Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Kansas State Wildcats
--by Vince Campisi
November 15th, 2008
2:30 PM CT
Television Coverage: FSN PPV
NEBRASKA (6 - 4) (3 - 3)
KANSAS STATE (4 - 6) (1 - 5)
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. Kansas State
Latest Line: Nebraska by 6.5.
08/30/08 - vs. North Texas - W 45-6
09/06/08 - vs. Montana State - W 69-10
09/17/08 - at. Louisville - L 29-38
09/27/08 - vs. Louisiana-Lafayette - W 45-37
10/04/08 - vs. Texas Tech - L 28-58
10/11/08 - at. Texas A&M - W 44-30
10/18/08 - at. Colorado - L 13-14
10/25/08 - vs. Oklahoma - L 35-58
11/01/08 - at. Kansas - L 21-52
11/08/08 - at. Missouri - L 24-41
11/15/08 - vs. Nebraska
11/22/08 - vs. Iowa State
08/30/08 - vs. Western Michigan - W 47-24
09/06/08 - vs. San Jose State - W 35-12
09/13/08 - vs. New Mexico State - W 38-7
09/27/08 - vs. Virginia Tech - L 30-35
10/04/08 - vs. Missouri - L 17-52
10/11/08 - at. Texas Tech - L 31-37 OT
10/18/08 - at. Iowa State - W 35-7
10/25/08 - vs. Baylor - W 32-20
11/01/08 - at. Oklahoma - L 28-62
11/08/08 - vs. Kansas - W 45-35
11/15/08 - at. Kansas State
11/10/08 - vs. Colorado
Kansas State Offense
Kansas State's offense has put up some good looking numbers, but does not perform well week-to-week. The Wildcats run almost exclusively out of single back formations. After playing ten games, they rank 28th nationally in total offense (412.70 ypg), 17th in passing (276.80 ypg), 31st in passing efficiency (133.09 rating), 72nd rushing (135.90 ypg), 20th scoring offense (35.30 ppg), and 109th in turnover margin (-1.10 mrg).
QB: Jr. Josh Freeman (200 of 334, 2552 yds, 15 TDs, 8 INTs) has put up numbers that on the surface appear to be impressive, but he has done a bulk of his quality work against inferior competition. Freeman had a tough day against Missouri last week, completing just 50% of his passes for 121 yards. He is ranked 38th in the nation with a 134.10 QB rating. That isn't a bad number, but in this year's great crop of QB's in the Big XII, that ranks 10th in conference in QB efficiency. He's got one of the strongest arms around the country, and can look quite impressive at times. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have complete control of that arm power and has not been the most consistent QB around, often turning the ball over. Freeman isn't a flashy runner, but he has good speed and with his 6'6", 250 lbs. frame, he is a bear to bring down. He leads the team in rushing with 369 net yards and 14 touchdowns on 90 carries with a long of 29. Behind Freeman is So. Carson Coffman (20 of 33, 208 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs). Coffman was the only Wildcat QB to throw a touchdown pass last week against Missouri.
RB: Kansas State's crop of running backs is not one of the better groups in the Big XII, lacking a true home-run threat. No Wildcat running back has had a carry of more than 28 yards this season, and just one running back has had a carry of more than 19. The group is led by So. Lamark Brown (88 carries, 289 yds, 4 TDs), who converted from WR during the early part of the season, mostly due to the lack of punch at RB after the off-season suspension of Leon Patton. Brown is unusually tall for a RB at 6'3", and has really struggled as of late, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry last week against Missouri. Behind Patton is TFr. Logan Dold (67 carries, 297 yds, 3 TDs), Jr. Keithen Valentine (34 carries, 129 yds, 1 TD), and RFr. Justin Woods (19 carries, 68 yds, 1 TD). Dold showed some nice moves in the Texas A&M game (115 yards on 21 carries), but has not been much of a factor the rest of the season. The top four backs have combined this season to average just 3.74 yards per carry. The running backs haven't been a huge part of the passing game, but they have seen throws come their way. Brown has used his WR hands to lead the group (22 catches, 169 yds, 1 TD), while Dold (7 catches, 50 yds) and Valentine (3 catches, 14 yds) have also picked up a few catches this season.
