Texas Tech Red Raiders (4-2, 1-1)
Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-1, 1-0)
October 17, 2009 :: 2:30 p.m. CST :: Weather: Lincoln, NE
TV: FSN :: Radio: Affiliates :: Game Cast: Fox Sports
The figures next to the team name are, in order: yards per game / national rank / conference rank.
Texas Tech Passing Offense vs. Nebraska Passing Defense
Texas Tech (443.50 / 2 / 1): QB Steven Sheffield has been electric in two games for Texas Tech, albeit he's done it against two teams that aren't top 25 teams, like Nebraska. In 1.5 games for the Red Raiders, Sheffield is 53-70 for 780 yards, 11 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Not to be too critical, but Sheffield's interception on Saturday night seemed like a play where Sheffield had determined where he was going to go as the play was snapped. That cannot happen against Nebraska. Tramain Swindall has become this team's playmaker amongst the receivers, averaging 92.8 yards a game and 19.33 yards per catch. The rest of the group is rounding out their roles. I think I mentioned last week that Texas Tech would need at least 1 receiver to step up their game, and right now, Swindall is in a zone. The bigger the threat that Swindall is, the easier it becomes for Detron Lewis, Alexander Torres and Lyle Leong. And this doesn't even take into account Jacoby Franks big night (3 receptions, 99 yards and 1 touchdown) against KSU. Quite simply, there's a lot of receiving threats out there and Sheffield is finding them. There's no doubt that the offensive line has looked better in the last two games, in part because Sheffield's mobility has allowed him additional time, but this unit still leads the conference in sacks allowed at 13 and must play like a cohesive unit. Perhaps the matchup of the night will be RG Brandon Carter and the below-mentioned Suh.
Nebraska (162.60 / 14 / 1): The Cornhusker pass defends begins and ends with DT Ndamukong Suh, who may be the best player in college football right now, and has an unbelievable stat line: 32 tackles (leads team), 5.5 TFL (leads team), 3 sacks (leads team), 7 passes broken up (leads team) and an interception. Suh is an absolute dominate interior defender and to think that Texas Tech's offensive line is going to control Suh to an extent would be wishful thinking. The pass defense is 14th in the nation and have played prolific passing teams such as . . . Missouri, in a rain-storm. In other words, much like Kansas St. last week, the Cornhuskers haven't really played a team that's truly proficient passing the ball other than the Tigers. And to give Nebraska credit, they held Blaine Gabbert to 17-43 for 134 yards and 2 interceptions. I think you'll see a lineup of Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard at cornerback and Matt O'Hanlon and Larry Asante at safety. Keep in mind that Nebraska has a distinct advantage that other Texas Tech opponents haven't had, which is a dominant player up front. Nebraska has broken up 25 passes during the year and had 17 quarterback hurries. That's 42 pass plays that have been affected by the secondary or the defensive line.
Verdict: This is the strength of the Texas Tech offense and the offense is clicking.
Texas Tech Rushing Offense vs. Nebraska Rushing Defense
Texas Tech (78.00 / 114 / 12): Baby steps. The Red Raiders went from the worst rushing offense in the NCAA to the 114th worst rushing offense, all in one week. But there's progress there to those of us who watch closely. I mentioned after the game on Sunday that the running backs rushed for 182 yards on 21 carries. That's an 8.67 yard per carry average and for a team that's absolutely struggled to garner any sort of run game, the fact that this team has pulled itself up a bit, especially after having such a tough time establishing anything resembling a running game is encouraging. The truth be told though is that the Red Raiders hae steadily improved the rushing game after a somewhat slow start (73 and 60 yards in their first 2 games). It's still tough to be sure what offensive line coach Matt Moore will do, although you would expect that unless something drastic happened, he would settle on the offensive line that would be the most successful against Nebraska, which was to start Lonnie Edwards at LG rather than Chris Olson, who Moore may be figuring will need to give multiple positions a break against the Cornhuskers. The more I think about this idea, the more I like it.
Nebraska (110.80 / 33 / 5): Nebraska is sitting 5th in the conference, although Nebraska has been a team that you could run on (i.e. there's yards to be gained), but the difference is that they are yielding few points on the ground and allowing less than 5 yards a rush. In addition to all-world Suh, the defensive line is rounded out by Barry Turner and Pierre Allen at defensive end and Jared Crick joins Suh up front. I'm not sure how much the linebackers will play on Saturday and would guess that Pelini will adjust with an additional defensive back, which should, in theory, open things up for the Texas Tech running game. When Nebraska is in their base package, I think you'll see Phillip Dillard, Will Compton and Sean Fisher. This is a stout run defense, and last year, I think you might see a defense more focused on the run as Texas Tech and Baron Batch ran for 137 yards on 23 carries and 3 touchdowns.
Verdict: Nebraska, hands down.
