Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Colorado Buffaloes
--by Vince Campisi
November 27th, 2009
1:30 PM MT
Television Coverage: ABC
#25 NEBRASKA (8 - 3) (5 - 2)
COLORADO (3 - 8) (2 - 5)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Colorado
Opening: Nebraska by 8.
Current: Nebraska by 10.5.
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 - W 20-10
11/07/09 - vs. Oklahoma W 10-3
11/14/09 - at. Kansas - W 31-17
11/21/09 - vs. Kansas State - W 17-3
11/27/09 - at. Colorado
09/06/09 - vs. Colorado State - L 17-23
09/11/09 - at. Toledo - L 38-54
09/19/09 - vs. Wyoming - W 24-0
10/01/09 - at. West Virginia - L 24-35
10/10/09 - at. Texas - L 14-38
10/17/09 - vs. Kansas - W 34-30
10/24/09 - at. Kansas State - L 6-20
10/31/09 - vs. Missouri - L 17-36
11/07/09 - vs. Texas A&M - W 35-34
11/14/09 - at. Iowa State - L 10-17
11/19/09 - at. Oklahoma State - L 28-31
11/27/09 - vs. Nebraska
Saturday will mark the 68th all-time match-up between Nebraska and Colorado, since first meeting in 1898. Nebraska has owned the series over the years (47-18-2), but the teams have split the last 8 games against each other. Last season in Lincoln, it was a back-and-forth battle for 3 quarters, and saw the Buffaloes lead the Huskers 31-27 going into the 4th quarter. Nebraska would own the final quarter, however, as kicker Alex Henery hit on a school-record 57 yard long field goal with 1:37 remaining to put his team in the lead 33-31. NT Ndamukong Suh would take a tipped ball 30 yards for a touchdown just seconds later to seal the deal 40-31. The last game played in Boulder was in 2007, and fans of offense were treated to a scoring explosion on both sides. Nebraska took a 35-24 lead going into halftime, however, Colorado DB Jimmy Smith took an interception for touchdown just minutes into the second half, which helped swing momentum into the Buffaloes' favor. The Buffs would outscore the Huskers 41-16 in the second half to take the victory 65-51.
Nebraska's offense has struggled with consistency from drive-to-drive all season long. After a promising performance against Kansas two weeks ago, the Huskers were fairly average last week against Kansas State, scoring just 17 points. They left many points on the field against the Wildcats. Nebraska currently ranks 82nd nationally in total offense (345.45 ypg), 85th in passing (197.73 ypg), 62nd in pass efficiency (128.85 rating), 62nd in rushing (147.73 ypg), 73rd in scoring offense (25.36 ppg), 39th in interceptions thrown (9), 65th in fumbles lost (10), and 53rd in giveaways (19).
QB: Nebraska seems set with Jr. Zac Lee (149 for 246, 1858 yds, 12 TDs, 7 INTs) at QB, despite him not putting up great numbers. Lee looked great against Nebraska's Sun Belt opposition this year, but has yet to have a breakout game against a member of a BCS conference. He threw for 166 yards (13 of 19) last week against Kansas State, with 1 touchdown and an interception. In most games this season, he has been 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, but he hasn't been "on" against any defense of note. He has decent speed and has rushed for 108 yards on 73 attempts (has lost 87 yards on sacks). TFr. Cody Green (33 for 59, 313 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) started at QB against Baylor and Oklahoma, but after getting pulled in the 2nd quarter of the Oklahoma game, has not played a snap. He didn't provide the spark many had hoped, but has a lot of potential to be a big-time dual-threat QB at some point down the road. He can run pretty well and has shown a very strong arm, but he just hasn't put it all together mentally yet. He has carried the ball 16 times for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns (lost 11 yards on sacks).
RB: Nebraska's running backs are led by Jr. Roy Helu Jr. (193 carries, 1057 yds, 10 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 year. He has been bothered by an injured shoulder since the Missouri game, but is now looking like his old self. Since getting healthy, he picked up 141 yards against the stingy Sooner defense three weeks ago, 156 yards two weeks ago against Kansas, and 95 yards last week against Kansas State. The top back-up to Helu Jr. was TFr. Rex Burkhead (29 carries, 135 yds, 1 TD), an impressive young back that has had some nice rushes early in the season. He saw his first action since breaking his foot, rushing for 17 yards on 6 carries. TFr. Dontrayevous Robinson (38 carries, 159 yds, 2 TDs) is now the number three option with Burkhead coming back from injury. He has shown a lot of potential in his limited carries, running with good power and decent speed. So. Marcus Mendoza (4 carries, 10 yds), So. Austin Jones (6 carries, 15 yds), RFr. Lester Ward (8 carries, 24 yds), and RFr. Collins Okafor (1 rush, 9 yds) are battling behind Robinson. Nebraska likes to throw the ball to their backs, with Helu Jr. (19 catches, 149 yds), Burkhead (9 catches, 75 yds, 1 TD), Mendoza (7 catches, 45 yds), Robinson (3 catches, 22 yds), and Jones (1 catch, 2 yds) each catching passes this season. Strangely, Nebraska has thrown to their backs just once over the past two games. At fullback, RFr. Tyler Legate (3 catches, 27 yds, 1 TD) is the top guy and but hasn't really seen much time on the field. When Nebraska has lined up in 2 back sets with Legate in as a lead blocker, the offense has moved the ball very well.