WR/TE: The Wildcats' receiving corps is all about speed. This isn't one of the biggest groups you'll see, with just two of the top six receivers at 6'2" or over. The grouping of starters at wide receiver are Jr. Brandon Banks (57 catches, 917 yds, 8 TDs), Jr. Deon Murphy (30 catches, 424 yds, 4 TDs), and Sr. Ernie Pierce (20 catches, 289 yds, 1 TD). Banks is arguably the fastest man on the team with blazing speed after the catch. He is a gamebreaker and QB Josh Freeman's favorite target. Banks can be a threat from the backfield as well, rushing for 98 yards and 1 touchdown on 3 carries. The bulk of those yards came last week on a 93 yard touchdown run against Missouri's back-ups in the fourth quarter of last week's game. Murphy is also a speedster that can make opponents pay if they miss a tackle. Pierce is the biggest target of the group at 6'4" and has shown to be a nice deep threat with that size. Top reserves at WR include Jr. Aubrey Quarles (34 catches, 407 yds, 1 TD), Jr. Matt Wykes (3 catches, 24 yds), and Jr. Attrail Snipes. Quarles spells Pierce and has done a nice job in that role, ranking third in receptions and fourth in receiving yards this season. The biggest problem with the receivers, though, is that they aren't consistent week-to-week. Occasionally they look fantastic, but on the whole have been a tad underwhelming. At tight end are Jr. Jeron Mastrud (36 catches, 412 yds, 2 TDs) and Sr. Brett Alstatt (6 catches, 41 yds). Mastrud has the size (6'6", 253 lbs.) to be a devastating blocker on the edge and the hands to be second on the team in receptions.
OL: Kansas State's offensive line was expected to be a strength for the offense this season, but has just not been very good opening holes for the run game. Through nine games this season, they are allowing for an average of 4 yards per carry and have given up just 11 sacks (16th nationally) and 39 tackles for loss (4th nationally). There have been a lot of shake-ups to the starting rotation all season long, some injury related, some performance related, and that has led to many inconsistencies. Starting at tackle is Sr. Alesana Alesana (6'4", 304 lbs) on the left and Jr. Nick Stringer (6'6", 271 lbs) on the right. Alesana was an All-Big XII performer last season, but hasn't been quite as good this season. He is still one of the better starting linemen for the Wildcats, however. Stringer has done well on the right side this season and has started all 10 games this year. Top reserves at tackle include Jr. Edward Prince (6'5", 289 lbs) and Sr. Penisini Liu (6'6", 282 lbs.). Starting at guard is RFr. Colten Freeze (6'5", 287 lbs) on the left and Sr. Penisini Liu (6'6", 282 lbs) on the right. Liu can be dominant at times, but doesn't have great consistency play-to-play. Top back-ups at guard are Jr. Brock Unruh (6'6", 288 lbs) and Sr. Gerald Spexarth (6'6", 284 lbs). At center is Sr. Jordan Bedore (6'3", 295 lbs), with So. Zach Kendall (6'3", 290 lbs) backing him up. Bedore is back this week after missing the last three games with an injury.
Kansas State Defense
Kansas State's defense is one of the worst in the nation, struggling running the 3-4. They have been equally poor against the pass and the run. Through ten games, they rank 110th nationally in total defense (451.30 ypg), 93rd pass defense (240.50 ypg), 87th pass efficiency defense (133.63 rating), 109th rush defense (210.80 ypg), 108th in scoring defense (34.40 ppg), 92nd in fumbles recovered (5), and 83rd in interceptions (7).
DL: Kansas State's three man defensive front has really struggled to slow down opposing teams' rushing attacks. They have also struggled to get after opponents' quarterbacks on a regular basis. Through ten games, they are allowing 5.1 yards per carry while helping the defense to pick up 10.5 sacks. Starting at defensive end is TFr. Brandon Harold (41 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) on the left end and Sr. Ian Campbell (37 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 PBU, 2 BK) on the right end. Campbell has been a two-time first team All Big XII performer, and leads the team in sacks this season. He isn't having a great season, but has done well on special teams with two blocks. Top reserves on the ends are Sr. Vlad Faustin (7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU, 1 BK) and Jr. Eric Childs (42 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 2 PBU). Childs had a season-high 13 tackles last week against Missouri. When playing a 4-3 scheme, Harold will move to defensive tackle, while Childs will replace him as a top end. Starting at the nose tackle spot is Sr. Brandon Balkcom (18 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU), with Jr. Daniel Calvin (13 tackles) performing back-up duties. Balkcom has been pushed around over the last month or so, as opponents have been running free through the defensive front.
