Huskers on Offense
Quarterback – #13 Zac Taylor
After and up-and-down year in his first season in Nebraska's West Coast Offense, Zac Taylor looks to have a much better command of the system through two games in 2006. He is completing just under 75% of his passes this season and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7-1. Taylor has been very efficient in both games this season, throwing for 287 and 202 yards and at least three touchdowns in each game. His lone interception came against Louisiana Tech in the opener. In this offense, Taylor won't be asked to throw the ball deep and will instead work it to his receivers, tight ends and backs underneath. This will pose the most difficult test for the Trojan secondary, as Pete Carroll's philosophy has always been to take away the deep ball and allow for these types of passes. Taylor's biggest challenge against the Trojans will be keeping the ball away from the athletic USC linebackers who will be in coverage and looking to take away those passing lanes. Taylor has five rushes for six yards this season and isn't a threat in that regard. Nebraska has been working on implementing some no-huddle in the offense for Saturday and, if that goes into the gameplan, Taylor will have even more pressure on his shoulders. Apparently Nebraska didn't talk with Arkansas about how effective the no-huddle is against this defense.
Running Back – #20 Marlon Lucky, #34 Cody Glenn, #27 Kenny Wilson, #32 Brandon Jackson
With the departure of Cory Ross, Nebraska's rushing attack looks a lot like the Trojans' with no fewer than four tailbacks getting regular carries. Marlon Lucky is probably the most talented of the four and the strong, speedy back has been rewarded with the most carries. Lucky leads the team with 31 carries for 182 yards and is proving that Head Coach Bill Callahan isn't completely abandoning the running game.
Cody Glenn is the team's power back and is seeing a huge increase in his contributions to the team this season. Last season, Glenn carried the ball just 45 times and scored four touchdowns. Through two games this season, Glenn has 24 carries, 135 yards and leads the team with three touchdowns on the ground.
Kenny Wilson has chipped in as well, with 24 carries of his own for 126 yards and a touchdown.
Brandon Jackson, although he won't get the same number of carries as the other three, is talented as well, but was slowed by an injury last season. It's going to be interesting to see if Nebraska continues to go with all four of these running backs on Saturday, or if Callahan tries to get one of them in a rhythm. Most likely, the Trojans will need to prepare for all four and will no doubt provide the stiffest test that these running backs have faced this season.
Wide Receivers – #83 Terrence Nunn, #87 Nate Swift, #17 Todd Peterson, #16 Maurice Purify
Terrence Nunn and Nate Swift are the two biggest threats at the wide receiver position. Neither player has the height or speed to dominate any of the members of the Trojan secondary in either area, but they are talented receivers who have been given the chance to blossom under the pass-happy Nebraska offense.
Nunn leads the team with eight receptions, but with just 9.5 yards-per-reception, he hasn't been the same threat as the other receivers. Taylor will look for Nunn all day Saturday though, and he should see the most attention from the USC secondary.
Nate Swift lines up opposite Nunn and is the same sort of possession receiver. Last season, Swift set Nebraska freshmen records for receptions, yards and touchdowns. This year, he has three catches for 46 yards with all of them coming in the opener before he was shut down by Nicholls State.
Todd Peterson stands 6'4" and provides his quarterback with a tall target although he is still being worked into the offense. His three catches have gone for 61 yards.
Maurice Purify has been the big-play wideout for the Huskers this season, averaging almost 30 yards per catch. Among his three catches for 89 yards includes a 41-yard touchdown catch. He's another tall receiver, standing 6'4" and has some extra motivation to play well against the Trojans. Having not received a USC offer out of high school, he's been talking a bit this week about how great it's going to be to "beat them up a little bit." I'm assuming the Trojans are listening.
Tight End – #11 Matt Herian
Nebraska will offer four tight ends on Saturday, but Matt Herian will be the most dangerous for the Trojans. After missing all of last season due to an injury, Herrian started this season well. He has seven catches for a team-best 99 yards and also leads the team with two touchdown grabs. With one catch against the Trojans, Herian will go into a tie for the most receptions by a tight end in Nebraska history. The linebackers must know where Herian is at all times, because Zac Taylor certainly will.
J.B. Phillips, Josh Mueller and Hunter Teafatiller have seen time at tight end this season as well and all contributed touchdown grabs against Nicholls State last weekend.
Offensive Line – LT #54 Chris Patrick, LG #65 Greg Austin, C #50 Kurt Mann, RG #61 Mike Huff, RT #70 Matt Slauson
Chris Patrick took over the left tackle position for the final two games in 2005. He has been moved all over the line during his career, but has found a home at left tackle. Trojan defensive ends used to matching up against Sam Baker will find Saturday's game to be something of a break.
Greg Austin is a solid left guard and is capable of playing center and right guard as well. This spot will be important to keep an eye on, especially if Austin is forced to move to the center spot if Kurt Mann doesn't play.
Kurt Mann is the best player on the Husker offensive line, but there are questions about his health and his eligibility for the USC game is up in the air. Mann missed last weekend's game due to mononucleosis and if he is held out against USC, the Nebraska offense will take a big hit.
Mike Huff is a new starter at right guard this season after playing sparingly last year. He's a big presence in the interior of the line, at 6'4" and over 300 pounds.
Matt Slauson started at right tackle for the final three games of his freshman season and is slotted there again as a sophomore. He is a big guy and Brian Cushing's quickness will play a big part in that matchup.