WR/TE: Nebraska's receivers need to be more consistent if the offense is going to come out of their shell. There are too many instances of dropped passes and lackadaisical play at this late stage of the season. Starting at "Z" is Jr. Niles Paul (33 catches, 649 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. Unfortunately for Nebraska, he's the only guy making plays in the group right now. Starting at "X" is RFr. Khiry Cooper (13 catches, 80 yds, 1 TD). He's probably got the most up-side of Nebraska's receivers, but needs to be more physical and work to get open. Reserves include Sr. Menelik Holt (15 catches, 175 yds, 1 TD), So. Curenski Gilleylen (16 catches, 299 yds, 1 TD), Sr. Chris Brooks (13 catches, 177 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Brandon Kinnie (10 catches, 91 yds), TFr. Antonio Bell (1 catch, 3 yds), Jr. Will Henry (1 catch, 1 yd), Sr. Wes Cammack (1 catch, 2 yds). Holt had been the starter at "X" for about half of the season, however, dropped passes and poor blocking led to his demotion. Gilleylen is a speedster that developed into a very dangerous deep threat, but he dropped a couple of passes early in the year and hasn't been targeted since. Brooks turned into a solid possession receiver this year and probably has the best hands of the entire group, but needs to be a better blocker. Kinnie has great measurables and is starting to show that he can catch the ball. Henry is a big body (6'5") but is yet to make an impact. Nebraska's top TE is Jr. Mike McNeill (24 catches, 237 yds, 4 TDs), with So. Dreu Young (4 catches, 71 yds), So. Ryan Hill (2 catches, 8 yds, 1 TD), RFr. Ben Cotton (2 catches, 10 yds), and RFr. Kyler Reed (5 catches, 52 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 and are starting to get used more often.
OL: Nebraska's offensive line continues to be far too inconsistent at this late stage of the year. At times they do a nice job, but more often than not 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 potential to be a rock on the right side. However, he's young and has made a number of mistakes. He left early in last week's game with a leg injury and his status is unknown for Friday's game. 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 pretty solid blocker, but still has a lot of room for improvement. 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. 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 typically solid center. Caputo isn't a prototypically sized center, but he has very good technique and leverage.
Nebraska's defense has been very good this season, and the best that the Blackshirts have performed in about a decade. They had some difficulties with Kansas State's power run game last week, but kept them out of the endzone. The Huskers are currently ranked 8th nationally in total defense (281.27 ypg), 17th in pass defense (182.27 ypg), 3rd in pass efficiency defense (89.36 rating), 14th in rush defense (99 ypg), 3rd in scoring defense (10.27 ppg), 27th in interceptions (13), 68th in fumbles recovered (8), and 39th in total takeaways (21).
DL: Nebraska's defensive line is possibly the best in the nation. They're big, strong, athletic, and make plays all over the field. Starting at defensive end is Jr. Pierre Allen (41 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 QBH, 4 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Barry Turner (39 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 11 QBH, 3 PBU) on the left. Both are very good athletes and are playing well, but not quite as well as expected going into the season. Turner seems to have been stepping his game up lately, however. Their play has been helped by the excellent play on the inside as well this season. RFr. Cameron Meredith (17 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 (65 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 20 QBH, 10 PBU, 3 BK), with So. Terrence Moore (2 tackles) backing him up. Suh is an elite defensive player 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's likely to take home many post-season awards. So. Jared Crick (65 tackles, 9 sacks, 2 FR, 14 QBH, 3 PBU, 1 BK) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Baker Steinkuhler (17 tackles, 1 PBU) 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. He leads the team with 9 sacks.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps is young and has been playing very good football since the start of conference play. With two of the three starters being redshirt-freshmen, they continue to get better each week. Starting at weakside linebacker is Sr. Phillip Dillard (62 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 2 PBU). Dillard is a former starter at MIKE that that has been doing a great job at WILL this year. He brings athleticism and experience to the field that has been invaluable. Behind Dillard is So. Matthew May (10 tackles). May has not seen much action this season. Starting at middle linebacker is RFr. Will Compton (33 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QBH, 2 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 makes mistakes. Starting at buck linebacker is RFr. Sean Fisher (33 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 3 QBH), with TFr. Eric Martin (10 tackles, 1 BK) 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 is a special teams dynamo and has the ability to be a force for the Huskers at LB when he gets the mental aspect of the game down to match his physicality.