LB: Kansas State's linebacking corps has been decent this season, but not up to the standards set in the 90's for KSU linebacking corps. This is not a very good unit in pass coverage, giving up a lot of short to intermediate passes. Starting at the two inside linebacker spots are Jr. Ulla Pomele (52 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FF, 2 FR, 1 PBU) and RFr. Alex Hrebec (48 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 2 PBU). Hrebec has made a big impact for this unit, a nice surprise after walking-on last year. Pomele is a good all-around backer, but isn't the fastest of the crew. Top back-ups on the inside include Jr. Hansen Sekona (19 tackles) and Jr. John Houlik (21 tackles, 1 FF, 2 PBU). Starting at the outside linebacker positions are Sr. Reggie Walker (42 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 1 PBU, 1 BK) and Jr. Olu Hall (21 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PBU). Walker is the best athlete of the group, carrying 247 lbs. around very well. Top reserves on the outside include Sr. Antwon Moore (14 tackles, 1 FF) and So. Antonio Felder (6 tackles, 1 PBU).
DB: The Wildcats' secondary has been pretty poor in coverage this season, ranking as one of the worst in the nation in many pass defense categories. On the season, opponents are completing a high 59.90% of their passes with 11.5 yards per completion average. Starting at cornerback is So. Joshua Moore (60 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 FR, 10 PBU) at left corner and Jr. Blair Irvin (31 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU) on the right. Moore is the best of the bunch, not only making plays on balls in the air, but also the team's most solid tackler. Irvin is a great athlete, but is struggling a bit this season especially against the better passing teams. Top reserves are Sr. Ray Cheatham (38 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU) and Jr. Otis Johnson (7 tackles, 1 FF, 1 PBU). Cheatham started a number of games this season before being replaced about a month ago. Starting at strong safety is Jr. Courtney Herndon (53 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 4 PBU, 2 BK), with Sr. Andrew Erker (9 tackles) serving as his top back-up. Herndon is a speedy safety that leads the defensive backs in tackles for loss (4.5). At free safety is RFr. Tysyn Hartman (36 tackles), while Jr. Chris Carney (49 tackles, 5 PBU) serves as the top reserve. Hartman is an average tackler, but a big hitter. He's usually going to either clobber the ball carrier or whiff on him. He needs more consistency, and being that he is just a Freshman, he will get there with more experience.
Kansas State Special Teams
Kansas State's special teams units have been a pretty solid this season. The return game has been quite good, coverage teams and kicking has been decent, while punting has been mediocre. This unit is great at getting blocks, as they have blocked 8 total (4 punts, 4 kicks). The Wildcats currently rank 107th in net punting (31.94 yd avg), 33rd in kickoff returns (22.64 yd avg), 33rd in punt returns (11.58 yd avg), 5th in kickoff coverage (17.97 yd avg), and 63rd punt coverage (8.72 yd avg).
K: Sr. Brooks Rossman has made 8 of his 11 field goal attempts with a long of 53. He showed good leg strength on the 53 yarder against Colorado, but is just 50% from 40-49 yards out. On kickoffs, he has pushed 20 of his 57 kickoffs for touchback and has a solid 66 yard average.
P: So. D.J. Fulhage is averaging 37.9 yards on his 26 punts with a long of 55. 4 of his 26 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. While Fulhage has been the most seen punter, Jr. George Pierson is considered the co-starter. Pierson has averaged 40.1 yards on his 9 punts with a long of 51. Of his 9 punts, 2 were downed inside the opponents' 20.
KR/PR: Kansas' top kickoff returners are Jr. Deon Murphy (10 kick returns, 27.4 yd avg, 75 yd long), Jr. Brandon Banks (12 kick returns, 23.4 yd avg, 33 yd long), and Jr. Aubrey Quarles (24 kick returns, 21.6 yd avg, 50 yd long). The top punt returnmen are Jr. Deon Murphy (24 punt returns, 9.9 yd avg, 1 TD, 86 yd long) and Jr. Brandon Banks (5 punt returns, 11.6 yd avg, 34 yd long).
Coverage: The Wildcats' kick and punt coverage units have been solid this season. They are allowing an average of 18 yards on 35 kickoff return attempts. The punt coverage team is allowing an average of just 8.7 yards per return on 18 punts with one touchdown. That touchdown was given up a few weeks ago to Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles.
Nebraska's offense is one of the better units in the nation. Their offense is a combination of the west coast and spread offenses. After ten games, Nebraska ranks 14th nationally in total offense (448.20 ypg), 13th in passing (291.80 ypg), 15th in pass efficiency (155.37 rating), 53rd in rushing (156.40 ypg), 23rd in scoring offense (33.80 ppg), and 109th in turnover margin (-1.10 mrg).
