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September 22, 2012

Match-up watch: Idaho State vs. NU

NU Run Offense vs. Idaho State Run Defense
The Huskers' running game has been the team's greatest strength through three games, and that was with only three carries from all-conference back Rex Burkhead, who will return after missing the past two games with an injury. Nebraska hasn't missed him much, with Ameer Abdullah capably assuming lead-back duties and Braylon Heard and Imani Cross backing him up.

Opposing them will be a defense that appears hapless to stop them. Idaho State gave up 484 yards rushing in their season opener to Air Force, allowing the Falcons to rush for 8.3 yards per carry. The Bengals appear to be completely overmatched here.

Adding to their pain will be the running resurgence of Taylor Martinez, who has healed and rediscovered the running ability that made him a national sensation as a freshman. If Nebraska can hang on to the ball (it fumbled four times last week), the Huskers should have no trouble running all over Idaho State.


NU Pass Offense vs. Idaho State Pass Defense
After a blip on the radar during the second half against UCLA, Martinez returned to his marksman-like ways against Arkansas State, misfiring on just one of his 14 pass attempts. He appears to have established strong relationships with Quincy Enunwa and Kenny Bell, who are both off to very good starts.

In the Bengals' only game against a legitimate opponent (Idaho State beat Black Hills State last week), they faced run-heavy Air Force, so it is tough to measure the true strength of their secondary. But the Bengals did allow the Falcons to complete eight of their 11 pass attempts and don't figure to have the athletes to match up with the Huskers outside.

This match-up appears to lopsided, and if the Huskers jump out to an early lead, look for increased opportunities for some of the little-used receivers. Tyler Evans, Steven Osborne and Taariq Allen have all shown ability in limited playing time but have been stuck behind Enunwa, Bell and Jamal Turner. This game could allow them to get on the field more often.


Idaho State Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
After being gouged for 344 yards on the ground by UCLA, the NU defense rebounded with a strong performance against Arkansas State. The Red Wolves had 148 yards on the ground and only 50 in the second half. The play of linebackers Zaire Anderson and David Santos certainly helped, but Anderson is now out for the season with a torn ACL.

The Bengals don't show much interest in running the ball. They've attempted just 57 runs (compared to 222 passes). "Leading" the attack is Xavier Finney with 97 yards and a 2.7 yards per carry average. And the Huskers won't have to worry about a mobile quarterback - Kevin Yost has 11 yards on seven carries this year.

Nebraska figures to be in its dime defense for most of the day, but there's no doubt it would like to get Santos some more experience before Big Ten play starts next week. If the Bengals do try to run, safeties P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford have both proven to be stout defenders near the line of scrimmage.


Idaho State Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
If there is one area where Idaho State comes even remotely close to having an edge, it's here. Yost has completed nearly 75 percent of his passes for 779 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception. He has a solid corps to throw to - Derek Graves and Cameron Richmond have combined for 50 receptions in two games and the Bengals will get 2011's leading receiver and potential NFL prospect Rodrick Rumble on the field for the first time this year.

Unfortunately for Idaho State, the NU secondary has played well and only figures to get better as cornerback Mohammed Seisay becomes more comfortable coming off his ankle injury. He'll steal time from Josh Mitchell and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who have both played well themselves.

It will be interesting to watch NU's pass rush, which got a shot in the arm from Eric Martin a week ago. Can the Huskers find someone to provide some pressure opposite him?


Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
The Huskers are still searching for a clean game on special teams. Brett Maher finally rounded back into 2011 form last week, but Abdullah had a punt glance off his foot for a turnover and the Huskers committed a few penalties that negated solid returns.

The Bengals' special teams are nothing to speak off. The one bright spot could be punter C.J. Reyes, who has averaged more than 45 yards per boot and has a long of 63.


Nebraska Will Win If:

The Huskers don't completely overlook Idaho State, and even that might not save the Bengals. Idaho State figures to be one of the worst teams to come through Lincoln in a while, so the Huskers just have to avoid injuries and take care of business before taking on Wisconsin next week.

Idaho State Will Win If:

The Mayans were wrong and the world really ends on Sept. 22. In all seriousness, there are almost no scenarios in which the Bengals leave Lincoln with a win. Idaho State would have to force several turnovers and Yost would need the day of his life to pull off the upset.


The Huskers are still steaming over the UCLA loss. Had it beaten the Bruins, Nebraska might feel fat and happy and turn their attention a week ahead to the Badgers. That shouldn't be the case now, however.

Prediction: Nebraska 49, Idaho State 7



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