Game Day: Nebraska vs. South Alabama

Stuck

Nebraska posted a number last week that looked dismal on paper — 126 rushing yards and 3.4 per carry — and will set out to improve it Saturday night when South Alabama visits Memorial Stadium.

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2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. South Alabama rush defense

The Jaguars are small, quick and aggressive in their front seven, which is led by linebacker Blake Dees. They're going to blitz and try to put the Huskers behind the chains. Remember McNeese State's strategy last year? Same thing here. And Nebraska's offensive line should be a little concerned about that, especially after struggling to establish its running game against BYU. If NU involves quarterback Tommy Armstrong more in its run game, maybe it looks better. But we don't know for sure if that will happen. Edge: Even

Nebraska pass offense vs. South Alabama pass defense

Nebraska needs to win here, and win big. If USA loads up to stop the run, the full arsenal of pass plays the Huskers have — the screens and quick outs and comeback routes — should be there. One must admit: Armstrong looked sharp in week one when he had time to throw. NU receivers Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly and Stanley Morgan looked the part, too. Edge: Nebraska

South Alabama rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

The Huskers' defense is designed to stop the run — perhaps to a fault — and if you don't count the scrambles of BYU quarterback Taysom Hill in the season opener, Nebraska achieved that. NU defenders looked pretty good at tackling, too. The Jaguars have some dynamic backs — including speedster Xavier Johnson — but Gardner-Webb is not a useful test. Edge: Nebraska

South Alabama pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Jaguars quarterback Cody Clements has been around the block in college football, and while playing at UAB last year, he put up some impressive completion numbers, including back-to-back 300-yard games against Western Kentucky and North Texas. South Alabama doesn't have elite wideouts like BYU did, but they're good enough, and NU's pass defense is still shaky after a rough first week. There's a lot to work out with that scheme. Edge: South Alabama

Special teams

What appeared to be a strength of Nebraska's before the season no longer is. Punt returner De'Mornay Pierson-El is hurt. So, too, is punter Sam Foltz. Kicker Drew Brown missed two field goals in the first game. Whatever confidence the Huskers may have felt has been eroded. That said, South Alabama had a poor punting and kickoff performance in its season-opening game against Gardner-Webb, which should open the door for some return chances. The more talented team almost always gets the special teams edge. Edge: Nebraska

Intangibles

Nebraska will be hungry for its first win, and anxious to atone for a mistake-filled performance against BYU. No sleepiness here. If anything, the Huskers have to guard against trying too hard. South Alabama will have to sit around all day and wait for a night game, which is never a good recipe for the smaller team. Edge: Nebraska

Key matchup: Prudence vs. Playmaking

Nebraska coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf know they have an elite athlete at quarterback in Armstrong, but they are clearly reluctant to expose him too much to big hits. That's understandable, but if Armstrong doesn't run against blitzing defenses, doesn't that hamper NU's run game? If you're mostly relying on Armstrong's arm, isn't there a greater risk of error or turnovers? Some food for thought.

Our take

Nebraska hasn't lost two non-conference games since 1981. That's right — 34 years. So the odds are the Huskers right the ship, outlast South Alabama on a cool night, and start to focus on Miami (Florida). NU fans should come away happy Saturday night and Mike Riley should win his first game.

Our prediction: Nebraska 35, South Alabama 17

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