QB: Sr. Joe Ganz (231 for 333, 2833 yds, 19 TDs, 9 INTs) has played well this season and had a great day against Kansas last week, throwing for 324 yards and 3 touchdowns. He holds the 15th best QB efficiency rating in the nation at 154.30. He has an accurate arm (69%) and has shown a solid deep ball, but doesn't throw many. His tendency to keep plays alive too long has resulted in taking unnecessary sacks while his occasional problem with forcing throws that he shouldn't has resulted in turnovers. He is at his best when rolling out and also in quick timing patterns. He runs well with the football and has executed a number of option plays this season. He has rushed for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns on 61 carries (16 sacks) this season. Overall, he ranks 12th nationally in total offense with 298.6 yards per game. Behind Ganz is RFr. Patrick Witt (6 for 8, 48 yds) and So. Zac Lee (1 for 2, 5 yds). Witt showed some nice wheels on a keeper for a 16 yard touchdown against Oklahoma two weeks ago. Neither back-up has played much this season.
RB: Nebraska's running backs are very good and seem to be finding more running room as their offensive line improves. Sr. Marlon Lucky (114 carries, 470 yds, 7 TDs), So. Roy Helu Jr. (82 carries, 566 yds, 5 TDs), and So. Quentin Castille (70 carries, 279 yds, 4 TDs) are co-number 1's on the depth chart. Lucky has gotten a majority of the carries this season, however, he has been struggling with turf toe. Lucky does well when he has space, and has had some success lined up in shotgun as QB. Helu Jr. has a great combination of hard running, leaping, and cutting ability. His knack for breaking tackles has resulted in some big plays over the past few games. Castille is the power runner of the group and is not afraid to take defenders head-on. He has a fumbling problem and needs to get his knees higher when he runs, but has excellent quickness. RFr. Marcus Mendoza (5 carries, 45 yds) has also had a few touches this season, but hasn't been a big part of the offense. Lucky (22 catches, 275 yds, 1 TD) has great hands out of the backfield and has made two spectacular one-handed grabs this season for big yards. Helu Jr. (20 catches, 217 yds) and Castille (7 catches, 86 yds) have also caught passes this season. Helu Jr. had a career high 8 catches last week against Kansas. At FB, Sr. Thomas Lawson (1 catch, 4 yds) starts, however, is used as little more than a blocker. Sr. TE Hunter Teafatiller has also played the position.
WR/TE: Nebraska's group of receivers is overall pretty solid, but still need to be more consistent with their hands as well as holding onto the ball after the catch. Sr. Nate Swift (54 catches, 801 yds, 8 TDs) starts at "X", and is the top playmaker in the group. He holds Nebraska's career receptions record with 157. He has great hands, good speed, and excellent balance which serve him well for yards after catch. Starting at "Z" is Sr. Todd Peterson (50 catches, 599 yds, 2 TDs), a dependable receiver with great hands. Top back-ups at "X" are Jr. Menelik Holt (25 catches, 278 yds, 1 TD), So. Will Henry, and Jr. Chris Brooks (2 catches, 27 yds, 1 TD). Holt is mostly recovered from a knee injury suffered three weeks ago and provides a great threat when healthy. Top reserves at "Z" are So. Niles Paul (17 catches, 159 yds) and RFr. Curenski Gilleylen (2 catches, 11 yds). Paul has shown explosiveness, but not consistently this season. Gilleylen has great speed, but struggles with catching passes. At TE is So. Mike McNeill (23 catches, 293 yds, 4 TDs) and So. Dreu Young (7 catches, 98 yds, 1 TD), with Sr. Hunter Teafatiller (3 catches, 27 yds) and RFr. Ryan Hill (3 catches, 9 yds, 1 TD) as the top pair of back-ups. This is a decent group of tight ends, with McNeil being the most consistent performer.
OL: Nebraska’s offensive line has had many ups and downs this season and is coming off a solid performance against Kansas. The line continues to make a few crucial false start or holding penalties which have killed drives. This season the line is allowing 4.5 yards per carry. Starting at tackle is So. Jaivorio Burkes (6'5", 325 lbs) on the left and Sr. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) on the right. They have among the more consistent performers on the line. Murtha was injured against Oklahoma two weeks ago and will be out of the line-up again this week. So. Mike Smith (6'6", 285 lbs) is the top reserve at LT, while RFr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) is the top back-up at RT. Smith and Burkes have rotated as starters this season, and there isn't a huge drop-off when they are in place of Murtha. Starting at left guard is So. Keith Williams (6'5", 305 lbs), while Sr. Matt Slauson (6'5", 320 lbs) starts at right guard. Guard play has been shaky this season, but Slauson has been a rock. So. D.J. Jones (6'5", 305 lbs) and Sr. Mike Huff (6'4", 300 lbs.) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard. Williams was injured in last week's game, but will be ready to go Saturday. Jr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs.) backing him up. Hickman is an adequate center, but not a dominant force by any stretch.
