October 31, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Baylor

NU Run Offense vs BU Run Defense
What was once considered the strength of Nebraska's offense has now been surrounded by question marks, as the health status of junior running back Roy Helu could change the landscape of NU's running game.

Last week against Iowa State, Helu's bad shoulders limited him to just five carries and led to two fumbles, including one on his first carry of the game and another inside ISU's 5-yard line. After trying to fight through the pain, Helu eventually told his coaches he was too hurt to continue.

In his place, freshman Dontrayevous Robinson stepped in and played well in his first collegiate game at running back, racking up a game-high 81 yards and a touchdown. However, Robinson also had some ball control issues, as he coughed one up on what looked to be a potential scoring drive in the second half.

The good news for the Huskers is that Baylor's run defense has been downright awful this season. Through seven games, the Bears rank 100th nationally, allowing nearly 185 rushing yards per game.

Edge: NEBRASKA
NU Pass Offense vs BU Pass Defense
Nebraska's passing game has even more questions to answer than the running game, as it's once again unclear who will even start the game at quarterback when the Huskers take the field this afternoon.

As was the case last week, junior Zac Lee and freshman Cody Green have been battling all week for the starting job, and the coaching staff again decided to make it a game time decision.

Lee struggled again against the Cyclones, though no one could place the blame for the loss solely on his shoulders considering the ridiculous amount of turnovers. However, many fans are calling for Green to take over and provide the Huskers with a spark the offense has been searching for the past three games.

Whoever ends up winning the job will go against a Baylor pass defense that has given up more than 216 yards per game through the air. The Bears have picked off eight passes this season, so Lee and/or Green will have to be careful with their passes.

Edge: NEBRASKA
BU Run Offense vs NU Run Defense
With so many uncertainties on the offensive side of the football, Nebraska has at least one area where it has an undisputed advantage over Baylor. Simply put, there should be no way for the Bears to run the football against the Huskers' front seven.

Averaging just 131.8 rushing yards per game as a team this season, running back Jared Salubi stands as the Bears' leading rusher with an average of a little more than 35 yards per contest.

Obviously the loss of quarterback Robert Griffin to a season-ending injury took a big hit on Baylor's all-around offensive production. In the four games since his injury, the Bears have averaged just 74 rushing yards per game.

On the other side, Nebraska boasts the nation's 22nd-ranked rush defense, giving up an average of less than 103 yards a game. Last week, the Huskers held a beat up Iowa State backfield to just 2.9 yards per carry on 48 attempts.

Edge: NEBRASKA
BU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
Just like in the running game, the loss of Griffin took a huge hit on Baylor's passing offense as well. Since his injury on Sept. 27, the Bears have used the combination of Nick Florence and Blake Szymanski to try and replicate Griffin's production.

Florence has seen the bulk of the reps, completing 65-of-109 passes for 720 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Szymanski has seen primarily backup duty, but he got most of the work in Baylor's loss to Iowa State two weeks ago, going 23-of-38 for 223 yards and three interceptions.

The bottom line is that whoever is under center for the Bears, the passing game has been essentially non-existent. They have thrown just two touchdowns since Griffin got hurt, and without a running threat to speak of, Florence and Szymanski have struggled in his absence.

Nebraska's passing defense hasn't exactly been stellar at times this season, but overall it's more than held its own. Two weeks ago against Texas Tech, the Huskers held the Red Raiders to their lowest passing output in years and limited Iowa State to just 102 passing yards.

Edge: NEBRASKA
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Nebraska's special teams bounced back nicely despite the loss last week, though Ndamukong Suh's blocked field goal and extra point were really the only true highlights. Junior kicker/punter Alex Henery didn't get a single field goal attempt in the game, and just one of them could have been the difference for the Huskers. Henery did punt exceptionally well, including a couple beauties that pinned ISU inside it's own 10. The return units once again weren't spectacular, but at least the Huskers have appeared to clean up the fumbled return problems. Baylor's Derek Epperson s one of the best punters in all of college football, and he gives the Bears a definite advantage in the punting game. However, Nebraska gets the nod in all other areas.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Nebraska Will Win If: It can find a way to hold onto the football long enough to cross the goal line. The Huskers really didn't have much trouble moving the ball against Iowa State, and considering Baylor's struggles on defense, this week shouldn't be any more difficult. As long as NU can avoid another turnover disaster, this should be the game where it gets back on track on both sides of the football.

Baylor Will Win If: It can force turnovers and find a way to move the football on Nebraska's defense. The Bears are at a severe disadvantage without the services of Griffin, who almost single-handedly upset the Huskers in Lincoln last season. But if Nebraska continues to give opponents easy scoring opportunities by turning the ball over, there's no reason Baylor can't finish what it started last season and knock off the Huskers as home.

X-Factor: Assuming he actually gets a chance to play, Cody Green could be the spark Nebraska's offense has been searching for the past three weeks. Playing in front of numerous friends, family and former high school coaches, the Dayton, Texas, native will undoubtedly be playing to prove himself. If he gets a chance to run the offense early in the game, the offense could be his for the taking for the rest of the season.

. Prediction: Nebraska 17 Baylor 0



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