DB: Nebraska's defensive backfield has played very well this season, and kept up a high level of play no matter the competition. Other than a few of big plays given up, they have done a nice job in coverage and making solid tackles. Jr. Prince Amukamara (50 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR, 10 PBU) starts at LCB, with Jr. Dejon Gomes (38 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 FF, 3 QBH, 4 PBU) and TFr. Andrew Green listed as the top reserves. Amukamara is a great athlete and has been solid in coverage this season. Gomes has looked very good when on the field, but has missed some tackles against physical ball carriers. So. Alfonzo Dennard (27 tackles, 7 PBU) took over the role as starting RCB about a month ago and has performed very well. He's a physical corner that makes plays on the football and is a solid tackler. Jr. Anthony West (11 tackles, 3 PBU) backs up Dennard, but has only been average, and needs to play more with his head on a swivel. So. Lance Thorell (6 tackles, 1 PBU) is another reserve at corner that occasionally sees time. At strong safety is Sr. Larry Asante (64 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 7 PBU) starts, with Jr. Eric Hagg (35 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 4 PBU) and RFr. P.J. Smith (12 tackles) backing him up. Asante has great athleticism and is a big hitter. He's probably the best of the defensive backfield, and earned Big XII defensive player of the week honors last week. Hagg is used often as a blitzing safety, and also as a nickel back. Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (55 tackles, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 1 FF, 2 FR, 3 PBU) starts at free safety. O'Hanlon is often picked on and has been burned in the past, however, has made some big plays in his career as well. He is a dependable tackler and blitzes well. Behind O'Hanlon is Hagg, So. Austin Cassidy (8 tackles, 1 PBU), and RFr. Courtney Osborne (1 tackle).
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units have been mostly solid this year. There have been some instances of inconsistencies, but more often than not, they are performing at a high level. They have some of the best kickers in the nation, but the return and coverage units are hot and cold. The Huskers rank 95th in net punting (33.75 yd avg), 39th in kickoff returns (23.07 yd avg), 47th in punt returns (10.15 yd avg), 25th in kickoff coverage (19.78 yd avg), and 108th in punt coverage (13.15 yd avg).
K: Jr. Alex Henery has one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the nation. He has made 16 of his 19 attempts this season, with a long of 46. He's made 29 of his last 30 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 24 of 60 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 68.5 yard average, kicking between the 1 and 2 yard line.
P: Jr. Alex Henery has averaged 41.4 yards on his 59 punts with a long of 76 this season. 22 of his 59 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 downed inside the 10, he's been incredible.
KR/PR: Nebraska's top kickoff return unit is made up of Jr. Niles Paul (13 kick returns, 25.7 yd avg, 44 yd long), and RFr. Tim Marlowe (10 kick returns, 24.7 yd avg, 40 yd long). At punt returner is Jr. Niles Paul (28 punt returns, 8.6 yd avg, 55 yd long). These units have been very good at times, but have been pretty average since starting conference play.
Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams have been pretty good this season, but are not immune from occasional tackling problems. They seem to allow about one good sized return each week. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 19.8 yards on 37 kickoff returns (76 yd long), while the punt coverage unit is allowing an average of 13.2 yards on 26 punt returns (62 yd long). They held the explosive KSU kick returner Brandon Banks to an average of just 16 yards per return.
Colorado's offense has had their ups and downs this season, including the ride that both of their quarterbacks have taken them on. There are good athletes on the field, but the Buffs have been very inconsistent, which has resulted in some less than stellar performances. Last week against Oklahoma State, Colorado managed just 251 total yards, including a paltry 13 rushing yards. The Buffaloes are currently ranked 108th nationally in total offense (306.27 ypg), 53rd in passing (222.55 ypg), 111th in passing efficiency (105.88 rating), 113th in rushing (83.73 ypg), 91st in scoring offense (22.45 ppg), 100th in interceptions thrown (15), 103rd in fumbles lost (13), and 113th in giveaways (28).
QB: So. Tyler Hansen (108 of 187, 1171 yds, 5 TDs, 4 INTs) starts for the Buffaloes at QB. He was originally slated to be redshirted until the fifth game of the season, when he came in off the bench in a 14-38 loss to Texas. Hansen has a very strong arm and puts a nice touch on his throws. He has a lot of confidence in his arm and will create a lot of big plays by forcing passes downfield. However, doing so is high risk/high reward so there's also a good chance of something bad happening. He has shown that when he's "on", he can really thread the needle. In the first half of last week's game against Oklahoma State, Hansen injured his right thumb, however, was able to get back in the game right at the start of the second half. He finished the game 23 of 36 for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hansen also has a talent for running the football, is needed when you consider how many sacks the Buffs have given up (43). This season, Hansen has rushed for 57 yards and 1 touchdown on 79 carries (lost 258 yards on 32 sacks). Behind Hansen is Jr. Cody Hawkins (121 of 239, 1277 yds, 10 TDs, 11 INTs). He has a decent arm, not terribly strong, but he is quite accurate. The offense opens up a bit with him in the line-up, considering he knows more of the play book than Hansen does. He actually holds the all-time record for career touchdown passes at Colorado. Hawkins is not a running threat, and has lost 94 yards on 11 sacks (-93 net rushing yds). He's got decent enough wheels to scramble around the pocket effectively, but not enough speed to be a viable runner.
