Game Day: Nebraska vs. Florida Atlantic

Laying it on the line

The defensive front four — Vincent Valentine, Maliek Collins, Randy Gregory and Greg McMullen — could be fantastic for Nebraska. "I've seen a tremendous amount of growth, but in terms of all the preseason accolades and stuff, we still have to go out and prove it on the field," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. Will the Huskers' defensive front set the tone for a season of success Saturday?

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2-Minute Drill by Jon Nyatawa

Nebraska rush offense vs. Florida Atlantic rush defense

Miami and Auburn combined to rush for seven touchdowns and 725 yards (on 7.5 yards per carry) against Florida Atlantic last year. So that'll be Nebraska's plan -- attack with its versatile ground game. In this case, the Huskers could use Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby on the edge, spreading out FAU's defense and playing away from its strength up front -- defensive tackles Brandin Bryant and Trevon Coley. Advantage: Nebraska

Nebraska pass offense vs. Florida Atlantic pass defense

Tommy Armstrong says he's a better decision-maker now, less willing to take unnecessary chances in hopes of creating the big play. Efficiency is the key. Nebraska averaged just 6.76 yards per pass attempt last year, second worst in the Big Ten. The Owls won't make it easy, though. They allowed 161.1 passing yards per game last season (second nationally) and held opposing quarterbacks to a 47.1 completion percentage (first nationally). Advantage: Florida Atlantic

Florida Atlantic rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

With uncertainty at running back, FAU quarterback Jacquez Johnson (15.6 rushing attempts per game) should be the focal point for a Husker defense still confident after last year's well-documented improvements. NU allowed an average of 179.5 rushing yards (at a rate of 4.85 yards per carry) in its first four games. But after that, Nebraska opponents ran for just 3.37 yards per carry, totaling 145.7 yards per game. Advantage: Nebraska

Florida Atlantic pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

The Owls threw six touchdowns to their top tight end last year, so that could be Alex Deleon's role this season. He's a 6-foot-4, 240-pound target. William Dukes is the team's top deep threat, leading FAU regulars with an average of 15.8 yards per completion in 2013. But Florida Atlantic quarterbacks averaged just 4.6 yards per passing attempt in last year's losses to Miami and Auburn. A remade Husker secondary should have chances to make plays. Advantage: Nebraska

Special teams

The Huskers could find openings in their return games Saturday because Florida Atlantic allowed an average of 9.5 yards per punt return (86th nationally) and 24.7 yards per kickoff return (114th). Both teams are making changes at field-goal kicker. Specialist Mauro Bondi is still around, which means Nebraska's touchback rate on kickoffs has a good chance to rank in the nation's top 10 for the sixth time in seven years. Advantage: Nebraska

Intangibles

A jam-packed Memorial Stadium shouldn't be intimidating for Florida Atlantic. In the past three years, the Owls have played at Miami, Auburn (twice), Georgia, Alabama, Michigan State and Florida. Thing is, though, they've lost those games by an average of 33 points. So confidence could be an issue. Plus, the Huskers usually play well in home openers, responding well to the energy of optimistic fans. Advantage: Nebraska

Key matchup: NU receiver Kenny Bell vs. FAU cornerback D'Joun Smith

Nebraska will probably line up Bell in different spots all game long so this may not be an every-down battle. But when these two go one-on-one, it'll be worth watching. Smith intercepted seven passes last year -- only one player in the country had more. Bell is now the Huskers' go-to receiving target, capable of beating defenders deep but also willing to consistently move the chains with clutch catches in traffic.

Our take

It was supposed to be the Pelini family showdown. But Carl Pelini, in just his second year at Florida Atlantic, was forced to resign amid drug-abuse allegations last October. The Owls have regrouped since. Bo Pelini, meanwhile, has quieted hot-seat debates by rebranding himself as a milder cat-loving, player-pranking jokester. But the off-field stuff will take a backseat Saturday. It's football season, finally. And the tight-knit Huskers have been waiting for this opener for some time. They'll play like it.

Our prediction: Nebraska 34, Florida Atlantic 10

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