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December 4, 2010

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma

NU Run Offense vs. OU Run Defense
It's look like chances are slim that redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez will play tonight, and even if he does there's no way he'll be 100 percent. That means that once again the bulk of Nebraska's responsibilities in the running game are going to fall on the shoulders of sophomore running back Rex Burkhead and senior Roy Helu.

Burkhead, who touched the ball on more than 30 percent of the Huskers' total plays last week against Colorado, will be operating as the Wildcat quarterback against an Oklahoma defense that has been middle of the road against the run this season. The Sooners are giving up an average of 152.3 yards per game, and Nebraska's offensive line should be able to open up some holes for Burkhead and Co. to run through.

Edge: NEBRASKA

NU Pass Offense vs. OU Pass Defense
Whether it's Martinez or sophomore Cody Green who lines up under center tonight, one of them is going to have to make plays with his arm for Nebraska to win its first Big 12 championship since 1999. Green completed 10-of-13 passes against Colorado, and while he only threw for 80 yards he was still able to complete clutch passes on third downs to keep drives alive.

Oklahoma's secondary isn't going to make life easy on either quarterback, as it ranks second in the Big 12 with 16 interceptions on the season. Cornerback Jamell Fleming is tied for second in the league with four picks, and safety Quinton Carter was named an AFCA All-American earlier this week.

Edge: OKLAHOMA

OU Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
Nebraska has had issues against the run all year, but the good news is Oklahoma hasn't exactly established itself as a dominant rushing team either. The Huskers have given up an average of 147 rushing yards per game, but the Sooners are only averaging 143.7 yards per game on the ground.

Not only that, but OU star running back DeMarco Murray suffered a knee injury during the fourth quarter of last week's win over Oklahoma State. While he's been cleared to play tonight, not having a 100 percent Murray will have nearly as big of an impact on the Sooners as Martinez has with Nebraska.

Edge: NEBRASKA

OU Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
Last year, Landry Jones was thrust into the lineup as a freshman after Sam Bradford went down with a season-ending injury, and he definitely went through his share of growing pains. This year, Jones has been as good as anyone in the country. He currently ranks second nationally in passing, third in passing yards and third in passing yards per game.

On the other hand, Nebraska has been one of the best against the pass all year long. The Huskers' 18 interceptions lead the Big 12 and rank seventh nationally, and they rank second in the country with 144.7 passing yards allowed per game. The secondary will have its hands full with the likes of Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, but it's not as if NU hasn't faced its share of top-flight receivers already this season.

Edge: PUSH

Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Nebraska has a chance to take advantage of what could be Oklahoma's weak link - its kickoff coverage unit. Oklahoma leads the country by allowing three kickoffs returned for touchdowns, and even without return man Niles Paul in the lineup, the Huskers could be able to capitalize with a big return or two by Tim Marlowe, who nearly broke one last week.

Senior Alex Henery has been totally snubbed on the post-season accolades so far, and there's no doubt that he'll be looking to show the rest of the conference what they've overlooked both in the kicking and punting games.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Nebraska Will Win If:

Burkhead can once again put the offense on his back and Green can find way to make enough plays in the passing game to keep the chains moving and get points on the board. All the attention is going towards how Nebraska's defense will match-up with Oklahoma's offense, but the could very well be decided on the other side of the ball.

Oklahoma Will Win If:

It can run the football consistently to take the focus off Jones and then shut down Nebraska's running game on defense. With a dinged-up Murray, the Sooners need to figure out a way to get just as much production from their backfield tonight to keep NU from dialing up its pass rush and getting after Jones. If they can make Nebraska play from behind early, their chances of winning another Big 12 title should be pretty good.

X-Factor:

For all the conspiracy theorists out there certain that the Big 12 simply won't permit Nebraska to win the conference championship on its way out the door to the Big Ten, tonight will be the last chance to do something about it. In other words, penalties will be one of the most closely watched aspects of the game. If the Huskers find themselves trying to overcome another 16-penalty performance, there's no chance they'll knock off the Sooners, and you can bet a few more e-mails will be sent to Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe's office.

Prediction: Nebraska 27, Oklahoma 24



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