RB: The Buffs' running game is led by So. Rodney Stewart (177 carries, 694 yds, 9 TDs). Stewart is a small back (5'6"), but is tough and very fast. He's a shifty runner that has good patience in the backfield, waiting for his blocks to develop. He has nice hands out of the backfield, and breaks tackles after the catch. One thing he needs to work on, however, is blocking. His missed blocks have attributed to the high number of QB sacks the Buffs have given up this year. Backing up Stewart is Jr. Demetrius Sumler (36 carries, 128 yds, 1 TD), So. Brian Lockridge (10 carries, 33 yds, 1 TD), and Jr. Corey Neighbors. Sumler has quick feet and does a nice job of getting yards between the tackles. He has also struggled in picking up blocks while in pass protection, and doesn't always take care of the football. His lackadaisical carrying led to a late 4th quarter fumble last week,, killing a promising drive. Lockridge is similar to Stewart in that he is a small back (5'7") with shifty moves and speedy wheels. The backs are used fairly often in the passing game, with Sumler (19 catches, 113 yds), Stewart (11 catches, 59 yds), and Lockridge (3 catches, 35 yds) each catching passes this season. At fullback is Sr. Jake Behrens (6 catches, 45 yds), with So. Ryan Deehan (8 catches, 77 yds), and Sr. Trace Adams backing him up. The fullbacks have been used primarily as pass catchers and run blockers in the Buff offense this season.
WR/TE: The Buffs' receiving corps isn't terribly deep, but has been coming along nicely as the season has progressed. Starting at the receiver positions are Jr. Scotty McKnight (69 catches, 779 yds, 4 TDs) and So. Markques Simas (37 catches, 477 yds, 3 TDs). McKnight is the most consistent threat in the group, and catches at least one pass each week. He is a dependable playmaker and does a good job of getting open. He has made some great catches this year, and has been the go-to target when Hawkins is in at QB. He's very fast and has been used in reverses and trick plays. Simas is a receiver that started the season slowly, but is now a solid performer. He turns himself up field quickly after coming back for passes and does a nice job of making plays in traffic as well. He still tends to drop some passes, however, which he will need to work on moving into next season. He had a phenomenal touchdown catch last week against Oklahoma State. Top reserves at receiver include TFr. Will Jefferson (6 catches, 45 yds), Jr. Andre Simmons (2 catches, 47 yds), So. Jason Espinoza (13 catches, 136 yds, 1 TD), RFr. Dustin Ebner (3 catches, 15 yds), and Sr. Kevin Moyd. Jefferson is a speedy receiver, but has only been used sparingly this year. At tight end is Sr. Riar Geer (36 catches, 402 yds, 4 TDs), with Sr. Patrick Devenny (11 catches, 141 yds, 3 TDs) and So. Ryan Deehan (8 catches, 77 yds) backing him up. Geer is a very good tight end that runs clean routes and is a threat both in short yardage and going deep.
OL: Colorado's offensive line has been porous this season, allowing an incredible 43 sacks in 11 games. Some of this could be attributed to the youth of the group, with only two upperclassmen on the roster, both juniors. Starting at tackle is Jr. Nate Solder (6'9", 305 lbs) on the left and RFr. Bryce Givens (6'6", 275 lbs) on the right. Solder has surprising quickness for his size, but hasn't been more than a decent blocker this season. Givens has had a troublesome year, and really needs to be more disciplined. He is penalty prone, giving up chunks of yards on false starts and personal fouls. He had a costly false start in the early 4th quarter last week that helped stall a drive. He has not been a very good blocker, either, getting beaten often by just decent ends. Last week, he missed his assignment and let the opposing end go untouched to the QB for an easy sack. The top reserves at tackle are RFr. Ryan Dannewitz (6'6", 300 lbs) and So. Shawn Daniels (6'3", 285 lbs). Starting at guard is So. Blake Behrens (6'3", 285 lbs) on the left and So. Ryan Miller (6'8", 320 lbs) on the right. Behrens is an adequate run blocker, but his pass protection still leaves something to be desired. Miller is pretty slow, and will get beaten badly by a decent defensive tackle or blitzing linebacker. So. Ethan Adkins (6'4", 305 lbs) and So. Matthew Bahr (6'4", 295 lbs) serve as the top back-ups at guard. Starting at center is Jr. Keenan Stevens (6'2", 290 lbs), with So. Mike Iltis (6'3", 280 lbs) backing him up. Stevens has probably been one of the better performers on the line this year, but has not been without his own mistakes either.
Colorado's defense has been pretty mediocre this season, however, has been getting better over the past month or so. Earlier in the year, they were giving up multiple big plays on a weekly basis. While they still give up some big plays, it isn't with the same consistency as early on. Last week, the Buff defense struggled to tackle solidly and gave up 232 rushing yards and 400 overall yards to Oklahoma State. The Buffaloes currently rank 72nd nationally in total defense (376.27 ypg), 56th in pass defense (213.55 ypg), 72nd in pass efficiency defense (131.51 rating), 83rd in rush defense (162.73 ypg), 88th in scoring defense (28.91 ppg), 71st in interceptions forced (9), 5th in fumbles recovered (15), and 24th in total takeaways (24).
