Barnard (6'4", 300 lbs) on the right. Wade shot up the depth chart this season, earning his first start two weeks ago at Iowa State. He's still going to have growing pains, as offensive line is very difficult for a freshman to come in and make an impact. Last week he didn't appear to be quick enough to stop better defensive linemen, which is going to come into play this week. Barnard has been serviceable, but not a stand-out at guard this year. Top back-ups at guard are RFr. Cameron Kaufhold (6'4", 295 lbs) and So. John Jones (6'4", 300 lbs). Both Kaufhold and Jones have started at left guard this year, but Wade has been given the nod the past few games. At center is Sr. J.D. Walton (6'3", 305 lbs), with RFr. Jake Jackson (6'3", 290 lbs) backing him up. Walton is a multi-year starter and is the best of the bunch. He is pretty consistent in his blocks, and is strong up-front. He could use some help from his fellow linesmen, which would also make him look better.
Baylor's defense is one of the most underwhelming squads in the Big XII. They've had trouble stopping most of their opponents this season. The Bears currently rank 91st nationally in total defense (401.14 ypg), 63rd in pass defense (216.71 ypg), 43rd in pass efficiency defense (118.82 rating), 100th in rush defense (184.43 ypg), 66th in scoring defense (24.29 ppg), 41st in interceptions forced (8), 97th in fumbles recovered (4), and 71st in total takeaways (12).
DL: The Bears' defensive line has been having much difficulty stopping the run this season. As a whole, the unit doesn't get a very good first step, and gets pushed around often. The lack of a consistent pass rush left Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson free to pick the defense apart last week. Starting at defensive end is Sr. Jason Lamb (19 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 2 PBU, 2 BK) on the left and So. Tracy Robertson (13 tackles, 1 FR, 3 QBH) on the right. Lamb has been the most productive of the linemen this season, playing both at end and tackle. He's started the past two games at DT, replacing Phil Taylor due to a turf toe. He should return to end this week. Robertson has not been much of a force this season, despite being expected to be tough against the run this year. Top reserves on the ends are Jr. Jameon Hardeman (9 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH) and So. Zac Scotton (13 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH). Scotton has started the past two weeks in place of Lamb, with Lamb playing at DT, and he has been serviceable. Starting at defensive tackle is Jr. Phil Taylor (15 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 INT, 3 QBH, 2 BK), with RFr. Kaeron Johnson (3 tackles) backing him up. Taylor is a Penn State transfer that was expected to make a big impact for the defense this year, but instead has been a disappointment. A turf toe injury has also helped to slow him down. Starting at nose tackle is Sr. Trey Bryant (20 tackles, 1 sack, 3 QBH), with So. Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (13 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH) serving as his back-up. Bryant has been pretty good this year, but not consistently, and was pretty much neutralized last week against Oklahoma State.
LB: Baylor's linebacking corps is the strongest group on the defense. This group makes a majority of the plays for the defense, as most opposing running backs typically make it to the second level and beyond. Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Joe Pawelek (66 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 QBH, 2 PBU), with Jr. Earl Patin (20 tackles, 1 FF) backing him up. Pawelek is the best of the group, and is the top career tackler nationally among active players. He isn't an elite athlete, but he gets to the ball, doesn't miss many tackles, and is just a hard working, hard-nosed player. He hasn't had the season he was hoping for, however, as he had 6 interceptions a season ago, but just 1 this year. Patin is a very tough and talented linebacker that sees plenty of action as well. At weakside linebacker or "Fritz" as it is referred to by the Bears, is Jr. Antonio Johnson (53 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PBU), while So. Elliot Coffey (26 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF) backs him up. Johnson has good speed, hits like a safety, but has struggled against the pass this year. Coffey comes in often and has looked pretty good, and is a very effective as a blitzing linebacker. Sr. Antonio Jones (57 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 QBH) starts at strongside linebacker, with Jr. Chris Francis (23 tackles) providing back-up. Jones has the best mix of size and athleticism in the group, and like Johnson, is better in run support than pass coverage.
