With the three-headed monster Nebraska features in its backfield with quarterback Taylor Martinez and running backs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead, it's hard not to give the Huskers the edge in this category every time. So far, NU's rushing attack has been virtually unstoppable, as there have already been countless long touchdown runs with little resistance from the first two opposing defense.
This week, the Huskers bring their nation-leading 8.8 yards per carry as a team against a Washington defense that has been decent against the run so far, giving up an average of 129 yards per game and one rushing touchdown. The Huskies' front four was roughed up a bit by BYU's offensive line in their season opener, as the Cougars rushed for nearly 150 yards on 4.4 ypc. It's safe to say that Nebraska's offensive front will be even more physical today.
NU Pass Offense vs UW Pass Defense
This might be the biggest point of concern for Nebraska, as Martinez will be faced with the first real challenge of his career. Not only is the redshirt freshman making his first road start, he's doing it in one of the loudest and most hostile environments in college football in Husky Stadium.
Led by star cornerback Desmond Trufant, who's regarded by many as one of the better corners in the Pac-10 Conference, Washington's secondary will look to take advantage of Martinez's inexperience. After two less-than-impressive performances through the air to start the year, the Huskers are going to need to make a few big plays through the air to keep things open in the running game.
UW Rush Offense vs NU Rush Defense
Washington running back Chris Polk is one of most promising young players in the Pac-10, and he's also one of the most overlooked players on the Huskies' offense. Add in the running ability of quarterback Jake Locker, who's proven he can break loose at any point, and UW boasts a deceptively talented rushing attack.
However, Nebraska's defense is one of the nation's best against the run, and its front seven just might be the most talented and physical Washington will see all season. The Huskies have reportedly been working true freshman Erik Kohler as the No. 1 left guard this week in practice, meaning he'll likely be lined up directly across from All-American defensive tackle Jared Crick in his first collegiate start. Talk about a mismatch.
UW Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
This is the match-up everyone is waiting to see. Heisman Trophy voters and NFL scouts alike are dying to watch Locker go to work against fellow projected first-rounder Prince Amukamara and one of the most aggressive and ball-hawking secondaries in the country.
So far, Locker has been near perfect through the air this season with five touchdown passes and zero interceptions. After a quiet start to the year against BYU, Locker went off for 289 yards and four touchdowns last week against Syracuse. On the other side, Nebraska has allowed just a total of 169.5 passing yards per game and two total touchdowns passes. This one should be fun to watch.
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Of all the different match-ups in this game, none is more lopsided one way or the other than in the special teams units. For one, Nebraska obviously features one of the best kickers/punters in the nation in Alex Henery, and return man Niles Paul is always a threat to break one for a touchdown. The real difference this week, though, is Washington's lack of threats. The Huskies lost starting punter Will Mahan to injury during fall camp, and their kickoff and punt coverage units both rank among one of the nation's worst. The Huskers obviously realized the mismatch, as they moved Paul to the No. 1 kickoff returner this week with the hopes of capitalizing.
Nebraska Will Win If:
It continues to crank out the yards and the points on the ground like it has been. The Huskers are going to need to make a few plays through the air, but as long as the offense controls the clock and the tempo of the game and the defense keeps Locker in check, they should be in full control throughout.
Washington Will Win If:
It can make Martinez try to beat them through the air, force some turnovers and get a Heisman-worthy performance out of Locker. The Huskies have the ability to exploit some of Nebraska's weaknesses, and as long as they're able to execute, especially on special teams, there's no reason they can't pull of the upset today.
Nebraska's advantage in the special teams game is really going to be a key factor in this game. If all goes as planned, the Huskers should be getting an average starting field position of their own 30-yard line or even closer, which will be huge for a redshirt freshman quarterback to get some confidence going. Also, Paul could be in for a career performance in the return game, and his kick and punt returns could be the edge NU needs to get its first big non-conference road win in years.