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September 5, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Florida Atlantic

NU Run Offense vs FAU Run Defense
This just might be the area that Nebraska holds the biggest advantage of all. For one, the Huskers pride themselves on their ability to line up and play smash mouth football against anyone.

Even with the loss of junior running back Quentin Castille, Nebraska features one of the most promising young backfields in the Big 12 Conference. Head coach Bo Pelini said junior Roy Helu could be considered one of the best backs in the country by the time the season is done.

Not only that, but Nebraska's offensive line will arguably be the biggest and most physical units Florida Atlantic will see all season. Even though it has some holes to fill from last season, the offensive front appears ready to once again be one of the strengths of the Huskers' offense.

If all that weren't enough, the Owls will be without two of their top returning defensive linemen for tonight's game. For a rushing defense that ranked 98th nationally last season, it could end up being a very long night.

NU Pass Offense vs FAU Pass Defense
Tonight will be the debut for junior Zac Lee as Nebraska's starting quarterback. It will also mark the first starts and/or significant playing time for a number of the Huskers' wide receivers.

Normally, that combination would be considered a sure weakness. But after a solid offseason and Lee establishing himself as a true leader of the offense, don't be surprised if the Huskers' passing game heats up quickly against the Owls.

While Nebraska's quarterbacks and wide receivers might be inexperienced, so are FAU's defensive backs. In fact, the Owls will enter the game with a completely new secondary, as no starters return from last season.

Add in NU's talented and deep tight ends to the mix, and Lee should have plenty of weapons at his disposal for a nice debut in front of the Nebraska faithful.

FAU Run Offense vs NU Run Defense
After losing original starter Jeff Blanchard to an ACL injury, converted fullback Willie Floyd takes over as Florida Atlantic's starting tailback this season. Against Nebraska, this does not bode well for the Owls.

With a front four arguably as good as any in the Big 12, if not the country, the Owls will try and match an inexperienced and makeshift running game against the biggest strength of the Huskers' defense.

Led be senior All-American candidate Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle, it likely won't take long for Nebraska to make FAU's offense completely one dimensional by shutting down the run.

To Florida Atlantic's credit, it did feature a 1,000-yard back last season. But that was then, and none of those yards came against a front four like Nebraska's.

FAU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
If Nebraska has anything to worry about tonight, it's trying to find a way to slow down Flordia Atlantic's passing attack. A top-25 passing outfit last season, the Owls bring some talented weapons to the table.

The biggest of which is senior quarterback Rusty Smith, who threw for more than 3,200 yards and 24 touchdowns last year. Smith has the potential to take his game to the next level, and what better stage to showcase his skills than Memorial Stadium.

Then there's the weapons Smith has to work with. Senior receiver Cortez Gent has averaged 62 catches and roughly 1,000 receiving yards the past two seasons. In addition, the Owls boast one of the best tight end units in the country, led by senior Jason Harmon, who missed last year with a torn ACL.

Considering Nebraska's propensity to give up big plays through the air and an extremely young and inexperienced linebacker group left to cover those tight ends, don't be surprised if the Owls are able to put up some points and plenty of yards through the air tonight.


Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Nebraska already has one of the best kickers in the nation in junior Alex Henery, so it wins that match-up hands down. Now that Henrey has won the starting job at punter, you can go ahead and give the edge there to NU as well. Junior Niles Paul and sophomore Alfonzo Dennard both have a year of experience together in the return game, and they should be even better this season.


Nebraska Will Win If: It controls the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, like it should, and gets some production out of the passing game. If those factors are met, and Nebraska can limit its turnovers as much as possible, than there should be no reason for the Huskers not to start off the season 1-0. If turnovers become an issue, however, things might not be quite as easy.

Florida Atlantic Will Win If: It can force lots of turnovers and take full advantage of its one edge over Nebraska in the passing game. If Smith can get some time in the pocket and find Gent and his tight ends down field, the Huskers have shown to have problems keeping with opponents in coverage in the past. It's going to take a lot of "ifs" to all come together for the Owls to have a chance, but you never know.

X Factor: Look for Pelini and brother/defensive coordinator Carl Pelini to dial up some heavy blitzes and really try to get after Smith early and often. If a guy like Suh can bust through and put a hit on Smith on the first possession, it's going to effect FAU's passing game all night long.

Prediction: Nebraska 49 Florida Atlantic 24

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