DB: The Bears' defensive backfield has some good athletes in the unit, and overall, ranks in the top half of the Big XII in both yardage given up (4th) and efficiency defense (5th). They struggled greatly last week, however, as Oklahoma State picked up 250 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. Starting at cornerback is Jr. Tim Atchison (20 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU) at left corner and Jr. Clifton Odom (26 tackles, 1 FF, 4 PBU) on the right. Atchison and Odom have been giving large cushions to their opposing receivers, keeping things in front of them. Oklahoma State took advantage and took a lot of medium routes at the perimeter for nice gains. Atchison has a broken hand, but has been playing through it with a cast on the affected hand. Odom has been starting since the injury to Antareis Bryan early in the year. Players in the reserve rotation include TFr. Chance Casey (23 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) and So. Romie Blaylock (4 tackles, 1 PBU). Casey sees a lot of action behind Odom and also serves as the Bears' nickel back. He was not great in coverage last week, but wrapped up on the ball carrier well. Starting at strong safety is Sr. Jeremy Williams (33 tackles, 1 QBH), with Jr. Byron Landor (23 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH) providing back-up. Williams isn't terribly fast, and has been burned a couple of times this season. Landor started one game this season, and is a taller version of Williams, with a bit more speed. At free safety is Sr. Jordan Lake (54 tackles, 1 FF), while TFr. Mike Hicks (12 tackles) backs him up. Lake is the star of the secondary and one of the Big XII's better safeties. He sticks to the ball carrier and doesn't miss tackles, also does a nice job in pass coverage. Hicks has shared time at nickel back this season with Casey.
Baylor Special Teams
Baylor's special teams units have been decent this season, except for struggles in the coverage game. The Bears currently rank 51st in net punting (36.51 yd avg), 41st in kickoff returns (23.88 yd avg), 77h in punt returns (7.78 yd avg), 58th in kickoff coverage (21.10 yd avg), and 116th in punt coverage (15.43 yd avg).
K: So. Ben Parks has made 3 of his 6 field goal attempts with a long of 38 this season. He has been 0 for 2 beyond 38 yards this year, most recently missing a 41 yarder last week against Oklahoma State. Parks also works as the kickoff specialist, pushing just 2 of his 30 kickoffs for a touchback this season. He is averaging 61.6 yards per kickoff, kicking to between the 8 and 9 yard line.
P: Jr. Derek Epperson is averaging 46.1 yards on his 32 punts with a long of 56 this season. 7 of his 32 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. Epperson's 46.1 yard average is good enough to rank 3rd nationally.
KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Bears consists of Sr. David Gettis (3 kick returns, 25.3 yd avg, 40 yd long) and RFr. Terrance Williams (11 kick returns, 25.9 yd avg, 51 yd long). Williams looked pretty good last week, picking up a 44 yard kickoff return against Oklahoma State. The top punt return man is Jr. Krys Buerck (8 punt returns, 5.6 yd avg, 19 yd long).
Coverage: The Bears' kick and punt coverage units have not been very good this year, ranking among the bottom teams in the conference. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 21.1 yards on 30 kickoff return attempts, with a long of 47. The punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 15.4 yards on 14 punt return attempts, with a long of 56.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Baylor's Defense
Nebraska's offense continues to be stuck in neutral. Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson tries to run a mix of spread, west coast offense, and incorporate a power running game, but his offense doesn't do any of these things all that well. The Husker offense moved the ball at a decent clip last week against Iowa State, but the 8 turnovers killed their chances to win the football game. The worst thing about those turnovers was that 4 of them occurred inside the ISU 5 yard line, essentially wiping 28 points off the board.
With Zac Lee quarterbacking the offense, Nebraska hasn't had much success against BCS conference foes. He is very indecisive and seems to have lost confidence in his arm, rarely testing defenses deep. But don't think that all of Nebraska's problems lie with Lee, because that isn't the case. His receivers aren't helping the cause any, considering they have been dropping passes that hit them right in the numbers all year long. Still, many of Lee's passes are off the mark, and he needs to improve his play before he gets unseated by true freshman Cody Green. The decision as to who will start at QB is not going to be known until gametime. Lee is likely to start again though, but unlike last week, Green should see some playing time. The QB position for Nebraska needs to get solidified if they want to turn the season around and go bowling. The Bears' defense has allowed their opponents to complete 62.1% of their passes this season, while Nebraska QB's Zac Lee and Cody Green have combined to complete 59.6% of their attempts on the year.
Nebraska's receiving corps is expected to be shaken-up on Saturday, with 2 of their top 3 receivers being demoted during the week of practice (Menelik Holt and Curenski Gilleylen). Niles Paul is supposed to retain his starting spot at "Z", though, despite his lackluster play. Last week, Paul has nothing but open field in front of him after catching a long pass, but while trying to keep his balance, the ball popped free from his grip and Iowa State recovered in the endzone for a touchback. There are few things more difficult to understand than an unforced fumble on a dry field. But with Holt and Gilleylen being demoted, it will give opportunities to younger receivers like Khiry Cooper to step in and try to make an impact. Someone needs to step up for the Husker offense, and Cooper might just be that guy. On a disappointing note for Nebraska, Chris Brooks, arguably their most consistent receiver this season, will again be out this week with a back injury.
