October 24, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Iowa State

NU Run Offense vs ISU Run Defense

Normally this would be a match-up heavily in Nebraska's favor, but with the health status of junior running back Roy Helu still in the air and no proven backup behind him, it's not quite so clear cut anymore.

If Helu, who has been suffering from two injured shoulders the past two weeks, can manage to be anywhere near the factor he's capable of being, the Huskers should have no trouble moving the ball on the ground against the Cyclones. Iowa State has given up an average of more than 140 rushing yards per game this season.

However, if Helu is limited as he was last week against Texas Tech, someone will have to step up and help carry the load. Last week, sophomore Marcus Mendoza got the bulk of the action when Helu was out, but that was mostly because the Huskers were playing catch-up and needed a receiving back like Mendoza in the game.

On Thursday, head coach Bo Pelini said he expects the No. 2 running back duties to once again be handled by committee, as no back has emerged as the clear No. 2 for the second straight week. Even so, the Huskers still have the advantage against an average-at-best Iowa State run defense.

NU Pass Offense vs ISU Pass Defense

This will undoubtedly be the most intriguing aspect of the game for most Nebraska fans, as well as for the NU coaching staff. Since junior quarterback Zac Lee's dismal performance last week, the debate over whether he or freshman Cody Green should be the Huskers' starting quarterback has been the hot topic all week.

Pelini said it would likely be a game-time decision, so it's difficult to gauge what to expect out of Nebraska's passing offense without knowing who the quarterback is going to be. What we do know is that whoever ends up starting will be facing a downright awful Iowa State pass defense.

The Cyclones currently rank 95th nationally in pass defense, giving up more than 245 yards per game through the air. To their credit, they have picked off 10 passes this season, which ties for the Big 12 Conference lead. However, they've also given up 15 touchdown passes, the second most in the conference.

Whether it's Lee or Green on Saturday, neither will likely have any trouble finding some success throwing the football against Iowa State's secondary. One way or the other, Nebraska should get it's passing offense back in gear this week.

ISU Run Offense vs NU Run Defense

This is also an area that Nebraska normally dominates, but things change a bit this week considering the rushing offense Iowa State brings to the table. Through seven games, the Cyclones boast the best rushing offense in the Big 12 and the 14th-ranked ground game in the country.

The charge is led by junior running back Alexander Robinson, who's coming into the contest averaging a conference-best 105.3 yards per game. However, like Helu, Robinson's status is a bit questionable after he suffered a groin injury last week against Baylor. He's been limited all week in practice, but ISU head coach Paul Rhodes said he expects Robinson to be ready to play on Saturday.

After Robinson, junior quarterback Austen Arnaud is the team's second-leading rusher with 434 yards, seven touchdowns. The next highest rusher is redshirt freshman running back Jeremiah Schwartz, who has just 214 yards an zero touchdowns.

Facing a dinged up Robinson would certainly help Nebraska, but it's not as if it really needs any help stopping the run this season. The Huskers have held opponents to just 94.8 rushing yards per game, which stands as the third-lowest mark in the Big 12.

ISU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense

If Iowa State can't find a way to run the football effectively, it could be a long day for its offense in trying to get anything going against Nebraska's defense. While the Cyclones may have one of the best rushing attacks in the country, they sure haven't been able to throw the ball.

Arnaud has only been able to manage 195 passing yards per game this season, with just nine touchdowns to five interceptions. To make matters worse for ISU, Arnaud has been dealing with his own injury issues the past week as well.

In that same Baylor game last week, Arnaud hit his throwing hand on a defender's facemask, bruising it to the point where it swelled enough that it made gripping the football difficult. He said the injury hasn't too much of an issue this week and fully expects to play, but anything that could further lessen his odds for success against Nebraska's pass defense is certainly not a god thing for Iowa State.

The Huskers are coming into the game with a top-25 pass defense that has allowed less than 175 passing yards per game. Even though they lost, the secondary helped hold Texas Tech's potent aerial assault to a season-low 234 yards through the air and just one touchdown.

Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor

Nebraska saw a mild improvement in its special teams play last week from its disastrous performance against Missouri, but it still wasn't anything to write home about. Junior kicker/punter Alex Henery made his 10th field goal of the season on a chip shot, but missed a 51-yarder later in the third quarter. Henery's punting was pedestrian as well, as he averaged just 35.2 yards per punt, including two that went less than 30 yards. Junior Niles Paul was average again on punt returns, and a couple of nice kick returns from Alfonzo Dennard and Tim Marlowe weren't enough to mask an otherwise average day in the return game. The good news for NU is that Iowa State's special teams have been even worse in each of those areas.


Nebraska Will Win If:

It can find a way to establish some sort of offensive production, whoever ends up starting at quarterback. The Huskers have taken some heat the past two weeks for their ineffectiveness on offense, and they need to come out and show some consistency with the football and put some points on the scoreboard. The defense will take care of it's end of the deal, so it will be up to the offense to determine whether Saturday will be a step in the right direction or only worsen an already tense situation.

Iowa State Will Win If:

It can make Nebraska continue its offensive struggles and find a way to run the ball the way it has been all season. The best way for the Cyclones to pull off the upset on the road is to grind away at the Huskers' defense and control the ball as long as possible while also getting points to show for their efforts. They'll definitely need Robinson and Arnaud to be full-go on Saturday, as without those two the Cyclones don't stand a chance.


Along with boasting the best rushing offense in the Big 12, Iowa State's offensive line has protected its quarterback as well as any line in college football. Through seven games, the Cyclones have allowed just three sacks, which the most by any time having played that many games this season. As a result, Arnaud has obviously not had to throw under much pressure at all. If the Huskers can find a way to get a steady pass rush and make Arnaud throw under duress - especially with his bruised throwing hand - they might be able to force him into making some bad passes that could result in turnovers.

Prediction: Nebraska 28 Iowa State 3

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