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November 7, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma

NU Run Offense vs OU Run Defense
At the beginning of the season, this match-up would have been about as even as it could get. After getting hit with a rash of injuries, Nebraska's running game has become a shell of its full potential.

With junior Roy Helu dealing with two nagging shoulder injuries and freshman Rex Burkhead out with a broken foot, the Huskers have had to lean on true freshman Dontrayevous Robinson to shoulder the bulk of the running game. Robinson has held his own in the three games he's played (28 carries for 138 yards and two touchdowns), but he's never faced a defense as stout as Oklahoma's.

The Sooners come into tonight's game boasting the nation's third-ranked rush defense, giving up an average of just 80 yards a game. In fact, OU has only allowed one opposing running back to break the 100-yard mark this year. Edge: OKLAHOMA
NU Pass Offense vs OU Pass Defense
Though Nebraska finally pulled the trigger and started freshman Cody Green at quarterback last week over junior Zac Lee against Baylor, the state of the passing game didn't get any more stable.

In his first collegiate start, Green completed 12-of-21 pass for 128 yards and an interception. His numbers were anything but stellar, but Green was able to lead the Huskers on three scoring drives and he played well enough to get a victory.

However, mustering up 13 points against Baylor won't be quite the same as doing it against Oklahoma's defense. The Sooners' 13 interceptions this season are tied for ninth in the country, and they also rank fifth nationally with 27 quarterback sacks.

Edge: OKLAHOMA
OU Run Offense vs NU Run Defense
Similar to Nebraska's decreased production in the running game, Oklahoma has seen its rush offense take a skid since the start of Big 12 Conference play. It's not as if the Sooners have been awful by any means, but considering the hype their two-headed backfield received in the offseason, the production has been disappointing.

DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown came into the year regarded as one of the best backfield tandems in college football, but their numbers haven't quite lived up to that billing. Since the start of conference play, OU ranks seventh in the Big 12 with 107.5 yards per game.

Things probably won't get much better against Nebraska's rush defense, which currently stands as second best in the Big 12 and No. 10 nationally, giving up a little more than 96 yards per contest.

Edge: NEBRASKA
OU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
Had defending Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford not been lost for the season with a shoulder injury, this match-up would be a no-brainer in favor of Oklahoma. But with freshman Landry Jones now at the helm, Nebraska now stands a decent chance.

Not to say that Jones isn't a good player, but there's undoubtedly a significant drop off between what he and Bradford bring to the table. In eight games played this season, Jones has thrown for nearly 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns, though he does have six interceptions.

On the other side, Nebraska's pass defense has been downright stingy. The Huskers rank first in the conference in pass defense (171.4 ypg) and second in pass efficiency defense (96.0) and third in sacks (25).

Edge: NEBRASKA
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
If there is one area where Nebraska could really take advantage of the Sooners, it would be in the kickoff and punt return games. Oklahoma currently ranks dead last in the conference in kickoff coverage, as it's given up more than 1,000 kick return yards already this season. On top of that, junior Niles Paul ranks second in the Big 12 in punt return average (9.2). However, the same could be said when the roles are reversed, especially when the Huskers have to punt. The Sooners have the best team punt return unit in the conference (14.7). In a defensive oriented game like this, field goals will also play a big role. Junior Alex Henery could prove a huge weapon for Nebraska if the score is close late in the game.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Nebraska Will Win If: It can figure out a way to score points. The Huskers' defense should be able to hold off Oklahoma's offense long enough to keep the game within reach, so if the offense can find a way to put some points on the board and not turn the ball over Nebraska should be in a position to pull of the upset.

Oklahoma Will Win If: It's defense can overwhelm Green (or Lee) and force him into making mistakes with the football. Also, like Nebraska, points should come at a premium, so anything it can get going offensively - rushing or passing - will be huge to get out to an early lead and make the Huskers play from behind.

X-Factor: What could end up being the biggest factor for both teams is how well Green handles the pressure of Oklahoma's defense and playing in the biggest football game of his life thus far. With just one game of real experience under his belt, Green will have never seen anything like he's about to experience against the Sooners in a primetime television game. If he steps up and meets the challenge, Nebraska has a definite chance to win this game. If he crumbles under the pressure, things could get almost as bad as last season's meeting.

Prediction: Nebraska 6 Oklahoma 17



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