Baylor's secondary played well in their first 3 games of the season, giving up an average of just 135 yards per game through the air while giving up just 2 touchdowns and earning 5 interceptions. Over the last 4 games, however, things haven't been as pretty. The Bears are giving up 278 yards per game through the air while allowing 6 total touchdowns. Injuries to Antareis Bryan and Mikail Baker have hurt the defensive backfield, thrusting inexperienced players into big roles. Against Oklahoma State last week, receivers were open on nearly every passing down, and the Cowboys took advantage of the big (7-10 yard) cushions the Baylor secondary was giving up on the perimeter. In pass coverage, Baylor's secondary ranks 43rd, allowing a rating of 118.82, while Nebraska's QB's rank 56th nationally in pass efficiency (130.85). Baylor's numbers have been slumping since that 4th game of the season against Kent State, and have not looked as good as the season stats may lead one to believe.
While Nebraska's passing game struggles, you would think they could rely on their running game to take some pressure off the QB. Unfortunately, starter Roy Helu Jr. has yet to fully recover from a shoulder injury he sustained against Missouri nearly a month ago, and the Huskers' top back-up Rex Burkhead suffered a broken foot a few weeks ago and he is out indefinitely. Helu has continued to start, despite his shoulder injury, but he is not the same dynamic back he was before the injury. While he should have been sitting the past few weeks, he has been suiting up, most likely because he is their best playmaker. Last week, he carried the ball just 5 times and fumbled on 2 of those carries, more than likely due to that shoulder. True freshman Dontrayevous Robinson stepped in nicely, though, and averaged over 5 yards per carry against the Cyclones last week. He was pulled, however, after fumbling on the ISU 5 while fighting for extra yards. Nebraska had a lot of success lining up in the I-formation and running Robinson last week, but went away from it after that fumble. Look for it to make a re-appearance on Saturday against a suspect Baylor run defense. Another thing to watch for is if/when QB Cody Green gets the call, how much better the running game looks, considering his considerable talents with his feet.
Baylor's rush defense has been mediocre this season, ranking last in the Big XII as they give up 184.4 yards per game on the ground. This is due to the front four being pushed around, forcing the linebackers to do almost all of the work. While the linebackers are a pretty solid group, led by Joe Pawelek, they aren't perfect. Last week, the Bears got slashed frequently right between the tackles time and time again by Oklahoma State's zone-read attack. The Cowboys picked up 206 yards on the ground (when taking sacks out) on 41 carries. This was nothing new as Iowa State picked up 240 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns the week prior. On the season, the Bears have allowed at least 1 rushing touchdown in every game.
Focusing on third downs and red zone play, Nebraska is converting a solid 44.79% of their third downs (31st nationally), and scoring on an average 76% of red-zone opportunities (16 TDs, 6 FGs) (95th nationally). The Huskers have been were 3 of 9 in the red zone over the past two weeks, which has caused their number to plummet from 95% to 76%. The Bears' defense is allowing their opponents to convert a very high 45.95% of their third downs (108th nationally), and have allowed those opponents to score on 81% of their red-zone chances (16 TDs, 9 FG) (52nd nationally). Baylor allowed Oklahoma State to score on all 5 red-zone opportunities last week (3 TDs, 2 FGs).
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Baylor's average defensive lineman is 6'4", 301 lbs. On the season, Nebraska has averaged 5.1 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Baylor is giving up 4.7 yards per carry (when taking sacks out). Nebraska has allowed 10 sacks and 36 tackles for loss in seven games this year, while Baylor has picked up 12 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in their seven games this season. Nebraska's offensive line played more disciplined football last week, not drawing a single false start or holding penalty. That, in itself is worth noting due to the incredible amount of drives that have stalled because of the offensive line's mistakes. Blocking still needs to be more consistent, though, both in rush blocking and pass protection. It was a good step forward last week against a pretty weak Iowa State team, but the improvements didn't make an impact on the scoreboard, thanks to a bevy of foolish turnovers by the Huskers. The Bears' d-line isn't any better than what the Huskers saw last week against Iowa State, and should find similar, if not more success on the ground this week. The Baylor front four has been pushed around often by opposing offensive fronts, and if Nebraska's offensive line plays better again this week, should be able to do the same. Still, Nebraska's offensive line must show more consistency play-to-play to get things done.
Baylor's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Baylor's offense runs a variation of the spread offense, although you will see the QB under center more than what is typical for this kind of offense. After the injury to starting QB Robert Griffin earlier in the year, the Bears' offense has really failed to find much success running or throwing the football. The Bears try to throw off opposing defenses by making late substitutions, often just a few seconds before the snap. This is designed to create match-up problems, but it hasn't really been an issue for their opponents the past few weeks.