DL: The Buffaloes' defensive line has not been very good this year and has been pushed around often by opposing offensive lines. Starting at defensive end is Jr. Marquez Herrod (36 tackles, 6 sacks, 9 PBU) on the left and TFr. Forrest West (9 tackles, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 2 PBU) on the right. Herrod is the best player on the line, and does a good job in getting pressure. He gets pretty good penetration against the run and tackles well. West, on the other hand, needs to do a better job getting off his blocks as he tends to get lost at the point of attack. So. Josh Hartigan (3 tackles) serves as the top back-up at both ends. Starting at defensive tackle is So. Curtis Cunningham (41 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 QBH, 4 PBU), with TFr. Nate Bonsu (10 tackles, 1 FR), So. Conrad Obi (1 BK), and Jr. Eric Lawson (2 tackles) backing him up. Cunningham is pretty inconsistent, and seems to take plays off. He shows a lot of potential, but just not play-to-play. For instance, last week he beat a double team and made a big stop on a 3rd and short, yet a few plays earlier he couldn't get past a single block and was steamrolled by OSU RB Keith Tosten. RFr. Will Pericak (30 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 FR, 1 PBU) starts at nose tackle, with Sr. Chidubaumu Abana and Sr. Taj Kaynor (3 tackles) serving as his top back-ups. Pericak has not done a very good job this season at plugging lanes consistently, which has helped opponents average over 4 yards a carry against this unit.
LB: Colorado's linebacking corps is going to get a boost this week, getting two starters back in the lineup after missing last week with injury. Starting at middle linebacker is Sr. Marcus Burton (64 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 5 QBH, 2 PBU), with Jr. Michael Sipili (36 tackles, 1 FF, 2 QBH) and Sr. Bryan Stengel (7 tackles) backing him up. Burton is a bowling ball at 6', 265lbs., that has pretty decent speed. He struggled last week against Oklahoma State, missing multiple tackles on the running back and overpursued multiple other times. Sipili nearly shares snaps with Burton, and has been fair this season. He needs to be more disciplined, as he committed a very late hit on the opposing QB last week that he was flagged for. He did have a nice forced fumble though, just getting his fingertips on the ball to jar it loose. At weakside linebacker is Sr. Jeff Smart (87 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 QBH, 3 PBU), while Sr. Shaun Mohler (40 tackles, 3 QBH, 3 PBU) and RFr. Jon Major (13 tackles, 1 QBH) back him up. Smart has done a nice job this season and is leading the team in tackles for the second straight year. He's makes plays all over the field in both run support and pass coverage. Smart was out last week with a pinched nerve, which pushed Mohler into the starting role. Mohler is a very good athlete that does a good job of latching onto the ball carrier. He doesn't always bring the man down by himself, but his teammates come in to help get the tackle. He needs to do a better job in pass coverage, however, and can't be getting roughing the passer calls like he did last week. Jr. B.J. Beatty (23 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 5 QBH, 1 PBU) starts at strongside linebacker, with So. Tyler Ahles (26 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 3 QBH) and RFr. Douglas Rippy (6 tackles, 1 sack, 2 BK) providing back-up. Beatty is a pass rushing specialist that has a great motor. Beatty also missed last week's game with injury, and was replaced by Ahles. Ahles is a fair tackler, but did miss some good shots he had last week at the running back. He has looked good when blitzing, getting pressure on the opposing QB. Rippy has blocked two punts this season.
DB: The Buffs' defensive backfield has been improving over the past month or so, but still gives up a few big plays each week. Starting at cornerback is Sr. Cha'pelle Brown (85 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 PBU) at left corner and Jr. Jimmy Smith (63 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR, 10 PBU) at right corner. C. Brown is very small at 5'7", is susceptible to getting beat in pass coverage. He rarely missed a tackle, however, and is a great asset in rush support. Smith is a pure cover corner and leads the team in break ups this season. Players in the reserve rotation include Jr. Jalil Brown (63 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FR, 2 QBH, 14 PBU) and So. Arthur Jaffee. In nickel packages, J. Brown will move to left corner with C. Brown moving to the nickel back spot. J. Brown struggled early in the year, but has gotten better as he gained experience. He is doing a nice job of turning his head around and making plays on the ball. He is also good in run support. Last week, OSU tried picking on him, but he kept getting a hand on the ball. He had a chance at a few interceptions, but couldn't come down with one. Starting at strong safety is Sr. Benjamin Burney (62 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF, 2 QBH, 4 PBU), with So. Travis Sandersfeld (3 tackles) providing back-up. Burney is an inconsistent tackler, is fair in coverage, and doesn't always make the smartest plays. Last week he went head first at a defenseless receiver after an incomplete pass floated by them, drawing a personal foul call. That penalty led to OSU taking back the lead early in the 4th quarter. At free safety is So. Anthony Perkins (70 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 3 PBU), while RFr. Ray Polk (39 tackle, 3 QBH) and So. Patrick Mahnke (6 tackles) share back-up duties. Perkins has been fair this season, but still has a lot of improving to do. Last week he missed multiple tackles, however, forced a fumble early in the game that swung momentum and also had an interception on a lobbed pass.
Colorado Special Teams
Colorado's special teams units have performed fairly well this season, just not very consistently. The Buffaloes currently rank 113th in net punting (32.13 yd avg), 21st in kickoff returns (24.25 yd avg), 117th in punt returns (2.96 yd avg), 31st in kickoff coverage (20.14 yd avg), and 76th in punt coverage (10.06 yd avg).