Nebraska's defense has improved over last season's unit, but still has difficulty stopping good passing offenses from getting into the endzone. The big news in Lincoln this week was that coach Bo Pelini handed out the famed Blackshirts to the defensive starters for the first time this season. After playing ten games, the Huskers rank 81st nationally in total defense (380 ypg), 92nd pass defense (239.10 ypg), 99th pass efficiency defense (140.35 rating), 63rd rush defense (140.90 ypg), 89th scoring defense (29.10 ppg), 114th in fumbles recovered (3), and 83rd in interceptions (7).
DL: Nebraska’s defensive line has been the strength of the defense this season, and is coming off one of their best performances of the season last week. They struggled in few games this season, but dominated Kansas' offensive front the entire contest. Opponents are averaging 4.2 yards per rush this season, a decreasing number. Starting at defensive end is So. Pierre Allen (44 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) on the right, with Sr. Zach Potter (38 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 4 QBH, 3 PBU, 3 BK) on the left. Potter is the best all-around player on the line, while Allen is also playing well and flying to the ball. TFr. Cameron Meredith and Sr. Clayton Sievers (11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH) are the top reserves at defensive end. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Ndamukong Suh (60 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 3 QBH, 3 PBU, 1 BK), with Sr. Shukree Barfield (8 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Terrence Moore (8 tackles, 2 sacks) backing him up. Suh is a great athlete and makes more plays than most nose tackles around the country. He lined up as a FB last week and had a 2 yard touchdown reception. Sr. Ty Steinkuhler (37 tackles, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH) starts at defensive tackle, with RFr. Jared Crick (2 tackles, 1 PBU) listed as his top back-up. Steinkuhler is having a solid season after suffering through many injuries throughout his career.
LB: Nebraska's linebacking crew has had continuous problems with injuries, rarely playing a game without at least one starter out. Adding to the troubles, the team found out this week that starting weakside linebacker, Sr. Cody Glenn (51 tackles, 1 FF, 4 QBH, 4 PBU) has been indefinitely suspended. Glenn was the group's best athlete, so this is a huge blow to the Nebraska defense. Jr. Phillip Dillard (38 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), the team's starter at middle linebacker, will once again be out this week with an ankle injury. Dillard is the best all around linebacker of the group, and having him injured has weakened the crew. TFr. Matt Holt (14 tackles), Jr. Colton Koehler (7 tackles), and So. Blake Lawrence (9 tackles, 1 PBU) will help fill the void left by Glenn and Dillard. Starting at buck linebacker is Sr. Tyler Wortman (24 tackles, 1 PBU), with So. Latravis Washington serving as his top back-up. Depending on the defensive alignment, both Wortman and Washington will also shuffle around to help out. The group hasn't been great in coverage this season, and has also had issues taking proper angles to the ball carrier. The unit lacks lateral speed, and with the loss of Glenn, it will be even slower.
DB: Nebraska’s secondary has been lackluster this season against good passing teams. Opposing receivers are repeatedly seen running wide-open throughout the defensive backfield. Tackling has been a problem this season as well, with numerous big plays sprung by a missed tackle or two. Sr. Armando Murillo (32 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 9 PBU) starts at LCB, with So. Eric Hagg (34 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 QBH, 6 PBU) and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (2 tackles) backing him up. Murillo has been the best of the group, but is not immune from getting beat on occasion. Hagg has played well, just not with great consistency. So. Anthony West (25 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 7 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Prince Amukamara (30 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) and So. Lance Thorell (21 tackles) serving as his back-ups. West and Amukamara have played well for Sophomores, but have also given up big plays this season. At strong safety Jr. Larry Asante (58 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 2 PBU) starts, with Jr. Major Culbert (10 tackles) backing him up. Asante is a very good athlete that is getting better in most areas of his game, but still has much room for improvement in coverage. Jr. Rickey Thenarse (11 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU) and Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (45 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) share the top spot at free safety. Both have made mistakes in coverage this season, but Thenarse is a harder hitter and better athlete.
Nebraska Special Teams
Nebraska's special teams units have been pretty decent this season. Coverage teams have been a weakness, but their returners are solid and their punt game is improving. The Huskers rank 95th in net punting (32.83 yd avg), 52nd in kickoff returns (21.86 yd avg), 10th in punt returns (15.44 yd avg), 91st in kickoff coverage (22.77 yd avg), and 66th punt coverage (8.79 yd avg)..
K: So. Alex Henery (10 for 13, 48 yd lng, 1 BK) is a dependable kicker with a solid leg. So. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs because of his leg strength. Kunalic has pushed 24 of 61 kickoffs for touchback this season, with an excellent 65.7 yard average. He kicked well last week, despite kicking into a near 40 mph winds much of the day.