With Griffin out for the year, Nick Florence and Blake Szymanski have been trying to fill the void with minimal success. Florence started the Oklahoma State game last week, his third of the season. He was fair, going 21 of 35 for 235 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Many of those yards came in the fourth quarter, however, when the score was 34-0 in favor of the Cowboys. Szymanski has struggled with a shoulder injury, which was re-aggravated last week. With this injury, it is going to definitely be Florence getting the start, and he will likely take all of the snaps. He's just a true freshman, and plays like one, staring down his receiver, and isn't terribly accurate. He should get better each week, though, as he gains experience. Playing in five games, Florence is completing 59.6% of his passes, while Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 51.2% of their passes this season.
With Baylor's receiving corps, the one thing they don't lack is speed. David Gettis is the best example of this, a receiver that stands at 6'4" yet has track worthy speed. He leads the team with a 12.6 yard per catch average this season and has caught 3 touchdown passes. Kendall Wright and Ernest Smith are two other receivers that are very fast and have good hands. Unfortunately, without Griffin at QB, their production probably isn't as high as it should be. The Bears rank 9th in the Big XII in passing offense (223.7 ypg), and are 11th in the Big XII in passing touchdowns (9).
Nebraska's pass defense is giving up the least amount of yards through the air in the Big XII this season (164.1 ypg), which is a huge improvement over last season for the Huskers (233.4 ypg in 2008). The secondary has improved even further after CB Alfonzo Dennard cracked the starting line-up a few weeks ago. This defensive backfield does a really nice job in coverage, however, they seem to be giving up one big play in each game. That's not a terrible thing, but when you lose games 9-7 like they did last week, that one play can cost you the game. The unit also needs to do a better job of forcing interceptions, as they did not force one in their last two games. In pass coverage, the Huskers' secondary ranks 11th nationally, allowing a rating of just 97.33, while Baylor's QB's rank 73rd nationally in pass efficiency (124.67).
Baylor has just not been able to get a strong rushing game going this season. It's another area where the injury to dual-threat QB Robert Griffin has hurt production. In addition to his injury hurting the team, starting RB Jay Finley has also been banged up this year with ankle and quadricep injuries. Last week was his first game back and rushed for just 31 yards on 10 carries. He's a pretty good back when he is healthy, however, without a good push up-front by the offensive line, there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Finley can be a playmaker for this offense, but he'll need to room to run. If he can't go 100%, you'll see Jarred Salubi and Terrance Ganaway, who combine for somewhat of a thunder and lightning duo. Salubi being the speedy runner and Ganaway bringing the power. QB Nick Florence might be able to run the zone-read effectively, but hasn't shown the ability against Big XII opposition.
Nebraska's rush defense is among the best around, ranking 22nd nationally. The Huskers' front four stifles the opponents' running game, as they have dominated most of the offensive lines they have come up against. As long as the Huskers continue to get a great push up-front, it makes the linebackers' job easier. LB Phillip Dillard has been tearing it up on the field this season, and had an excellent 12 stops last week against Iowa State. Linebacker play has also been much improved over a season ago for Nebraska, helping in both rush support and in pass coverage.
Looking at how these teams perform on third downs and red-zone opportunities, Baylor has converted a meager 34.83% of their third downs (90th nationally), with a 78% red-zone scoring average (12 TDs, 2 FGs) (86th nationally). The Bears were at a mediocre 38.5% (5 for 13) on 3rd downs last week against Oklahoma State, and had just 1 red-zone chance (scored a TD). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 33.94% of their 3rd down attempts (27th nationally), and has allowed a decent 83% red-zone scoring percentage (7 TDs, 3 FGs) (61st nationally) this season. Against Iowa State last week, the Huskers allowed the Cyclones to convert on just 27.7% of their 3rd downs (5 of 18) and did not allow the Cyclones to have a possession inside the red-zone during the game.
Up front, Baylor'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, Baylor is averaging 5.4 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Nebraska is giving up just 3.6 yards per carry (when taking sacks out). The Bears have allowed 34 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in their seven games, while the Huskers have picked up 54 tackles for loss and 18 sacks in their seven games. Baylor's offensive line has not been very impressive this season, and coupled with the injury troubles the Bears have had in the offensive backfield, it has caused a lack of production on the ground since the start of Big XII play. In fact, in the three Big XII games, the Bears have averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, which is taking sacks out of the equation. Baylor's line must get ready to step up this week, as they face the best defensive line they've seen since the Oklahoma game three weeks ago. That Sooner defensive line held the Bears to less than a yard per carry average. Nebraska's defensive line is led by their tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick, which are going to give Baylor's J.D. Walton, James Barnard, and Ivory Wade all kinds of problems to deal with. Suh is the best defensive lineman in the nation, and none of the Baylor linemen appear to be a very good match for him.
