World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon breaks down the Arkansas State and Nebraska game, matchup-by-matchup. Which team has the edge? * * *
Bo Pelini vs. Gus Malzahn: Arkansas State's defense doesn't have the athletes to stop many BCS conference teams, so the Red Wolves' only hope is that new head coach Gus Malzahn — a no-huddle guru who's one of the better offensive minds in college football — can concoct a way for his offense to drop 30 to 40 points. He'll be facing a motivated Bo Pelini, whose defense was humbled last week by UCLA. Whichever coach gets his guys in position to make plays could help decide the game.
NU rush offense vs. Arkansas State rush defense
The Huskers appear ready to play a second game without Rex Burkhead, but Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard proved themselves last week. ASU counters with a decent defensive line, anchored by 6-foot-2, 310-pound nose tackle Ryan Carrethers. The linebackers struggled with Oregon's pace in the opener, and the speed of NU's no-huddle attack should create the same problems. Edge: Nebraska
NU pass offense vs. Arkansas State pass defense
ASU's small-but-athletic corners may struggle to body up against receivers Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa. NU tight end Kyler Reed is a tough matchup. Arkansas State will try to blitz QB Taylor Martinez and force mistakes, but Martinez tends to flourish in those settings. Edge: Nebraska
Arkansas State rush offense vs. NU rush defense
The Red Wolves have begun to lean on David Oku — a former NU recruiting target — as their top running back, and he didn't disappoint in a win over Memphis, rushing for 130 yards. But if there's one thing Nebraska's defense worked on this week, it's defending the run. Look for NU to have some solutions in that area. If NU does nothing else this year, it'll commit to stopping the run. Edge: Even
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Arkansas State pass offense vs. NU pass defense
Malzahn won't hesitate to attack Nebraska's secondary. NU remains vulnerable to the deep pass, as UCLA showed clearly. And the Huskers still lack the right kinds of experienced athletes to cover and tackle in space. The Red Wolves will catch Nebraska out of position more than once and hit a few plays that cause Memorial Stadium groans. Edge: Arkansas State
Nebraska gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown in game one. Arkansas State had a punt blocked in its win over Memphis. NU has the edge, though, because the kickoff return unit of Bell, Abdullah and Jamal Turner is a constant threat to break a big play, and kicker Brett Maher, while a little inaccurate to start the year, still has an impressive leg. Edge: Nebraska
Arkansas State has a minus-3 turnover margin and has committed more penalties than Nebraska. NU has home-field advantage. Both teams have struggled with recent defections from the program. These are two teams with tough-minded, no-compromise head coaches who seek to tighten the ship on a weekly basis. And both squads have experienced quarterbacks running the show. Edge: Even
NU will win if ...
The offense overwhelms ASU's overmatched defense, and the Husker defense gets a little bit better against the run.
ASU will win if ...
Malzahn and his offense get on a roll, the tempo is at a breakneck pace and NU's Martinez starts pressing his reads and throws.
It's tempting to call this game Nebraska's “Ball State” moment for 2012. It follows a loss to a team from Los Angeles. It's an 11 a.m. game. The difference, at least to us, appears to be that Nebraska's defensive coaches know they had problems slowing UCLA and want to fix those mistakes by any means necessary. NU's offense learned hard lessons from its collapse at UCLA and applies those on Saturday. It's not going to be a flawless performance. But it'll be better.
Prediction: Nebraska 42 Arkansas State 24