Texas at Nebraska
By Scouts Inc.
|Texas at Nebraska Matchups|
Texas offense vs. Nebraska defense
• Longhorns RBs D.J. Monroe and Fozzy Whittaker are quick and elusive and at their best in the open field. Monroe has track-star speed with the ability to go the distance when finding a seam, but he and Whittaker will find tough sledding this week. However, the Huskers are essentially using a dime defense that fields six defensive backs and provides defensive coordinator Carl Pelini with tremendous team speed. SS DeJon Gomes is essentially serving as a linebacker near the box next to a rangy and instinctive MLB Lavonte David. Pelini also does a great job disguising looks. Nebraska will consistently present what appears to be a six-man box before rotating and bringing a defender off the edge at the third level to get a seventh defender in run support. These complex looks, Nebraska’s team speed and a stout defensive line makes it tough for opposing ball carriers to find creases with any consistency.
• Look for Pelini to continue his aggressive play calling thanks to the flexibility provided by his deep and disciplined secondary. He can get a numbers advantage in the run game and also dial up pressures while locking up in either straight man or matchup zone coverage underneath. CBs Prince Amukamara and Alfonzo Dennard held up on an island in man-to-man coverage and the Huskers are getting solid play down the middle from nickelback Eric Hagg and safeties Rickey Thenarse and P.J. Smith. This group pressed up the Texas perimeter last year and took away the short passing game, allowing the pass rush to get to the quarterback. Expect the same treatment this time around, and the Texas receiving corps must find a way to create separation downfield. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis must cut QB Garrett Gilbert loose and take a few shots downfield if the Longhorns want to back off Pelini and score enough points to win.
• The Longhorns have issues in pass protection, losing too many one-on-one battles and cutting defenders loose because of miscommunication in blitz pickup. This weakness could be exposed by a potent and complex Huskers pass rush. DT Jared Crick is one of the best inside rushers in the nation with the quickness and variety of pass-rush moves to give the Texas interior offensive line headaches. Pelini has also been creative in finding and exploiting weaknesses in protection. The Huskers will bring blitzes from all over the field while stunting/slanting a defensive line that will challenge the Longhorns both physically and mentally. Texas can ill afford to have Gilbert under constant duress because it could lead to bad decisions that play into the hands of a Nebraska back seven that has 11 interceptions on the year.
Nebraska offense vs. Texas defense
• Nebraska’s zone-read rushing attack has big-play potential thanks in large part to capable RBs Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead and a physical front line, but the emergence of QB Taylor Martinez has made this ground attack truly dynamic. Martinez is doing an excellent job reading his keys, making the proper decision and attacking downhill when keeping the ball. He displays excellent patience and vision and gets to top speed in an instant. The Texas front seven has struggled to maintain gap control in recent weeks and must play with extreme discipline this week. DEs Sam Acho, Jackson Jeffcoat and Eddie Jones will have their instincts and patience tested as edge defenders and if they get overzealous reacting to fakes, Martinez can make them pay. If the ends are too quick to collapse or get too wide reacting it could be trouble because Martinez has the second gear to exploit even the slightest creases.
• Look for defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to crowd the line of scrimmage on early downs by aligning safeties Blake Gideon and Christian Scott closer to the box than usual. Gideon has been excellent in run support, quickly diagnosing plays and taking proper angles, and with Muschamp trying to gain the numbers advantage it will be imperative that Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson implement misdirection passes on first and second downs. Martinez has thrived gaining the perimeter and looking for targets downfield or using his feet to pick up yardage, and hybrid TE/WR Mike McNeill is a big target who does a nice job of wading through traffic and finding the open windows in the middle of the field. If the Huskers can take advantage of Muschamp’s aggression and find success on a few early rollouts it will go a long way toward backing the Longhorns off the line of scrimmage and eventually opening up some creases in the ground game.
• The Longhorns will have the advantage on third downs when they are in nickel packages. Texas CBs Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown and Curtis Brown should be able to hold up in man coverage because outside of WR Niles Paul, the Huskers lack the speed to create big plays on the perimeter. This will provide Muschamp the flexibility to dial up pressures from various launch points against a Nebraska offensive line that has shown some leakage in protection. And as good as Martinez has been as a runner, he still is developing accuracy and touch as a passer. Nebraska must win the battle on first and second down to get its defense into manageable third-down situations. Watson cannot afford to consistently put Martinez in third-and-medium-to-long scenarios, where things can get dicey against the Longhorns’ nickel package.
Nebraska is making headlines on offense but the defense continues to be the cornerstone of the program. The Blackshirts have the horses up front to control the line of scrimmage and an active and rangy second line of defense to slow the Longhorns on the ground. The game will be forced onto Gideon’s shoulders and the Huskers’ ability to generate pressure along with their depth and versatility in the back end will eventually generate a few crucial turnovers. Texas will keep this one close with a good defensive effort, but slowing the Nebraska zone-read attack takes discipline on every play and Martinez will find enough chinks in the armor to put points on the board and give Nebraska the victory in a close, hard-hitting affair.
Prediction: Cornhuskers 21, Longhorns 17