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September 10, 2011

Match-up watch: Fresno State

NU Run Offense vs. FSU Run Defense
Quarterback Taylor Martinez had another big day on the ground in last week's win over Tennessee-Chattanooga, ending the day with 135 yards and three touchdowns. However, one of the most concerning stats of the entire game for the Huskers were his 19 carries, which were eight more than NU's next highest rusher. If Martinez is going to stay healthy all season, he's got to cut down the number of hits he takes each game and let his running backs help carry the load.

Against Fresno State this week, Martinez and Co. will be going up against a Bulldog front seven that is one of the overall strengths of their team. Led by outside linebacker Travis Brown and defensive tackle Logan Harrell, FSU brings an aggressive defensive attack that puts a lot of pressure on opposing offensive lines. However, the Bulldogs gave up nearly 150 rushing yards with two first-quarter rushing touchdowns to Cal last week. Look for the Huskers to run right at Fresno from the get-go to set the tone for the entire game.


NU Pass Offense vs. FSU Pass Defense
While he was fairly effective running the ball last week, Martinez certainly wasn't very crisp in the passing game. Martinez completed just 50 percent of his passes for only 116 yards, as many of his throws were off target and he never quite looked comfortable in the pocket. You could chalk that up to first-game jitters, but there's no question that Martinez needs to be far more efficient throwing the football for Nebraska's offense to reach its full potential.

The Huskers will definitely get a break this week, as the star of Fresno State's secondary - free safety Phillip Thomas - was lost for the season the Thursday before its season opener. Thomas was considered one of the best overall defensive players the Bulldogs have had in years, and he was one of their few players who could match-up with the top BCS-level offensive talent on their schedule. With him gone, the Huskers should have a much easier time getting things back on track through the air.


FSU Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
Part of it was Fresno State spent most of the game playing from behind against Cal, but even so its running game gave no reason to think it would be much of a test against Nebraska's front seven. The Bulldogs gained just 68 yards on 25 carries against the Bears, who no one would put in the same class as NU against the run. Still, expect FSU to try and run it at the Huskers as much as possible in order to slow down the pass rush and limit the number of hits to the quarterback.

It may have only been against Tennessee-Chattanooga, but Nebraska's run defense looked like it's picked up right where it left off last season. The Huskers held the Mocs to just 60 yards on 31 carries (1.9 ypc), and NU will get back the services of junior linebacker Will Compton, who was sidelined after injuring his foot on just the third of the game last week.


FSU Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
The most notable player on Fresno State's roster is quarterback Derek Carr. The younger brother of former No. 1 overall NFL draft pick David Carr, Derek is being counted on to bring the Bulldogs back to the level they were when David was under center. Derek, a redshirt sophomore, had a solid debut against Cal, completing 21-of-33 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. However, he did throw a costly interception in the third quarter that all but sealed the loss for FSU. His go-to guy is Devon Wylie, who caught five passes for 75 yards last week and has been timed with a 4.25 40-yard dash.

Nebraska will once again be without the services of senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (leg injury), so sophomore Andrew Green will make his second career start tonight. Green held his own against UTC, but he did get beaten for a touchdown and had a few other miscues that could have resulted in big pass plays. Green wasn't the only Husker defensive back who struggled a bit in the opener, so the secondary will have to clean things up quite a bit while facing with a much more talented quarterback.


Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Junior kicker/punter Brett Maher stole the show last week with a stellar debut, connecting on all four of his field goals and averaging 52 yards per punt. His performance gave Husker fans a big sigh of relief, as it looks as if the torch has officially been passed from the great Alex Henery. In the return game, freshman Ameer Abdullah showed he's the top man at punt returner, and came one missed tackle away from breaking off big returns on a couple of occasions against the Mocs. Nebraska only returned two kickoffs last week, but Fresno gave up 22.7 yards per return to Cal, so the Huskers should have some chances to make some plays in the return game. Isaiah Burse is a threat at kick returner for the Bulldogs, and Wiley's speed could be a factor on punt returns, but overall NU holds the edge here.


Nebraska Will Win If:

It can clean up the mental mistakes it made in the opener and put on a much more balanced and efficient offensive attack. In reality, the Huskers enter the game as 28-point favorites, so it will likely take a total collapse on their part not to come out of this with a win. The biggest thing everyone wants to see is much better execution in all three phases than what NU showed last week.

Fresno State Will Win If:

Carr can make some plays through the air and Fresno can get the running game going on offense, while the defense can find a way to slow down the Huskers and force a couple turnovers. The Bulldogs are no strangers to playing against top competition, but they'll need to be at the top of their game if they're going to come into Memorial Stadium and pull off the upset.


Nebraska's wealth of young playmakers on offense never really got a chance to show what they could do against Tennessee-Chattanooga, but this week could be when they add more than a few plays to the season highlight reel. In particular, the Huskers' receivers could be in line for some big plays against Fresno's vulnerable secondary. When it comes down to it, nothing concerns the Bulldogs coming into this game than Nebraska's overall team speed, and that could end up being the biggest difference at all tonight.

Prediction: Nebraska 35, Fresno State 13

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