Huskers on Defense
Defensive Line – #44 Jay Moore, #94 Barry Cryer, #54 Ola Dagunduro, #90 Adam Carriker
Jay Moore and Adam Carriker are absolutely every bit as good as advertised. Adam Carriker will get more attention, but Moore was just as important last season as the Nebraska front four helped the team register 50 sacks. This season, Moore has already registered three tackles for loss and one sack. Carriker has matched those stats through two games, with three tackles for loss and a sack of his own. The Trojans gave up just one sack to the Razorbacks in their opening game and were able to keep John David Booty on his feet. If they duplicate that feat against the Huskers, it will be a huge success.
Barry Cryer and Ola Dagunduro are physical forces in the middle of the line and the Trojan offensive line will need to work to establish a running game on Saturday.
Linebackers – #34 Stewart Bradley, #13 Corey McKeon, #51 Bo Ruud
While the linebackers aren't as strong as the defensive line, that's only because the line is one of the best in the nation. The linebacking corps is deep and talented, something that Trojan fans are familiar with. Corey McKeon came from nowhere last season to lead the team with 98 tackles and chipped in with seven sacks and two interceptions. He is a strong tackler who will be all over the field.
Stewart Bradley is a tall, strong, smart linebacker who is very similar to the Trojans' Dallas Sartz.
Bo Ruud is another solid linebacker for the Huskers. Last season, Ruud had 14 tackles for loss among his 80 stops and scored a touchdown on a fumble return. He was named to the Honorable-Mention All-Big 12 team last season. This season, Ruud has the team's only interception and has forced a fumble
Steve Octavien will see time at weakside linebacker as well and could prove to be the most talented linebacker on the team.
Cornerbacks – #25 Andre Jones, #2 Courtney Grixby
Courtney Grixby is the team's best returning cornerback and, at just 5'9" and 170 pounds, will need to rely on his speed and leaping ability to stay with the Trojan wide receivers. He does have exceptional speed, but if he's matched up one-on-one against any of the tall Trojan receivers, he'll have a tough time shutting them down. He's been playing with a broken thumb and with the lack of depth in the Husker secondary, it will be important for Grixby to not only stay on the field, but to shut down whichever receiver he lines up against.
Andre Jones will line up opposite Grixby and that's not something that most Husker fans want to hear. Zackary Bowman was going to be the team's best cover cornerback, but he's out for the season with a knee injury. And fellow cornerback Isaiah Fluellen's knee injury against Louisiana Tech will sideline him for the rest of the year as well. Andre Jones is a JC transfer who has barely seen one game of Division I football, but apparently that makes him a veteran Athletic Director, claiming shortly after the win over Nicholls State that USC purposely scheduled their bye week so that they could prepare for Nebraska. He told the Omaha World-Herald, "Obviously, they're concerned about some things," he said, "which is a smart move by them."
The Huskers are coming off a game in which they didn't allow a completed pass. But facing a Division I-AA team that runs the triple option isn't exactly the best way to gear up to face the Trojans. Me? I'd rather have the bye week.
Safeties – #30 Tierre Green, #8 Andrew Shanle
Tierre Green enters 2006 at his third position at Nebraska. After playing tailback in 2003 and 2004, Green played cornerback last season before moving to strong safety this spring to replace departed Daniel Bullocks. Green is a physically gifted athlete, with a great combination of speed and strength. Because the Huskers are so good in their front seven, Green might be asked to help out against the pass more than the run on Saturday. His play against the Trojan tight ends and running backs will be important.
Andrew Shanle takes over at free safety and is getting the first starts of his career this season. He has great speed and is a smart player, but that inexperience will be prodded at by the Trojans.
Huskers on Special Teams
Kicker – #29 Jordon Congdon
Jordon Congdon is a solid kicker, but he certainly hasn't been spectacular in the season's first two games. Of his 15 kickoffs, none have forced touchbacks and he missed the only field goal he's been called upon to try (a 37-yarder against Nicholls State). He's converted all 15 of his extra point attempts, however. Though he doesn't have a huge leg, he was three-for-three from beyond 40 yards last season. He's on the watch list for the Lou Groza award.
Punter – #97 Dan Titchener
Dan Titchener has been called upon to punt four times this season and has performed admirably, posting a 42-yard average and putting two of his punts inside the 20-yard line.
Kick Returner – #30 Tierre Green
The speedy Tierre Green is a big threat in the kick return game, but with the way Troy Van Blarcom was handling kickoffs against Arkansas, Green may as well stay on the bench when the Trojans kick.
Punt Returner – #83 Terrence Nunn
Terrence Nunn was one of the best punt returners in the nation last season and has nearly a ten-yard average on eight attempts this season.
Nebraska is definitely on their way back to being a national player, but contrary to what Courtney Grixby believes, they don't yet have the talent to match up with the Trojans. The defensive line and linebackers are as good as you could ask for, but the secondary is weakened with the absence of two corners and the Huskers don't have the depth to cover it up.
Offensively, the Huskers will need to work on establishing a running game against the Trojans, because the secondary and linebackers will be up for the challenge of the west-coast offense. The injury to Josh Pinkard won't exactly help the Trojans, but the talent is there to step into the position. We'll have to keep an eye on the Sedrick Ellis injury situation, because he might be the one guy on the team that the Trojans are unable to replace.