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December 5, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Texas

NU Run Offense vs UT Run Defense
The running game may be the strength of Nebraska's offense, but it will be going against one of the strongest points of Texas's entire team in Saturday's Big 12 Conference Championship in Dallas.

The Longhorns are not only one of the best defenses against the run in the entire country, they are the best. Allowing an incredible average of just 61.75 rushing yards per game this season, UT leads the nation in rushing defense by an average of more than 15 yards less than the second-ranked team in the category, Alabama (77.08).

There is hope for the Huskers to establish some success on the ground, though. With a healthy Rex Burkhead back in the running back rotation, junior Roy Helu should be able to keep his legs fresh longer and provide more big play ability as the game wears along.

Edge: TEXAS
NU Pass Offense vs UT Pass Defense
This might be the most lopsided match-up of the whole game, as Texas boasts one of the most opportunistic pass defenses in the country and Nebraska has struggled to get anything going through the air the last two months.

The Longhorns not only rank third nationally with 32 total takeaways this season, they also are tied for second with 21 interceptions. Because teams are often forced to become one-dimensional because the running game is taken away or they've had to play from behind, UT has been able to capitalize on quarterbacks trying to force plays through the air.

Junior quarterback Zac Lee has done a good job this year of not turning the ball over, as his seven interceptions on the season are tied for the second-fewest in the Big 12 for QBs that have started 10 games or more. Earlier this week, Lee said he had no plans of trying to force any passes, which against this defense, would be a pretty good idea.

Edge: TEXAS
UT Rush Offense vs NU Rush Defense
If you take senior quarterback Colt McCoy out of the equation, Texas's running game is much to write home about. Though McCoy ranks second on the team with 111 carries for 368 yards, the rest of UT's ground game has averaged just 133.25 yards per game this season, which would rank seventh in the Big 12.

However, you can't ignore McCoy's production when talking about the Longhorns' rushing attack. His ability to scramble and make plays with both his arm and his legs are some of the biggest reasons why many consider him the frontrunner for this year's Heisman Trophy.

Nebraska has faced its share of mobile quarterbacks already this season, and aside from a few plays the Huskers have done a decent job of keeping each of them in check. No quarterback has really been able to burn the Huskers on the ground, but there's no doubt that McCoy's experience makes him the most dangerous threat they've faced yet.

Edge: NEBRASKA
UT Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
As good as McCoy is as a runner, there's no question that it's been his ability as a passer that has allowed him to become the winningest quarterback in college football history. Even as good as Nebraska has been against the pass this season, McCoy will undoubtedly once again provide the biggest challenge to date.

McCoy finished the regular season ranked in the top-11 nationally in every major passing statistical category, including completions per game (5th, 25.83), total passing yards (9th, 3,328), passing yards per game (11th, 277.33) and passing efficiency (11th, 152.93). Not only that, senior receiver Jordan Shipley also ranks in the nation's top-6 in every receiving category.

The good news is that Nebraska has been overall pretty solid against the pass this season, as it's only allowed seven passing touchdowns all season. However, three of those seven came in the Huskers' most recent game against Colorado, where the Buffaloes were able to reel off some big plays through the air against NU's secondary.

Edge: TEXAS
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Junior kicker/punter Alex Henery may have been snubbed from the all-conference first-team selections, but that doesn't mean he hasn't put together a season to remember. While his field goal kicking has been solid (16-of-20), it's been Henery's punting that has made his so good this year. Averaging 42.3 yards per punt, Henery has mastered the art of pinning teams inside their own 5-yard line, which in a game like tonight could prove an invaluable weapon for the Huskers. Texas punter Justin Tucker has only punted 33 times this season, but kicker Hunter Lawrence has been one of the best in the country, connecting on 20-of-23 field goals and leading the Big 12 in scoring.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Nebraska Will Win If: It can put together a near perfect game in every aspect. The Huskers will have to find a way to move the football and not commit any turnovers to give Texas any easy scoring chances. On defense, they'll have to find a way to slow down McCoy and not let his running become a factor. Also, the defense and special teams are going to have to continue to make some big plays and hopefully gets some points on the board on their own.

Texas Will Win If: It can shut down Nebraska's offense and get McCoy and the offense on a roll. As long as the Longhorns don't find themselves going punt for punt with NU like Oklahoma did a few weeks ago, they should be able to build up an early lead and take the Huskers out of their comfort zone and force Lee to try and make plays.

X-Factor: This game is all going to come down to which team handles the pressure better. For Nebraska, it essentially doesn't have anything to lose, as no one is really giving the Huskers a chance of upsetting Texas. Still, this is easily the biggest game NU has played since the 2006 Big 12 title game against Oklahoma, and hardly any of the players now were even on that team. On the other side, Texas has everything to lose in this game. A win would give the Longhorns a conference title and a berth in the national championship, and a loss would send them to the Cotton Bowl. The gains of a win are huge for both teams, but the effects of a loss would be far greater for Texas,

Prediction: Nebraska 13 Texas 27



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