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September 4, 2010

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Western Kentucky

NU Run Offense vs WKU Run Defense
Let's see, Nebraska's biggest strength offensively going up against a Western Kentucky rush defense that ranked 118th in the country last season. Pretty self-explanatory. The Huskers return their top three running backs from last season in senior Roy Helu and sophomores Rex Burkhead and Dontrayevous Robinson, who combined for nearly 1,700 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns last season.

On the other side is Western Kentucky, which returns seven starters from a defense that surrendered almost 250 yards on the ground per game along with 35 rushing touchdowns. Only two other defenses in the nation were worse against the run than the Hilltoppers, and that likely won't change much on Saturday.

Edge: NEBRASKA

NU Pass Offense vs WKU Pass Defense
All eyes will be on Nebraska's quarterbacks on Saturday, regardless of who ends up starting. The most highly analyzed position battle on the entire roster this offseason will finally put itself on display, as senior Zac Lee, redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez and sophomore Cody Green will show just how far they've come over the past few months.

Whether it's Martinez, Green or the incumbent starter Lee who takes the field, chances are all three are going to get a chance to throw on a young WKU secondary that gave up more than 233 yards per game through the air last year. In other words, all three could look like All-Americans on Saturday.

Edge: NEBRASKA

WKU Rush Offense vs NU Pass Defense
Nebraska's defense was already preparing to play its first game without three of its best players against the run from last season in Ndamukong Suh, Phillip Dillard and Larry Asante. Now with injuries to starting linebackers Will Compton and Sean Fisher, there is even less experience in NU's front seven

Arguably the Hilltoppers biggest strength is its running game, as head coach Willie Taggart takes over after serving as running backs coach at Stanford a year ago. Western Kentucky averaged nearly 173 rushing yards per game last season, but even with the setbacks the Huskers' defense has endured already this fall, that number should still be significantly lower on Saturday.

Edge: NEBRASKA

WKU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
If things get out of hand early and Western Kentucky is forced to turn to its passing game to keep up, things could get really bad in a hurry. The Hilltoppers posted one of the worst pass offenses in the country last season, only mustering up a mere 148 passing yards per game. Pair that along with Nebraska's two shutdown corners, and that's a bad mix for WKU.

Not only that, Western Kentucky is also going through a quarterback competition of its own, as returning starter Kawaun Jakes has been pushed all offseason by juco transfer Matt Pelesasa. Jakes is scheduled to make the start, but if he gets into trouble early don't be surprised if Pelesasa takes over.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
With senior Alex Henery coming back to handle Nebraska's place kicking and punting duties and senior Niles Paul handling the returns for the second straight year, the Huskers once again boast one of the best overall special teams units in the country. Henery showed just how good he could be last year, as he earned preseason all-conference honors and a spot on the Lou Groza Award watch list.

Paul was the Big 12's second-ranked punt returner last year, averaging 10.7 yards per return and taking one back for a touchdown against Colorado. Considering Western Kentucky ranked 80th in kickoff return yards allowed and 68th in punt return yards allowed, Paul could be in for a big day on Saturday.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Nebraska Will Win If:

It can get at least 11 guys to show up for the game. In all seriousness, though, Nebraska is in absolutely no danger in this game, and the only big questions will be if the offense can break 50 points and the defense can pitch a shutout. With the quarterbacks all trying to prove themselves, turnovers might be a problem with guys trying to force passes, but at worst that will only make it not look quite as lopsided on the scoreboard.

Western Kentucky Will Win If:

It can somehow force a performance from Nebraska's offense like Iowa State did last year, control the clock on offense and put up some points with the running game. There might be one or two turnovers, but there is absolutely no way this game is close after halftime. Unless of course the Huskers find a way to make it that way.

X-Factor:

In a mismatch like this, there generally isn't just one area that could decide the game. This instance is a case where one team is simply superior to its opponent in essentially every aspect. If there has to be just one thing to focus on, it would be the talent of NU's running backs and offensive line compared to Western Kentucky defensive front seven. The Huskers are bigger, stronger and faster, and it's going to likely show right away in how well they run the ball and control the line of scrimmage from the beginning.

Prediction: Nebraska 56 Western Kentucky 0



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