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August 31, 2013

Match-up watch: Wyoming

NU Run Offense vs. Wyoming Run Defense
As strong as the Nebraska rushing attack looked heading into the 2012 season, it appears even mightier this time around. Ameer Abdullah rushed for 1,137 yards as a sophomore and should challenge for a spot on the All-Big Ten first team this year. His backups are Imani Cross, a chiseled, short-yardage hammer who worked hard in the offseason to improve his all-around game, and Terrell Newby, a speedy freshman who has been described as an Abdullah clone. Running behind a veteran offensive line, the backs will put up yardage.

And Wyoming isn't exactly proficient in stopping the run, either. The Cowboys allowed eight of their opponents in 2012 to rush for more than 200 yards, including three that eclipsed the 300-yard mark. Their opponents averaged 232.3 rushing yards per game to the tune of 5.3 yards per carry.

Those numbers should have offensive coordinator Tim Beck salivating, particularly with Taylor Martinez at the helm. Beck has a stable of running backs at his disposal, so Martinez might run a bit less this year. Even if he does, the simple threat of him taking off will keep the Cowboys on their heels.


NU Pass Offense vs. Wyoming Pass Defense
Entering his senior season, Martinez has his best set of weapons since he stepped on campus. Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa have very different skill sets but are effective in their own ways on the outside. Jamal Turner owns the middle of the field and developed a strong rapport with Martinez down the stretch. Backing that trio up are talented redshirt freshmen Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore, Tyler Wullenwaber, Taariq Allen and the surprising Sam Burtch.

The Cowboys don't excel in pass coverage. They allowed opponents to complete 65 percent of their passes in 2012 and picked off only eight throws while giving up 28 touchdowns. Wyoming was also only able to accumulate 14 sacks, meaning Martinez should have some time when he drops back.

Martinez made a strong opening statement in 2012 by passing for five scores against Southern Miss in the opener. While he may not top those numbers, there is no reason to believe Martinez can't build on last season's success and complete more than 65 percent of his throws this year (62 percent in 2012).


Wyoming Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
There are a lot of unknowns here for Nebraska defensively, but chances are it won't matter all that much. Wyoming operates from a spread attack and knows that its chances of competing in this game are reliant on Brett Smith's arm, not what happens on the ground. The Cowboys averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and 125.2 yards per game in 2012.

Meanwhile, much of Nebraska's front seven is gone and the replacements haven't seen the field much. Only linebacker David Santos and linemen Jason Ankrah and Thad Randle have seen extensive action in their careers. But Zaire Anderson's return from injury should help, as should the availability of the massive Vincent Valentine/Brodrick Nickens duo.

Fans are anxious to see how the Blackshirts perform against the run this year after they were shredded on the ground multiple times in 2012. True freshmen Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas will both play and maybe they can help. This game will be a start toward determining whether the run defense is improved, but it likely won't prove much one way or the other - Wyoming's leading rusher, D.J. May, totaled just 374 yards last year.


Wyoming Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
There is a reason four of the seven Blackshirts Bo Pelini handed out this week went to members of the secondary. Ciante Evans, Josh Mitchell and Stanley Jean-Baptiste all have starting experience, but it's Corey Cooper who appears to have made the biggest jump in camp. He'll make a good number of calls for the defense and this game will be a good measuring stick to see where his development is at.

Smith is no pushover at quarterback. The junior threw 27 touchdowns and just six picks last year while completing 62.1 percent of his passes. Five of his top six receivers from 2012 are back and the line did a decent job of pass protection in 2012.

With the temperature sets to be in the 90s and Wyoming featuring a fast-paced offense, a lot of NU defensive backs should get work. That will include Harvey Jackson and Andrew Green at safety and Mohammed Seisay and Jonathan Rose at cornerback. Wyoming isn't a top-tier passing attack, but it should provide a decent barometer as to where the Nebraska secondary stands right now.


Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
There are new faces all over the board here for Nebraska. As of Thursday, the coaches still hadn't decided on a kicker and there is a good chance we could see both Pat Smith and Mauro Bondi in action today. Redshirt freshman Sam Foltz will see his first action at punter, and true freshman Gabriel Miller will do the same at long snapper.

Turner will take over the punt return duties, a disastrous area for NU last year. If he can simply hold onto the ball, he will be an upgrade. At kick returner, a host of players figure to get a shot, starting with Bell and Newby. There should also be plenty of fresh faces in the coverage units.

There isn't much to fear in Wyoming's special teams. Kicker Stuart Williams made just seven of his 12 kicks in 2012, including two of six from 40 yards and beyond. The Cowboys will have a new punter and, unless there is some dynamic newcomer on the roster, don't figure to be very explosive in the return game. Nebraska gets the edge based on its potential.


Nebraska Will Win If:

It takes care of business, plain and simple. Wyoming has some interesting pieces, but there is no reason the Cowboys should keep this game close. Nebraska needs to prove it can avoid turnovers and force Smith into a miserable night.

Wyoming Will Win If:

Absolutely everything goes wrong for Nebraska. Smith is a talented quarterback and the Cowboys have a few players the could give Nebraska trouble, but the Huskers have an overwhelming edge in talent.


Despite the over-matched opponent, there's a good deal of motivation for Nebraska here. The offense set a standard for itself last year that the Huskers now must live up to, while the defense is looking to prove the debacles of 2012 are things of the past. Those factors alone should keep NU interested against Wyoming.

Nebraska 45, Wyoming 17

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