P: Sr. Dan Titchener averages 39.5 yards on his 30 punts with a long of 58. 9 of his 30 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20. He is starting to get back to last season's form (41 ypp), after struggling for much of this season. When he is at his best, he can be an excellent weapon as far as field position.
KR/PR: Nebraska’s kick return team is made up of So. Niles Paul (33 returns, 23.8 yd avg, 1 TD, 85 yd long), Jr. Larry Asante (2 returns, 15.5 yd avg, 20 yd long), and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (4 returns, 13.8 yd avg, 23 yd long). At punt returner is Sr. Nate Swift (11 returns, 18.3 yard avg, 1 TD, 88 yd long) and So. Niles Paul (7 returns, 11 yd avg, 28 yd long). The return game has been a bright spot for the Huskers this season.
Coverage: Nebraska’s coverage teams struggle with missed tackles leading to extra yards for opponents. They did perform much better last week after their abysmal play against Oklahoma the week before last. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 22.8 yards on 39 kickoff returns, while the punt return coverage team is allowing an average of 8.8 yards on 14 punt returns.
Nebraska's Offense vs. Kansas State's Defense
Nebraska's QB Joe Ganz bounced back after a tough game against Oklahoma two weeks ago and put on a show against Kansas last week. He had yet another 300+ yard passing game with 3 touchdowns. It was primarily short to intermediate passes, with his longest completion going for 27 yards. He didn't take off and run as much as he has in past games, choosing to throw the ball all but twice through the game. Kansas State's defense kept Missouri QB Chase Daniel from lighting them up, as they allowed him 271 yards and two touchdowns. The Wildcats were able to pick off Daniel twice as well, though. On the season, Kansas State is allowing opponents to complete 59.90% of their passes, while Joe Ganz is completing 69.4% of his attempts.
Ganz's top targets remain WR's Nate Swift and Todd Peterson. Both are experienced receivers with great hands that run clean routes. They have been invaluable weapons for the Nebraska offense this season, and when the offense needs a critical completion, they are the go-to guys. Nebraska's receiving corps should get a big boost this week with Menelik Holt recovered from injury to the point where he should be a solid contributor this week. The Huskers like to use their RB's often as pass catchers as well, and Roy Helu Jr. is coming off a career high 8 catch day against Kansas last week. There are a lot of weapons to try to stop on the Nebraska offense. Kansas State's defense will definitely have their hands full.
Kansas State will have to find a way to limit big plays from the Nebraska passing offense. This isn't a great defensive backfield for the Wildcats, and they will need the defensive front to get pressure on Ganz to force some bad throws. The Wildcats have a pair of future stars in CB Joshua Moore and FS Tysyn Hartman, but they are still young and make mistakes. Against Kansas, Hartman missed a tackle on two key plays in rush support that resulted in touchdowns for the opponent. In pass coverage, this unit is ranked near the bottom of the country in efficiency defense, allowing a very high rating of 133.60. Matching up against Joe Ganz (154.30), who holds the 15th best pass efficiency in the nation will be a challenge for the secondary. Teams have had a lot of success on short to intermediate routes against the Wildcats this season, which are the bread and butter of the Nebraska offense.
Nebraska's running game has seemed to get better each week over the last month or so. Marlon Lucky continues to struggle with some nagging injuries, the latest being turf toe. Lucky threw a touchdown pass from a direct snap last week. He does well in space, more so than he does running between the tackles. Roy Helu Jr. has rushed for 272 yards the past two weeks, looking like an all-conference caliber back. Quentin Castille also looked quite polished last week in his limited carries. He has had fumbling problems this season, and will have to continue working on making those few and far between. A big part of the reason for the recent successes of the ground game has been because of the performance from the offensive front five. If the output from the offensive line continues to improve for Nebraska, they will be a very difficult offense to stop.
Kansas State's rush defense is among the worst in the country. Last week against Missouri, the Tigers averaged 5.7 yards per rush, while Kansas was able to rattle off 6.8 yards per carry against the Wildcats the week before that. Nebraska is three deep at running back, and with their surging offensive line, the Huskers should be able to pound the ball all day long for huge numbers. Kansas State will have to do their best to plug the gaps and not miss tackles. Nebraska's Helu Jr. is similar in running style to Kansas' Jake Sharp and the Wildcats couldn't do anything to bring him down two weeks ago. This could be a long day for the KSU defense.
