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October 17, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Texas Tech

NU Run Offense vs TTU Run Defense
As has been the case and likely will be for the rest of the season, Nebraska's running game will dictate its offense's success against Texas Tech on Saturday. However, things took an unexpected turn when freshman running back Rex Burkhead was lost indefinitely to a foot injury.

As a result, the Huskers have spent the past week trying to figure out who would step up and emerge as the new No. 2 running back behind junior Roy Helu. No one player appeared to win the job outright, and it looks as if the role will be filled via committee.

The good news is that Nebraska still has Helu, who ranks 13th nationally with 110.4 yards per game. Helu will likely see the bulk of the workload against the Red Raiders, which will really be nothing new considering Burkhead only averaged six touches a game before his injury.

NU Pass Offense vs TTU Pass Defense
In his two games against quality opponents, Nebraska junior quarterback Zac Lee has struggled considerably. Texas Tech is by no means a slouch, but Lee's fortunes could finally take a turn for the better this week.

The Red Raiders currently rank 92nd nationally in pass defense, allowing 242.5 yards per game. Combine that with the fact that Lee threw three touchdown passes in his most recent quarter of football, and his hot streak should only continue on Saturday.

Last season, Nebraska came into its game against Tech with the sole intention of holding onto the ball as long as possible and trying to eat up as much game clock as it could to keep the Red Raiders' potent passing offense off the field. This week, the Huskers should be far more comfortable opening up the playbook.

TTU Run Offense vs NU Run Defense
There's a reason no one ever talks about the running game when discussing Texas Tech' offense. It's because the Red Raiders are among the worst rushing teams in the country, ranking 114th nationally with a mere 78 yards per game.

To their credit, the Red Raiders use other methods such as screens and shovel passes to constitute their version of a running game, but as far as lining up and rushing right at defenses, they don't bring much of anything to the table.

Nebraska on the other hand has been pretty solid against the run this season, as its only giving up an average of a little more than 108 yards per game. Of any aspect of Saturday's game, this should be one of the least of the Huskers' concerns.

TTU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
Nebraska's pass defense might be better than it's been in years this season, but the fact of the matter is, no one in all of college football throws the ball better than Texas Tech. No one.

Even after losing starting quarterback Taylor Potts (concussion), the Red Raiders simply reloaded and put in backup Steven Sheffield, who filled in nicely against Kansas State last week to the tune of 490 passing yards and seven touchdowns.

As previously noted, the Huskers have been very good against the pass this season, as they've given up an a little more than 162 yards per game and have allowed just one passing touchdown all year. However, expect those numbers to go up just a bit on Saturday.

Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
IMAGE Nebraska had plenty of issues to address this week on special teams after its all-around dismal performance against Missouri. Granted, the weather conditions played a big part in the poor play, but the Huskers still need to find more consistency on special teams this week, especially in its punt and punt return units. Junior kicker/punter Alex Henery should be fine, but it will be interesting to watch how NU's long snappers have adjusted after several bad snaps last week. Also, the Huskers fumbled three punt returns against the Tigers, and they've also had to find someone to replace Burkhead as the No. 2 punt returner.


Nebraska Will Win If: The Huskers should look to ride Helu and whoever emerges as the No. 2 running back to keep Texas Tech's offense off the field as long as possible. Nebraska played keep away from the Red Raiders last season and nearly pulled off the upset. A similar strategy should also be effective this time around, but NU should try to open things up more offensively to give its defense some insurance.

Texas Tech Will Win If: It can slow Nebraska's running game and get the ball in its offense's hands to make some plays. The Red Raiders might not have the big names they did last season on offense, but they always find a way to put up huge numbers year in and year out. If Tech can continue to make some big pass plays and also stop the Huskers' offense and get some turnovers, there's no reason they can't extend their winning streak over NU to four straight.

X-Factor: Earlier this week, Texas Tech offensive line coach Matt Moore said the Red Raiders planned to block Nebraska senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh one-on-one with All-Big 12 right guard Brandon Carter. Given that Suh has put up numbers worthy of Heisman Trophy consideration this season, that might not be the best idea. Sure, Carter is one of the best linemen in the country, but Suh is arguably the best overall defensive player in college football. We'll see how long Moore's strategy lasts on Saturday. Prediction: Nebraska 38 Texas Tech 28

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