World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa breaks down the Minnesota-Nebraska game, matchup by matchup.
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Key matchup: Nebraska's Kenny Bell (above) and Quincy Enunwa, who combined for just three catches last week, will have to work to find openings against two senior defensive backs. Michael Carter has a team-high 14 pass breakups and Troy Stoudermire is the top tackler (63 stops). Run blocking will be important, as always, but Nebraska could use a few big plays downfield from its two best receivers.
NU rush offense vs. UM rush defense: Rex Burkhead could return, but Nebraska might not need him. Ameer Abdullah has 100 yards in four straight games; Imani Cross and Braylon Heard are improving. Taylor Martinez is running with more assertiveness, which makes the nation's seventh-best rushing offense even more dangerous. Minnesota is allowing 4.6 yards per carry (second-highest in the league). Edge: Nebraska
NU pass offense vs. UM pass defense: After completing 67 percent of his throws in the season's first seven games, Martinez has connected on just 52.5 percent in the last three outings. And Minnesota is seventh nationally in pass defense (168.8). But the Gophers have given up seven passes of 40-plus yards, so NU likely will be able to take advantage downfield, especially in play-action situations. Edge: Nebraska
UM rush offense vs. NU rush defense: Sophomore Donnell Kirkwood ran for a career-best 152 yards last week against Illinois. Quarterback Philip Nelson is a threat, too, typically carrying the ball about 10 times a game. NU made critical mistakes in run support against Michigan State and Penn State, leading to big plays. The Huskers have allowed 17 runs of 20 or more yards, ranking 95th in the nation. Edge: Minnesota
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UM pass offense vs. NU pass defense: Minnesota started three sophomores and two redshirt freshmen on its offensive line last week, and because of injuries, it will likely go with its third option at center. Throw a freshman QB into the mix and you've got potential for disaster against a defense designed to confuse foes. Oh, and Minnesota's top receiver, A.J. Barker, is likely out. Opponents are completing just 46.3 percent of their throws against the Huskers. Edge: Nebraska
Special teams: The Huskers rank in the top 30 in punt return average (11.5), but in the last three games, NU has returned only half of its opponents' punts (seven returns for 16 yards). Brett Maher's made 10 of his last 11 field goals, but still hasn't found consistency as a punter. Minnesota has had issues in the punt game, but it does rank eighth nationally in kickoff return defense. Edge: Minnesota
Intangibles: Nebraska hasn't finished with an undefeated season at home since 2001, and considering the tendency for an occasional letdown against an inferior opponent, the odds would seem to be in Minnesota's favor. But this year, NU has found ways to seize momentum and overcome slow starts. Plus, Saturday is senior day. Edge: Nebraska
Nebraska will win if: It doesn't beat itself by trying to do too much. Stay patient, and NU's advantage in speed and athleticism will reveal itself.
Minnesota will win if: It establishes its ground attack, controls the clock and avoids allowing Nebraska's offense to strike quickly with explosive plays.
Our take: The Gophers became bowl eligible last week. So the pressure's off, but expect a strong effort. But Nebraska's the better team, with more on the line. Sure, a roller-coaster season, defined by costly errors and clutch recoveries, makes it difficult to presume anything. But if the Huskers want to win the Legends Division, they have to take care of business at home.
Prediction: Nebraska 38, Minnesota 10
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