Ten games into the season, Nebraska is converting 48.5% of their third downs (14th nationally), and is scoring on 89% of red-zone opportunities (34 TDs, 6 FGs) (15th nationally). The Wildcats' defense is allowing their opponents to convert a very high 43.9% of their third downs (95th nationally), and allowing them to score on 85% of their red-zone chances (32 TDs, 8 FGs) (80th nationally). Both of these stats favor Nebraska heavily. Kansas State's defense will really have to have their breakout game if they hope to slow down Nebraska.
Sizing up the lines, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 311 lbs, while Kansas' average defensive lineman is 6'4", 270 lbs. Kansas State primarily has used a three down linemen approach this season, but there have been many times in which they employ four. It hasn't really affected their opponents' run game, as they seem to struggle against the run no matter what they do. Nebraska's offensive line will again be without one of their best players, RT Lydon Murtha, but the line hasn't shown many ill-effects from having him out. Nebraska has given up 16 sacks and allowed 58 tackles for loss on the year, while Kansas State has picked up 16 sacks and 58 tackles for loss through ten games this season. On the season, Nebraska has averaged 4.5 yards per carry while Kansas is giving up 5.1 yards per carry.
Kansas State's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense
Kansas State's QB Josh Freeman has a solid arm. He is able to make throws many can't due to his impressive arm strength, however, is not always consistent with his passing. Last week against Missouri he was 18 of 36 for 121 yards. He was unable to throw a touchdown pass against the Tigers in a very anemic showing. He typically will put up big yards, but turnovers have negated much of the good. This is a big play offense with a good number of plays that have gone for over 30 yards this season. Freeman is completing 59.90% of his passes this season, while Nebraska's defense is allowing opponents to complete 60.5% of their passes. Freeman needs to be more accurate for the Wildcats to have better chances to keep with up other high scoring offenses. His rushing ability has been key for the offense this season as he leads the Wildcats in rushing yards this season with 369 yards. He's not a guy that has blazing speed, but he has good enough speed that matched with his 6'6" frame, makes him very awkward to bring down in the open field. With Nebraska's depleted LB corps, this will be a challenge for the Huskers.
Kansas State's receivers aren't the tallest group you'll see, but the group is more focused on what they do after the catch, rather than going up for jump balls. WR's Brandon Bands and Deon Murphy are absolute burners. They are a real chore to bring down in the open field, and are near impossible to catch from behind. Banks is by far the top threat, leading the team in receptions (57), yards (917), and touchdowns (8) through the air. Banks, Murphy, Jeron Mastrud, Aubrey Quarles, and Ernie Pierce all average over 11 yards per catch.
Nebraska's pass defense has struggled this season with a defensive backfield that is young and inexperienced. There has been only slight progression this season, and still too many instances with receivers running free in the secondary. The unit is pretty fast, other than a couple of walk-ons in the two deep, but as a whole hasn't been great at tackling. Against a quick Wildcat receiving corps, they could have their share of struggles and give up a few big plays.
Kansas State's run game has had troubles this season finding a consistent rushing threat besides QB Josh Freeman. The offensive line play hasn't been very good, and the best back the Wildcats have is converted WR Lamark Brown. Brown has seen a majority of the carries, but is an awkward running back at 6'3" and doesn't always look natural at RB. Logan Dold has the best average per carry (4.4 ypc) on the team, but hasn't been all that consistent. Someone else needs to step up and help out Freeman to help take some pressure off of him. One dimensional football teams typically don't win many games, and Kansas State needs to find someone that can be a consistent performer at running back.
Nebraska's defense did pretty nice job against the run against Kansas last week. The Jayhawks couldn't find much running room between the tackles, and had to skirt outside to get the majority of their yards. The question is how not having LB Cody Glenn is going to effect the perimeter rush defense. They have already been without the services of injured Phillip Dillard, and they have filled in nicely, but they don't have another LB with the size and speed of Glenn to replace him. KSU QB Josh Freeman will be difficult to bring down once he gets into the second level, so it will be crucial for Nebraska to keep him in check as much as possible.
Kansas State is converting 41.3% of their third downs (46th nationally), with an 83% red-zone scoring average (29 TDs, 4 FGs) this season (53rd nationally). Nebraska's defense is allowing their opponents to convert 36.9% of their 3rd down attempts (49th nationally), and has allowed a solid 79% red-zone scoring percentage (26 TDs, 7 FGs) this season (41st nationally). Kansas State converted on just 29.4% of their third downs last week against a very mediocre Missouri third down defense (40.6% avg). Nebraska held Kansas to a 25% rate on third downs, a Kansas team that was converting 52% of their third downs coming into last week's game.