Nebraska Passing Offense vs. Texas Tech Passing Defense
Nebraska (236.60 / 44 / 7): I'll be the first to admit that I'm pleasantly surprised by Zac Lee's passing efficiency thus far this year. Lee's been very effective and probably most important to a Pelini offense, he doesn't turn the ball over, with only 3 interceptions this year to 10 touchdowns. Lee's not prolific as his biggest game this year was 340 yards against Arkansas St. A very balanced group of receivers lead the way for Nebraska, including receivers Paul Niles, Curenski Gilleylen, and Chris Brooks. TE Mike McNeill is a receiving threat as he's caught a pass every game thus far this year, but the truth is that the 3 receivers mentioned above are the main threats for Nebraska. Nebraska is 10th in the country in sacks allowed, giving up only 4 all year. Other than RT Marcel Jones, the Nebraska offensive line is a veteran group, including LT Mike Smith, LG Keith Williams, C Jacob Hickman and RG Ricky Henry. We're looking a the short passing game, keeping the Texas Tech offense off of the field and that can be so painful to watch.
Texas Tech (242.50 / 92 / 11): Texas Tech has really struggled here, and this may be an indication that Texas Tech played some proficient passing teams early in Texas and Houston (although the killer game was 316 to New Mexico). Still, this unit has been a little up and down, giving up yards, but not necessarily points. Despite the yardage given up, Texas Tech leads the conference in passes defended, including 33 passes broken up and 4 interceptions. Perhaps part of the reason is that the secondary hasn't been healthy in weeks, as SS Franklin Mitchem was out early in the season, FS Cody Davis was out last week, and LaRon Moore missed almost the entire game last week. This has forced two freshmen, S Will Ford and CB D.J. Johnson to step up their game. Also sitting a-top the conference is Texas Tech (along with Oklahoma) with 18 sacks for the year. Same as the secondary, much of this has been done with players that no on else in the conference would recognize. I've said it before, but it bears repeating, this group isn't as physically gifted as others, but they will out-work out and it seems that this unit gets more sacks late in the game. It's constant pressure.
Verdict: Statistically, I feel like I have to give this to Nebraska.
Nebraska Rushing Offense vs. Texas Tech Rushing Defense
Nebraska (168.00 / 43 / 8): When I first started to look at the numbers, I was surprised that Nebraska was only 8th in the conference in rushing. I was expecting a bit more. RB Roy Helu, Jr. is 13th in the nation in rushing, and was a bit under the weather against Missouri last week. Helu had a monster game against Virginia Tech (169 yards on 28 carries) and that's the sort of thing that bothers me about what Nebraska is capable of on any given night. There's not much behind Helu as true freshman, and DFW guy, Rex Burkhead is seeing the most significant carries behind Helu. Right now, Burkhead is a change of pace sort of back, getting 5 or 6 carries a game, although he's fairly effective.
Texas Tech (107.17 / 28 / 4): I'm shocked by those numbers and I'll keep repeating this and hope that it becomes true, but one of the hallmarks of a team that does well is a good to great rush defense. Much like most other things this early in the season, you can partially blame opponents, but thus far, the Red Raiders have only allowed a little over 100 yards a game. The DT's Colby Whitlock and Richard Jones have quietly been very solid and give plenty of credit to a linebacking corp of Brian Duncan, Bront Bird and Marlon Williams that seem to be getting better game by game. You would think that Duncan and Bird would be tailor made for Nebraska and it will be interesting to see if Whitlock, Jones and Victor Hunter, to an extent, will be able to allow the linebackers to scrape and make plays.
Verdict: Seems strange, but the stats play the winner out here.
Texas Tech Special Teams vs. Nebraska Special Teams
Texas Tech: Freshman P Ryan Erxleben has been a breath of fresh air, handling 14 punts on the year, but being able to pin a few inside the opponents 20 yard line is a nice weapon have, especially in a game that could come down to field position. You'd like to see more consistency from K Donnie Carona kicking off, but he's still 6th in the conference and Matthew Williams hasn't had to kick a lot of field goals, but he has been solid in PAT's (34/35) ending the horror that was 2008. Texas Tech hasn't been spectacular returning punts and tried WR Austin Zouzalik for a number of games, but switched to CB Jamar Wall last week. Wall might be a bit more daring, but Zouzalik is solid. The Red Raiders are 2nd in the conference in kickoff returns, led by true freshman RB Eric Stephens.
Nebraska: P Alex Henry is 6th in the conference in punting. Much like Texas Tech, there's nothing really spectacular there. PK Alex Henery is clutch, making 8 of 9 field goals this year and making all of his PAT's. WR Niles Paul is returning punts, and again, like Texas Tech, aren't lighting the world on fire and as far as kickoff returns, Niles is again, mediocre (59th in the county and 9th in the conference).
Verdict: These teams are about as even as you could be for the most part, with slight advantages in one category over another. PUSH