K: Jr. Aric Goodman has made 11 of his 17 field goal attempts with a long of 47 this season. He missed a crucial 49 yarder in the early 4th quarter by hitting the upright (CU was ahead 21-17 at the time). Goodman also works as the kickoff specialist, pushing 13 of his 48 kickoffs for a touchback this season, with a 64.9 yard average, kicking between the 5 and 6 yard line.
P: So. Matt DiLallo is averaging 38.32 yards on his 62 punts with a long of 57 this season. 13 of his 62 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: The top kickoff return unit for the Buffaloes consists of So. Brian Lockridge (27 kick returns, 24.1 yd avg, 1 TD, 98 yd long) and Jr. Demetrius Sumler (2 kick returns, 20.5 yd avg, 26 yd long). Lockridge had a 98 yard touchdown return last week in the 4th quarter that put the Buffs back in the lead 28-24 for a short while. Darrell Scott was the top kick returner for the Buffs this season before leaving the team. The top punt return men are Jr. Scotty McKnight (5 punt returns, 3 yd avg, 5 yd long) and So. Rodney Stewart (1 punt return, 0 yd avg).
Coverage: The Buffaloes' kick and punt coverage units have been pretty mediocre this season. On the season, the kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 20.14 yards on 36 kickoff return attempts. The punt coverage unit is allowing an average of just 10.6 yards on 33 punt return attempts. The punt coverage team allowed a 67 yard return for touchdown last week in the first quarter. They redeemed themselves in the 3rd quarter by recovering an unforced fumble in OSU territory.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Colorado's Defense
Nebraska's offense, under coordinator Shawn Watson began the season attempting to run a hybrid offense with equal parts West Coast, Spread, and Power. Unfortunately, the personnel just isn't there to run such an ambitious project, and has slowly been scrapped for more of a Power game, and less spread. There are still elements of each, just more emphasis on running the football. QB Zac Lee is running the offense fairly well, but is far from an elite level college quarterback. He's a little less of a liability than true freshman Cody Green in terms of turnovers, but Lee is not immune from mistakes either. You could definitely describe the Nebraska offense as dull at times, and appears to sit on the smallest of leads. Lee doesn't have to be dynamic with the ball, but you'd like to see more production out of the passing game in the twelfth game of the season. The Buffaloes' defense has allowed their opponents to complete 57.6% of their passes this season, while Nebraska QB's Zac Lee and Cody Green have combined to complete 59.7% of their attempts on the year.
Nebraska's receivers have to do a better job of making plays for the offense. There are signs they are getting better, though, as last week against Kansas State, multiple receivers got open, but the ball didn't get to them. WR Niles Paul is the only guy that shows up every week, but he hasn't been very consistent either during the season as a whole. He's been going deep the past two weeks, and had a nice 47 yard catch last week that would have possibly gone for a score had he not needed to come back for it. The offense is starting to utilize TE Mike McNeill more, as he has caught 7 passes for 53 yards and a touchdown over the past two games.
Colorado's secondary was in pretty rough shape early in the year. They were giving up big plays left and right, struggling to shut down even average offenses. As the season has progressed, however, the unit has gotten considerably better. The Buffaloes are giving up 213.5 yards per game (4th in Big XII) through the air while allowing 18 touchdowns and picking up 9 interceptions. CB Jalil Brown's emergence has really helped the unit out, allowing Cha'pelle Brown to play nickel without a huge liability at left corner. The weakness in the group is at the safety spots, with teams having success testing the middle of the field. The group was fortunate last week to not have to match up with OSU QB Zac Robinson, who was out with a concussion. When the Cowboys put in their 3rd string QB Brandon Weeden, however, the Buffaloes couldn't stop them. Weeden was 10 of 15 for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns, playing in just the second half. In pass coverage, the Buffaloes' secondary ranks 72nd nationally (12th in the Big XII), allowing a rating of 131.51, while Nebraska's QB's rank 62nd nationally (8th in the Big XII) in pass efficiency (128.85).
Nebraska's running game is coming along nicely with the use of two back and two tight end sets. These extra blockers have helped make a few extra holes here and there. It still isn't a consistent rush, and averaged just 2.2 yards per carry (101 yards on 45 attempts) last week against Kansas State. The Huskers were successful in chewing through the clock, but they need to do a better job of getting sizeable gains on first down. Roy Helu Jr. is an impressive back, and has had a productive last three games. Helu rushed for 389 yards over the past three weeks, and went over the 1,000 yard mark for the season this past week against Kansas State. With the dependable freshman RB Rex Burkhead back in the lineup, it helps Helu have fresh legs in the fourth quarter.
Colorado's rush defense has had some difficulties this season, giving up an average of 162.7 yards per game on the ground (10th in Big XII). Last week, the Buff defense had additional problems with making tackles, and the Cowboys rushed for 232 yards and 1 touchdown on 49 carries. What is particularly remarkable about those gaudy numbers is that OSU was without their starting QB, so the Buffs were looking for the Cowboys to run and they couldn't stop them. There were multiple missed tackles at all levels of the defense, something that just can't happen for a team to be good against the run. Nebraska's offensive line is not as good as Oklahoma State's, but despite that, they should be able to have a successful day on the ground.