QBs: Nebraska +
RBs: Nebraska ++
WR/TE's: Baylor +
OL: Nebraska +
DL: Nebraska +++
DB: Nebraska +
Special Teams: Nebraska +
Coaching: Nebraska +
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large
C - Jacob Hickman - Foot - Probable
RB - Roy Helu Jr - Shoulder - Probable
WR - Chris Brooks - Back - Out for Game
RB - Rex Burkhead - Foot - Out Indefinitely
LB - Blake Lawrence - Concussions - Ended Career
FS - Rickey Thenarse - Knee - Out for Season
CB - Jase Dean - Knee - Out for Season
QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season
RB - Jay Finley - Quadricep - Probable
QB - Blake Szymanski - Shoulder - Questionable
DB - Mikail Baker - Knee - Out for Season
QB - Robert Griffin - Knee - Out for Season
CB - Antareis Bryan - Foot - Out Indefinitely
Keys to the Game
1.) Minimize Mistakes - Turnovers, penalties, missed assignments, all of it. An incredible 8 turnovers last week gave Iowa State a game they shouldn't have won. Penalties were down to 3 last week, down from a season average near 10. It needs to be like that again this week.
2.) Someone Needs to Step Up - With all of the dropped passes, off-the-mark throws, and fumbles, the Husker offense needs a consistent playmaker to emerge immediately. Someone that can put the offense on his back and carry them to victory. With Helu still not 100%, it's even more important for someone to take their game to the next level.
3.) Force Some Turnovers - Get after the young Baylor QB Nick Florence and get some interceptions, rip the ball out of a ball carrier's hand and get a fumble. Far too long of a drought without a turnover considering how good this Nebraska defense is.
1.) Create Turnovers - Nebraska gave away 8 to Iowa State last week. Make them perform an encore by ripping at the football, just like the Cyclones did to them. It could pay dividends by giving the struggling offense some shorter fields to work with.
2.) Get A Run Game Going - Finley should be as healthy as he's been in a while, so he offensive line needs to step up and give him some room to run. It's a tall task against a great Nebraska defensive front, but you just can't be one-dimensional with a true freshman at quarterback. He needs help.
3.) Get an Early Score - Instill some confidence into the team by putting up some points early on. Far too much in recent games the opponent has been getting leads and able to hold onto them without much resistance.
Saturday marks the 12th all-time meeting between Nebraska and Baylor. Nebraska leads the series (10-1-0), and holds a perfect (7-0-0) record over the Bears since the Big XII Conference formed in 1996. The Bears' lone victory in the series came in 1956, a 7-26 win over the Huskers in Lincoln. These two teams met last season in Lincoln, and ended with a 32-20 Nebraska victory. Baylor found themselves ahead at half-time 20-17 thanks to a few big plays from their QB Robert Griffin. Griffin then injured his ankle and the second half was very different. Nebraska would shut out the Bears 15-0 in the second half to claim victory. The last time these two teams met in Waco was 2005 and ended with a tough-fought 23-14 win for the Huskers. This is just the 4th all-time meeting in Waco.
With each team struggling so much offensively, this might be a game where the first team to get two scores on the board will win. While the Husker offense appeared to do some good things against Iowa State last week, their 8 turnovers wipe most of those positives away, and certainly wiped them off the score board. Baylor's offense hasn't been able to muster much the past few weeks until the fourth quarter when their opponent has the game well in hand.
Because Nebraska's defense is a few levels above Baylor's right now, Nebraska would seem to be the safe pick. With the way the Baylor defensive line has been pushed around by Big XII foes, it would make sense for Nebraska to have some success, although their offensive line has not been terribly consistent this season. Nebraska's defense should continue Baylor's trend of being one-dimensional on offense, and keep them from doing much damage on the scoreboard.
Oddly enough, this is the most winnable game left on the schedule for both Nebraska and Baylor. Nebraska will build off of the success they had on offense last week, sans turnovers, and put up enough points to get back into the win column for the first time in 3 weeks. Baylor doesn't have enough on offense or defense to upset the Huskers right now, despite Nebraska's own struggles. Short of the Bears picking up a windfall of turnovers, the Huskers should win by about 2-3 touchdowns.
Nebraska - 24
Baylor - 6