Up front, Kansas State's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 291 lbs, while Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'5", 283 lbs. This should be a pretty interesting match-up given that the lines are pretty evenly sized. Kansas State has struggled in pass protection this season, and their run blocking hasn't been among the best either. There haven't been many tackles behind the line of scrimmage this year, but a lot of that is due to QB Josh Freeman being able to scramble and break tackles. Nebraska's defensive line is coming off its best performance of the season against Kansas, where they picked up 5 sacks, 2 hurries, and an interception. This was done mostly with just a four man rush. If Nebraska's defensive line is dominant again this week, QB Freeman will have to take the team on his back and use his legs to make a lot of plays. This season, Kansas State is averaging 4 yards per carry, while Nebraska is allowing 4.2 yards per carry. The Wildcats have allowed 39 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, while the Huskers have accumulated 56 tackles for loss and 21 sacks in ten games this season.
Keys to the Game
1.) Eliminate Turnovers - Nebraska continues to turn the ball over multiple times each time out. This has to stop, especially on the road.
2.) Offensive Balance - The run game is coming on and has to continue. The KSU defense is not very good and if they are kept guessing, it will be a big day for the Huskers..
3.) Keep After & Contain KSU QB Josh Freeman - Freeman turns the ball over a lot when pressured, but it has to be calculated pressure, not allowing him to get out of containment.
1.) Get a Fast Start - Nebraska can score a lot of points, and it is crucial to get off to a good start.
2.) Play Heady Football- Keep turnovers and penalties down to an absolute minimum.
3.) Shut Down the Nebraska Run Game - KSU defense has struggled mightily with balanced offenses, and if Nebraska has success in the run and pass, it will be tough to keep up.
LB: Kansas State
Special Teams: Even
CB - Anthony Blue - knee - out for season
DE - Barry Turner - leg - out for season
OG - Andy Christensen - illness - out
LB - Phillip Dillard - ankle - out
OT - Lydon Murtha - foot - out
LB - Cody Glenn - suspension - out indefinitely
WR - Menelik Holt - knee - probable
RB - Marlon Lucky - toe - probable
DB - Gary Chandler - suspension - out
Saturday marks the 93rd all-time meeting between Nebraska and Kansas State. Nebraska holds an impressive 75-15-2 advantage since first meeting in 1911. Nebraska has won the last three match-ups, after losing three straight from 2002 to 2004. Last season, Nebraska came out of the cellar to obliterate the Wildcats 73-31 in a performance no one saw coming from the Huskers. Make no mistake, the Kansas State players remember that game well and are still embarrassed by it. They will be out on Saturday afternoon to avenge that loss, if possible. Just because recently fired head coach Ron Prince is staying on board until the end of the season doesn't mean the team has packed it in for the year.
Kansas State is currently (4-6), a tough spot to be in, needing to win their last two contests to be bowl eligible. While it isn't an impossible feat, facing Nebraska at this week and Iowa State in their finale, both at home, it isn't a likely outcome. It will take a very hungry Wildcat team that won't make mistakes to beat Nebraska tomorrow. Nebraska is sitting at (6-4) after becoming bowl eligible with their win over Kansas last week. They were impressive in the victory and that has led to a week of discussion where they might go bowling. Nebraska has to take care of business on the field first, however, and given their inconsistent play this season that is easier said than done. One thing besides a better bowl that Nebraska can still play for is the very unlikely shot at the Big XII North crown. It would take the unlikely duo of Iowa State and Kansas to pull off upsets over Missouri while Nebraska would have to take down Kansas State and Colorado to do it. More than likely, it won't happen, but they are still mathematically alive.
Despite the seemingly big advantages Nebraska has over Kansas State in this game, it might be surprising to many to see the spread at just 6.5 points. This has a lot to do with the inconsistent play of Nebraska, coupled with a Kansas State team playing at home for the first time after Ron Prince was fired. Will Kansas State play harder because of their lame duck coach, though? Will Nebraska think they've turned the corner and look past the Wildcats this week? Turnovers will be pretty big in this game, considering each team has the same (-1.10) margin.
Kansas State QB Josh Freeman will be tough for Nebraska to shut down, given his dual threat ability. He'll lead the Wildcats to some big plays through the day. Nebraska's defensive line has been very good, however, and has been doing what they can to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and force bad throws. If Freeman doesn't play lights out, the Wildcats will have a very difficult time keeping up with the Huskers. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz is one of the most efficient QB's in the country this season because of his ability to manage the Husker offense. They have shown this season the ability to make quick strikes downfield, as well as grind it out and dominate the time of possession. Given how poor the Kansas State rush defense is, expect Nebraska to pound away. Nebraska should win this game by two to three touchdowns.
Nebraska - 42
Kansas State - 28