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September 26, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

NU Run Offense vs ULL Run Defense
This just might be the most notable mismatch of the game, as Nebraska's biggest strength on offense goes head-to-head with Louisiana-Lafayette's weakest link defensively. For the Huskers, the running game has been a constant through the first three games of the season, especially during last week's loss to Virginia Tech.

Junior running back Roy Helu has been a monster with the football, and he's coming off one of the best games of his career when he set career-highs with 28 carries for 169 yards against the Hokies.

However, Helu was the only running back to carry the football last week, and if Nebraska wants his production to continue at this pace it will have to find someone else to help share the load. The coaching staff has already said it wants to get freshman Rex Burkhead more involved, and that should begin this weekend.

As for Louisiana-Lafayette, the front seven has definitely had its issues so far, as it ranks 85th nationally allowing more than 158 rushing yards per game. The Ragin' Cajuns have a two-time All-Sunbelt Conference linebacker Antwyne Zanders, but that's about as far as it goes in matching up well with Nebraska's physical offensive line. The Huskers will easily be the biggest offensive front ULL has seen all season, and it's likely going to show on the field.

Edge: NEBRASKA
NU Pass Offense vs ULL Pass Defense
Because of Nebraska's ability to run the ball, don't be surprised if Louisiana-Lafayette comes out focused on making the Huskers beat them with the pass. That, however, may not be a much better option.

The Ragin' Cajuns currently have four safeties dealing with injuries, and two of which have already been ruled out for Saturday's game. The other two will likely only see limited action, meaning a pass defense that gives up more than 200 yards per game will be even more depleted against the Huskers.

This means junior quarterback Zac Lee will have plenty of chances to make some big plays through the air, especially over the middle. Look for Nebraska to utilize the play-action pass and try and connect on some long passes over the top. The Ragin' Cajuns were able to stack the box last week against LSU and force the Tigers to throw the ball. While that might have kept LSU's offense off balance, that doesn't necessarily mean it will work against the Huskers. Edge: NEBRASKA
ULL Run Offense vs NU Run Defense
Last season, Louisiana-Lafayette was one of the best rushing offenses in the entire country, as it ranked seventh nationally and averaged 263.7 yards per game. This season, it's been a bit of a different story.

The Ragin' Cajuns rank just 68th nationally with 139 rushing yards per game, and it's clear that they are still reeling from the graduations of running back Tyrell Fenroy and dual-threat quarterback Michael Desormeaux. Running back Undre Sails comes into Saturday's game as ULL's leading rusher, averaging 80 yards per game.

Nebraska, on the other hand, has been fairly decent against the run so far. Last week against Virginia Tech, the Huskers held the Hokies' usually productive running game to just 86 yards on 37 carries.

Louisiana-Lafayette has a combined 211 yards on 68 carries the past two weeks against LSU and Kansas State, so while consistent, the Ragin' Cajuns haven't been all that productive against BCS competition. Don't expect that to change much this week. Edge: NEBRASKA
ULL Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
For Louisiana-Lafayette to have any shot at upsetting the Huskers, it's going to have to find a way to throw the football successfully. As mentioned earlier, the likelihood of the Ragin' Cajuns establishing a running game is slim at best, so there's little doubt that they're going to come out tossing the ball all over the place.

Led by quarterback Chris Masson, ULL has averaged nearly 225 yards passing per game this season, which isn't great, but it's respectable. Especially considering one of those games was against LSU, which consistently boasts one of the best pass defenses in all of college football.

Masson threw the ball 36 times against the Tigers, and the Ragin' Cajuns were able to convert 18 first downs and rack up more than 28 minutes of possession time. Look for that to be the game plan on Saturday, and ULL will try and take advantage of a Nebraska secondary that has be susceptible to giving up big pass plays this season.

The biggest thing Louisiana-Lafayette has going for it in this match-up is its near flawless pass blocking. The Ragin' Cajuns have not allowed a single sack this season, and they're the only team in the country to accomplish that feat after three games. If they can keep Masson upright and give him time in the pocket, he has the ability to make some plays.

Edge: LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Special Teams, What Ifs and The X-Factor
Junior kicker/punter Alex Henery made his biggest case yet for All-America honors last week, as his five field goals were the only things keeping Nebraska afloat against Virginia Tech. He also showed that he's almost as good of a punter as he is a kicker when he was able to elude the Hokies' dangerous punt block pressure and reel off great punts. Also, junior Niles Paul finally showed the spark the Huskers had been waiting for in the return game, highlighted by his 55-yard punt return. Louisiana-Lafayette really doesn't have an identity on any of its special teams units, so this one really isn't even close.

Edge: NEBRASKA

Nebraska Will Win If: It simply goes back to the style of football it's used the past three weeks and relies on stingy defense, a power running game and timely pass plays. This time, however, the Huskers will have to actually finish their drives with touchdowns instead of field goals (or drive-killing penalties). Nebraska should have no problem improving to 3-1 on the year so long as it stays disciplined and focuses on the little things.

Louisiana-Lafayette Will Win If: It can slow Nebraska's running game and pull off some big pass plays early on to throw the Huskers off their game plan. With Lee coming off such a shaky performance, he needs to get settled in early and regain some confidence. If the Ragin' Cajuns can rattle him and make him force plays, they'll have a chance to get some turnovers control the field position battle.

X Factor: This is a huge game for Lee's confidence. Nebraska needs him to return to the cocky-yet-productive quarterback that led it to two straight convincing victories to open the season. If he can come out and lead the Huskers on a few touchdown drives to start the game, memories of last week should quickly disappear. If he comes out and struggles to move the offense, however, a snowball effect certainly isn't out of the question for this game and other contests down the road.

Prediction: Nebraska 42 Louisiana-Lafayette 10




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