Nebraska Pre-Game Analysis

If it is truly more blessed to give than receive, then consider the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Nebraska Cornhuskers candidates for canonization. On the eve of tomorrows 6 p.m. meeting between the two teams in Jones/SBC stadium, Tech and Nebraska have so far combined for 31 turnovers and only 21 takeaways.

More specifically, the Huskers have tossed 11 interceptions and lost five fumbles, while the Raiders have lobbed 11 picks and gifted four fumbles to the opposition. Whichever team becomes stingier with the football than a Grinch will in all likelihood salt away a victory.

One of the keys to winning the turnover battle will be deciphering the opposing offense. Going into tomorrow's tilt, members of both the Nebraska and Tech camps sound somewhat perplexed about what to expect from the respective offensive units.

"I've never seen an offense similar to theirs," said Raider linebacker Mike Smith. "They do a lot of different things. A good surge against them should work pretty well. We have to go out there and stop their run and make them one-dimensional." Tech cornerback Khalid Naziruddin professed equal mystification: "I have never seen an offense like Nebraska's. It's going to be interesting."

As freakish as the Nebraska offense may seem to Tech defenders, the Raider offense is equally astonishing to Cornhusker head coach Bill Callahan.

"It [the Tech offense] is a very unique and unconventional type of system. They have an unwavering commitment to what they do. They throw it, they throw it again, and then they throw it some more. And then they're going to throw more on top of that. That's just a philosophical approach that they're comfortable with. They've got a lot of confidence in the players and the system that they've got there."

In some respects, the most noteworthy of those players is Raider quarterback Sonny Cumbie. The senior from Snyder leads the nation in passing yardage with 2,085 yards on 178 of 293 passes. And his productivity has been egalitarian enough to make Karl Marx beam with pride: 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Cumbie is number 56 in the nation in passing efficiency.

Cumbie's primary target has been 6' 4" sophomore split end Jarrett Hicks. The Houston native has hauled in 39 passes for 716 yards and four touchdowns. His 143 receiving yards per game leads the nation.

The Tech ground attack has been considerably less dynamic, averaging 93 yards per game, which is good for #104 among NCAA division one offensive units. Running back Taurean Henderson has been somewhat effective, however, averaging 79 yards per game on a very respectable 5.3 yards per carry. He also had a game-winning 70-yard touchdown burst against Kansas.

Trying to keep pace with Tech's fourth-ranked offense will be a balanced Nebraska attack that is currently rated number 31 in the country in total offense at 411 yards per game. Piloting the Cornhusker attack is Jersey City, New Jersey sophomore quarterback Joe Dailey. The six-footer has 745 yards passing on the season, but has completed just 64 of his 118 passes with 11 interceptions and 8 touchdowns.

Nebraska has two key receivers in tight end Matt Herian and wideout Ross Pilkington. The former has 203 yards and three touchdowns among his 18 catches, while the later has 17 catches for 244 yards and a single touchdown.

The Huskers' chief threat, however, is 5' 6" dynamo Cory Ross. The Nebraska runner, who looks like an Eric Bienemy clone, is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 119 yards a game. Led by Ross, Nebraska's rushing game is currently 15th best in the nation.

Tech's much improved defense will undoubtedly place a bullseye squarely on Ross' diminutive anterior. The aforementioned Mike Smith will be one of the first Raiders to draw a bead on that target. The senior from Lubbock leads the Tech defense with 42 tackles, four tackles for a loss, two pass breakups, and two quarterback hurries. Perhaps the Raiders' second most effective defender has been unheralded cornerback Antonio Huffman, a sophomore from Lovejoy, Georgia. He has 20 tackles, an interception, three pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble. Lately, opposing quarterbacks have been chary of throwing in his direction.

Tech head coach Mike Leach and his ozone-burning offense are willing to throw at anybody, anytime, and that fact has the attention of Nebraska linebacker Barrett Ruud.

"A lot of times when you see this team on TV, they'll be down like 20 or 30 points, then you'll turn the game back on an hour later and they'll be tied up or in the lead. You've got to play real well for every play, because at any time they can go the distance."

The Huskers appear to be about as well-equipped as anybody to slow down the Raider attack. Nebraska's defense has held opponents to an average of 225 total yards per game, which is 15th best in the country. Rushing defense is an especially strong suit: the Huskers are giving up only 57 yards per game on the ground (second best nationwide behind Michigan), and a paltry 1.8 yards per pop.

According to Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie, "They [Nebraska] are a very aggressive defense. They are well-coached and play their technique very well. They are a talented, typical Nebraska defense. We will have our hands full and will really have to play well this weekend."

Ruud is the ringleader of the Husker Blackshirts. He has 46 tackles, five tackles for a loss, a sack, three pass breakups, and a quarterback hurry. Defensive end Benard Thomas, a 255-pound senior from East Palo Alto, California has 16 tackles, 5 for a loss, one and a half sacks, a pass breakup, eight quarterback hurries, and one forced fumble. The Nebraska secondary is led by junior safety Daniel Bullocks who has 15 tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack, two interceptions, four pass breakups, and five quarterback hurries.

In a matchup of two weaknesses, the Husker kickoff return coverage unit has been allowing 31 yards per return on the year, but Tech's leading returner Johnnie Mack has only been bringing back the rock to a tune of 18 yards per attempt.

Tomorrow's game will be nationally televised by TBS.

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