Focusing on third downs and red zone play, Nebraska is converting a mediocre 40.13% of their third downs (58th nationally), and scoring on an average of just 79% on red-zone opportunities (22 TDs, 11 FGs) (79th nationally). The Huskers were 7 of 16 on 3rd downs (44%) and 3 for 4 in the red zone (2 TDs, 1 FG) last week against Kansas State. The Buffaloes' defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 34.38% of their third downs (22nd nationally), and have allowed those opponents to score on only 71% of their red-zone chances (20 TDs, 12 FG) (4th nationally). Colorado allowed Oklahoma State to convert just 33% (5 of 15) of their 3rd downs and score on the one red-zone opportunity ( FG) they had last week.
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 300 lbs, while Colorado's average defensive lineman is 6'2", 270 lbs. On the season, Nebraska is averaging 4.6 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Colorado is giving up 4.9 yards per carry (when taking sacks out). The Huskers has allowed 15 sacks and 74 tackles for loss in eleven games this year, while the Buffs has picked up 25 sacks and 64 tackles for loss in their eleven games this season. Nebraska's offensive line was up and down last week against Kansas State. At times, they opened some holes for the running game and gave QB Zac Lee time to throw, but at other times, they were beaten at the point of attack and allowed 13 tackles for loss. Amazingly enough, the offensive line did not commit a single penalty in last week's game, a feat in and of itself. Kansas State's defensive line is a few steps above what Colorado's has shown this year, and based on what we've seen from the Buffs, Nebraska should be able to establish a decent running game. Colorado has struggled mightily defensively, and the defensive line is no exception. There has been virtually no push up front, and missed tackles galore on opposing running backs. Nebraska may not have the most impressive offensive line in the conference, but they will face one of the smaller defensive lines they've seen this season. We'll find out if they are able to impose their will against the smaller defensive front.
Colorado's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Colorado's offense has been fairly anemic this season, but does show flashes of brilliance at times. The recipe of a porous offensive line, mediocre running game, and a QB controversy isn't what you'd call ideal, and is a big reason for the 3-8 season thus far. QB Tyler Hansen had his red-shirt taken off many weeks ago against Texas, and is the future of this offense for the next two seasons. He's not been as prolific as Buff fans had hoped, but has one of the strongest arms in the conference and shows a lot of promise going into next season. Last week against Oklahoma State, Hansen was 23 of 36 for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. When Hansen has struggled or been injured, Cody Hawkins has come back in to lead the offense. He's pretty average, but has made some nice plays for the offense this season. The big difference between Hawkins and Hansen is that Hansen has the stronger arm and is a mobile threat. After playing in eleven games, Hansen and Hawkins are completing just 53.4% of their passes, while Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents' quarterbacks to complete just 48.3% of their passes this season.
Colorado isn't loaded with receiving talent, but there are three main Buffs that are performing at a pretty high level. WR Scotty McKnight, WR Marques Simas, and TE Riar Geer are the players that make the passing game click, and are the only receivers on the team that have over 141 receiving yards on the season. Simas has really been coming on strong over the last month, and is going to be a big time playmaker next year for this offense if he can stop dropping passes. McKnight on the other hand, rarely drops a ball and is the most dependable player for this offense. Both do a nice job of finding openings in the defensive backfield.
Nebraska's pass defense has been among the best in the nation this season (182.27 ypg), which is over 51 less yards per game than they gave up last year (233.4 ypg in 2008). The secondary has been excellent since getting the right personnel grouping together. There is a lot of quality depth within this group as well, and they have been rolling nickel and dime without having a weak link within the unit. Look for more base 4-3 defense this week, however, to match what Colorado is likely to do. CB Alfonzo Dennard is likely to return to the lineup after missing last week's game with turf toe. When he is playing, the Husker secondary is very difficult to move the ball on. Dealing with that suffocating secondary and a furious pass rush is going to be quite a task for the Buffs. In pass coverage, the Huskers' secondary ranks 3rd nationally, allowing a rating of just 89.36, while Colorado's QB's rank 111th nationally with a pass efficiency rating of just 105.88.
Colorado's running game is really struggling to get much going on the ground, thanks to less than stellar offensive line play. RB Rodney Stewart is capable enough, but is having trouble finding running lanes. Backup Demetrius Sumler has tried to pound the ball with his bigger body, but has had similar per-rush output. Last week against Oklahoma State's defense, they gained just 48 yards on 17 carries (when taking sacks out). There was little room up front, with the offensive line getting pushed around, and the Buffs got away from the running game in the second half. Stewart had just 8 carries for 21 yards, not a memorable performance for the young back.
Nebraska is among the best in the country at defending the run, ranking 4th in the Big XII and 14th nationally (99 ypg against). The Huskers' front four does a great job of not just filling space, but making plays, evidenced by the fact that defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick lead the team in tackles. The run heavy offense of Kansas State had a decent day against Nebraska last week, but was unable to put the ball in the endzone. The Wildcats rushed for 140 yards on 34 carries on the back of RB Daniel Thomas (19 carries, 99 yards). Colorado doesn't have the tools on offense to really replicate that rushing output, and will really have to use some trickery to keep Nebraska on their heels.
