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September 24, 2011

Match-up watch: Wyoming

NU Run Offense vs. UW Run Defense
The power running game finally got going for Nebraska last week against Washington, as the Huskers rushed for 309 yards and four touchdowns on 55 attempts in the win. That was definitely a comforting sight for NU fans, as the running game will no doubt be crucial to the Huskers' success in Big Ten Conference play this season.

Tonight should only be more of the same in terms of running the football effectively, as Wyoming has given up an average of 127 yards per game on the ground to two FCS schools and Bowling Green. With Nebraska coming into the game boasting the nation's No. 11 rushing offense at more than 252 yards per contest, look for junior Rex Burkhead and the rest of the Huskers' talented backfield to run wild tonight, especially in the fourth quarter.


NU Pass Offense vs. UW Pass Defense
The biggest question mark for Nebraska's offense all year has been the passing ability and consistency of sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez. Last week, Martinez finally put some of those questions to rest with one of his better passing performances of the year against Washington. It wasn't as if he lit up the scoreboard through the air - he was just 10-of-21 for 155 yards - but he was able to make the big throws when he needed to, including setting the tone with a 50-yard bomb on the first play of the game.

Tonight's match-up couldn't favor Martinez much better, as Wyoming's secondary has been torched by far less talented passing games. In fact, the Cowboys have given up a whopping 287.7 passing yards per game this season to rank 109th nationally. Nebraska's receivers will be the biggest, most physical and most athletic Wyoming's defense has seen all year, and the Huskers should be in for some more big pass plays this week.


UW Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
If there was one area where Wyoming might be able to stack up against Nebraska in this game, it would be running the football against the Huskers' front seven. The Cowboys have been able to run it fairly well this season, averaging 226.7 yards per game to rank 20th in the country. Then there's the uncertain status of NU senior defensive tackle Jared Crick, who didn't practice all week after being injured against Washington.

With all that in mind, though, it's hard not to pick Nebraska to dominate in this area as well. The Huskers have had their issues with stopping the run this season, but Wyoming's running game doesn't stack up anywhere near the likes of Washington and Fresno State in terms of overall physicality from the running backs and offensive lines. Even if Crick is forced to sit out tonight, Nebraska has enough depth on the defensive line to more than make up for his absence against the Cowboys.


UW Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
As well as true freshman quarterback Brett Smith has done in his first three collegiate games, he hasn't seen anything close to what he'll get tonight in Nebraska's pass defense. Smith has thrown for nearly 800 yards and five touchdowns and completed 61 percent of his passes this season, but tonight will be one of the best secondaries the Cowboys will face all year.

To make matters worse for Smith and Co., senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will rejoin to the starting lineup for his first action of the season. Dennard's return changes the entire look of NU's defensive backfield, and many of the Huskers' coverage problems from earlier in the year will be solved just with his presence alone. All signs point to the first real dominant performance of the year from Nebraska's secondary.


Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Of all the match-ups in this game, special teams are easily the biggest advantage of all for Nebraska. The Huskers rank among college football's best kicking and return units, as junior kicker/punter Brett Maher continues to be automatic and freshman Ameer Abdullah has emerged as one of the best return men in the country.

The one area where Wyoming has an edge is its kick block team. The Cowboys have blocked an astounding 12 field goals and extra points in their past 28 games, and their latest last week was as big as any of them. After Bowling Green scored with just two seconds left in the game to make it 28-27, Wyoming blocked the extra point to come out with the win. Still, that won't be nearly enough to give them the edge here.


Nebraska Will Win If:

It continues to run the ball effectively, convert a few big pass plays to keep Wyoming's defense honest, and make the Cowboys' offense one dimensional to make Smith try and win the game with his arm. The only real way the Huskers should have any problems tonight is if their young roster gets caught up in the atmosphere of the first road game of the season and doesn't execute the way it's supposed to.

Wyoming Will Win If:

It can stop Nebraska's running game and Smith can step up and make clutch passes when he has to. More than anything, the Cowboys will have to find a way to not wear down as the game goes along and allow the Huskers win the physical battle down the stretch.


The biggest thing that separates these two teams is just the overall size and strength of Nebraska's offensive and defensive lines. There's no reason why the Huskers should own the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football, as the Cowboys simply don't have the players to match-up with NU in the trenches.

Prediction: Nebraska 52, Wyoming 21

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