On paper, it would seem as if Nebraska would be going up against one of the better rush defenses in the country in Oklahoma State on Saturday. However, statistics can sometimes be deceiving. If you consider the fact that the Cowboys havent faced a formidable rushing attack all season, making their fourth-ranked run defense (124.5 yards per game) a bit misleading.
For Nebraska, establishing the ground game will be crucial in controlling the tempo of the game and keeping OSUs potent offense off the field. Though the Huskers came into last weeks game against Texas boasting one of the top rushing offenses in the nation, they were unable to establish any sort of consistency and it eventually resulted in their first loss of the year. Look for NU to get back on track today.
NU Pass Offense vs OSU Pass Defense
While running the ball will obviously be a point of emphasis for Nebraska, it will be just as important to make some plays in the passing game to keep its offense balanced. Against the Longhorns, the Huskers couldnt capitalize on a number of golden opportunities through the air, and it likely resulted in at least 21 points left off the scoreboard.
Oklahoma State seems to be the perfect match-up for NU to gets its passing game back on track, as the Cowboys havent been able to stop anyone through the air this season, ranking 114th nationally (280 ypg). However, until the Huskers prove they can actually catch the ball with any sort of consistency, its hard to give them an edge here at this point.
OSU Rush Offense vs NU Rush Defense
Though Oklahoma State boasts one of the most prolific passing attacks in all of college football, its going to come down to its running game and the play of senior running back Kendall Hunter for the Cowboys to pull off a win today. Coming off a season-ending injury last year, Hunter has been one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12 this season, as he leads the conference in rushing with 138.3 ypg.
Nebraska has had trouble against the run all season, and after last weeks 28-missed tackle debacle against Texas, this is easily the biggest area of concern on the defense. Overall, the Huskers have given up 157.3 ypg on the ground this season, which ranks ninth in the Big 12 and 74th nation. Shutting down Hunter is going to be crucial in keeping the Cowboys one dimensional, but look for OSU to run right at Nebraska early and often.
OSU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
There might not be a much better all-around passing attack than what Oklahoma State has shown so far this season. Led by 27-year old quarterback Brandon Weeden and star receiver Justin Blackmon, the Cowboys have the countrys third-ranked pass offense (361 ypg) and the top scoring offense in all of college football (49.5 points per game).
However, for as good as OSUs passing game may be, Nebraskas pass defense is just as dominant. The Huskers have shut down every single opposing passing offense theyve faced, as they feature the nations No. 1 pass defense (117 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (80.41 rating).
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Nebraska has been solid but not great in special teams this season, as senior kicker/punter Alex Henery has been decent in both areas, but senior Niles Paul has yet to make a single big play in the return game. One thing this game will offer is a showdown between the top two kickoff specialists in the country in NUs Adi Kunalic and Oklahoma States Dan Bailey, meaning kickoff returns will come at a premium.
Though he wont be featured as the primary punt returner, Nebraska has been working senior Eric Hagg as a second man back with Paul to help prevent the types of rolling punts Texas was able to pull off last week. After his school record 95-yard return for a touchdown against the Longhorns, it certainly wont hurt.
Nebraska Will Win If:
It can re-establish its dominant running game and be effective in the passing game to keep Oklahoma States defense honest. The Huskers also need to make sure they make Hunter a non-factor while not letting Blackmon burn them on a deep pass down the field. In short, ball control on offense and forcing three-and-outs on defense will be the keys to a victory.
Oklahoma State Will Win If:
It is able to force Nebraska into passing situations like Texas did last week and get some solid production from Hunter to open up the passing game. The Cowboys have all the weapons on offense to give Nebraska fits, but that last thing it wants is to find itself behind early having to throw their way back into the game against the Huskers opportunistic secondary.
Both teams feature a wide variety of weapons, but this game is going to come down to which team has the most balance offensively. Nebraska needs to get something out of its passing game to keep the run effective. Oklahoma State will have to be able to run to help create some open passing windows for Weeden. Whichever team can execute both aspects on offense the best is going to walk away a winner today.