Looking at how these teams perform on third downs and red-zone opportunities, Colorado has converted only 35.06% of their third downs (94th nationally), with a decent 83% red-zone scoring average (23 TDs, 7 FGs) (53rd nationally). The Buffaloes converted just 27.78% (5 of 18) on 3rd downs last week against Oklahoma State, and were 2 for 2 in red-zone chances (2 TDs). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert just 32.37% of their 3rd down attempts (12th nationally), and has allowed an excellent 72% red-zone scoring percentage (8 TDs, 5 FGs) (10th nationally) this season. Against Kansas State last week, the Huskers allowed the Wildcats to convert on 21.4% of their 3rd downs (3 of 14) and they were 0 for 2 in the red zone.
Up front, Colorado's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 295 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'4", 279 lbs. On the season, Colorado is averaging 4.13 yards per carry (when taking sacks out) while Nebraska is giving up 3.78 yards per carry (when taking sacks out). The Buffaloes have allowed 80 tackles for loss and 43 sacks in their eleven games, while the Huskers have picked up 87 tackles for loss and 32 sacks in their eleven games. Colorado's offensive line has really struggled this year to keep defenders out of the backfield. The right side of the line has been particularly porous, with RT Bryce Givens and RG Ryan Miller having problems with both run blocking and pass protection. Nebraska's defensive line will present a difficult challenge for the Buffs, as they have only faced one comparable defensive front, months ago at Texas. Nebraska's defensive line can be difficult to keep in check, even for the better offensive lines. Teams have been trying to move the pocket to keep NT Ndamukong Suh and DT Jared Crick away from plays, but that is much easier said than done. It will be very interesting to see how Colorado will try and neutralize the Husker tackles. Suh is constantly doubled, but neither of Colorado's guards appear good enough to stop Crick one-on-one.
RBs: Nebraska ++
WR/TE's: Colorado +
OL: Nebraska +
DL: Nebraska +++
LB: Nebraska ++
DB: Nebraska ++
Special Teams: Nebraska ++
Coaching: Nebraska ++
+ = Slight
++ = Moderate
+++ = Large
CB - Alfonzo Dennard - Toe - Probable
OT - Marcel Jones - Leg - Questionable
FS - Rickey Thenarse - Knee - Out for Season
CB - Jase Dean - Knee - Out for Season
QB - Kody Spano - Knee - Out for Season
LB - Blake Lawrence - Concussions - Ended Career
DE - Nick Kasa - Illness - Questionable
CB - Anthony Wright - Knee - Out for Season
QB - Jerry Slota - Suspension - Out Indefinitely
OL - Maxwell Tuiotu-Mariner - Knee - Out Indefinitely
Keys to the Game
1.) Establish a Competent Running Game - Offensive line needs to be consistent in opening holes for the backs to run through. This will wear on the Buff defense and make the game much easier to put away in the second half.
2.) Get After CU QB Tyler Hansen - The Buff O-line isn't very good, which should mean a big day for the front seven of Nebraska. Getting heavy pressure on Hansen will force him to make mistakes.
3.) Win Turnover Battle - Two weeks in a row, Nebraska's defense has forced a huge turnover inside the 5 to stave off an opponents' scoring drive. In both games, it proved to be a big momentum swinger and had a big impact on the scoreboard.
1.) Offensive Line Needs to Be Stout - An incredible 43 sacks given up so far and getting ready to play the best line they've seen doesn't sound like a recipe for success. Need to try and move the pocket and play their best game of the year to keep Hansen/Hawkins on their feet.
2.) Cut Down on Penalties - CU is the 2nd most penalized team in the Big XII since starting conference play, and many of those have been drive killers. Nebraska's defense is good enough without giving them extra help.
3.) QB Tyler Hansen Needs to be "on" - when he's hot, the offense can move very well, but if he's under duress and making poor decisions, the offense can be miserable. He needs to be at the top of his game against a very good Nebraska defense.
While we already know that Nebraska will represent the North Division in the Big XII Championship game, they still have one critical hill to climb before they can think about Texas. The Colorado Buffaloes might just be a 3 win football team, but they are much tougher than their record would indicate. Though Nebraska hasn't really treated this game as a rivalry over the years, Colorado has, and often plays one of their best games of the season against the Huskers.
Statistically, Colorado doesn't stack up with Nebraska in many areas, but they will present some problems for the Huskers with a few good playmakers on offense, a good return game, and hard-nosed play. The issue here is whether Nebraska is able to get a consistent ground game going. Based on how Colorado has defended the run this season, Nebraska should be able to do well and wear on the Buff defense. Because Colorado has nothing to lose, had a two extra days of preparation, and is playing at home in Boulder, they will not simply lay down to the North champs. They will play a great game and keep it within a touchdown until late when Nebraska will put it away with one last scoring drive. Nebraska by about 10-14.
Nebraska - 27
Colorado - 13
Big Red Breakdown: Huskers vs Buffs
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