Nebraska rush offense vs. South Dakota St. rush defense
The Huskers' offensive line will have the size and strength advantage, while quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. — should he start — is more deft at some elements of the option game than Taylor Martinez and Ron Kellogg. SDSU, with four senior defensive linemen, will load up to stop the run. The Huskers have to be confident enough to take the challenge. Advantage: NU
Nebraska pass offense vs. South Dakota St. pass defense
The Jackrabbits are a little younger and more vulnerable in the secondary, but Council Bluffs natives Jake Gentile and Andrew Brown make a good safety tandem. The Huskers have better athletes at wide receiver, but, if Martinez doesn't play, it's a lot to expect of Armstrong and Kellogg to light up the skies. Look for the Huskers to throw off playaction. Advantage: SDSU
South Dakota St. rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense
Running back Zach Zenner — 540 yards and eight TDs in three games — might be the best of the FCS. He runs hard, smart and with forward lean. Jackrabbit left tackle Bryan Witzmann is an NFL prospect. The Huskers will be playing their base defense for the first time this year with guys who still lack chemistry and experience. Advantage: SDSU
South Dakota St. pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense
Jackrabbit quarterback Austin Sumner is tall, strong-armed and experienced. He's one of the best in FCS. But he's struggled in the biggest games — four interceptions last year at Kansas — while the Huskers' secondary has the man-to-man skills to blanket South Dakota State receivers. Sumner's not very mobile. That's usually good news for Big Red. Advantage: NU
The Jackrabbits average just 15.7 yards per kick return and 37 yards per punt. While Nebraska has many questions still to answer at punt return and placekicking — NU has attempted one field goal all year — the team with better athletes (and more of them) usually wins the special teams category. That's Nebraska. Advantage: NU
Bo Pelini has had the most tumultuous week of his tenure, trying to explain a collapse against UCLA on Monday morning and wondering about his job status by Monday night because of the Deadspin audio bombshell. Husker fans will cheer him and the team heartily Saturday. But Nebraska is likely starting a different quarterback, while the Jackrabbits are loose and motivated. Advantage: SDSU
Key matchup: Nebraska's offensive line vs. SDSU defensive line
Husker offensive coordinator Tim Beck has chosen to run a power spread offense. That means the offensive line has to block like it. If that group lacks the attitude and toughness to pound an experienced-but-undersized Jackrabbit defensive line, it could be a long night. And the momentum of NU's season may bank on this game.
Nebraska wins if ...
The defense stops SDSU on third-and-medium and the running game does what it should.
South Dakota St. wins if ...
It chews up clock with the running game and makes the Husker offense panic.
The lines between the top of FCS and the bottom of FBS exist in division only. SDSU would give Wyoming a run and beat Southern Mississippi. Nebraska knows it, but now has to battle its own insecurity. Run the ball to daylight — and a safe harbor from criticism. And potentially do it with a new quarterback. The Huskers sweat, but survive.
Our prediction: Nebraska 28, South Dakota State 16