Game Day: Nebraska vs. Oregon

Don’t blink

This is the kind of game Nate Gerry and his teammates envisioned when they signed with Nebraska. Mike Riley and his coaching staff welcome it just as openly. It’s a chance for players and coaches alike to atone for years of frustration. But winning will require laser focus against Oregon’s fast-paced offense — and an ability to block out and move on if the Ducks strike deep.

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2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Oregon rush defense

Wyoming gave the Huskers way more trouble than Fresno State, stacking the box and allowing the I-backs just 3.8 yards per carry and no run longer than 11. Nebraska would love to get something established, not just for offensive success but to chew some clock and keep Oregon off the field. The Ducks were surprisingly gashed by Virginia last week as Cavalier backs ran for 220 yards on 31 carries. This will be only their third game in a new system.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Oregon pass defense

NU clicked last week — after throwing it just 13 times against Fresno State — and Tommy Armstrong almost reached a career high with his 377 yards. The receivers looked good and Armstrong utilized his backs on occasion. Oregon will have some holes, but also feature the kind of speed that can lead to pressure on the quarterback and potential plays made in the secondary. An onus, then, on Armstrong to protect the football.

Oregon rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

One of the nation’s best visits as junior Royce Freeman arrives with 3,495 career rushing yards already. The challenge for Nebraska will be to get clean shots on Freeman because of his ability to spin and bounce off tackles. If they miss, the Huskers will start getting heavier doses of the Heisman Trophy candidate. Oregon started the season with four freshmen on its offensive line, but Ducks always are among the best at developing them.

Oregon pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Twelve months ago this would have been 3½ hours of receivers running open through the Husker secondary. It will remain a great challenge, but NU now has a settled situation at cornerback, a third-year starter at one of its safety spots and better feel for what it’s doing. The Ducks will complete a high percentage of their throws (they always do) but Nebraska must find a way to limit the big plays that usually are followed by Oregon going even faster.

Special teams

Nebraska has had obvious issues with its punting game — a block, bad fake and 24.6-yard net average — and also failed to generate anything on returns. Oregon has allowed very little on both punt returns and kickoff returns, so NU will have to work for what it gets. The Ducks also have one of the nation’s best threats with Charles Nelson. Both Drew Brown and Aidan Schneider have been steady, as expected, and will be up to the kicking task if it’s close at the end.

Intangibles

Oregon is riding a stretch where it knows how to win, and expects to win, much like the Nebraska of the 1990s. The Huskers are still trying to regain that touch. A lot has been made of how NU head coach Mike Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker know the Ducks, but the same goes in reverse. Nebraska will have to clean up its penalties (can they do it?) and win another turnover battle. It should be a good home environment, but nothing Oregon doesn’t know.

Key matchup: Oregon receivers vs. Nebraska secondary

Oregon is full of explosive talent at tight end and receiver, including an Olympic hurdler (Devon Allen). The Nebraska starting cornerbacks (Chris Jones, Joshua Kalu) have been very good to open the season, and the Husker secondary already has seven interceptions. Can NU handle Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson, Dwayne Stanford and Allen, along with tight end Pharaoh Brown?

Our take

Look for the teams to trade scores for a while, and then maybe a turnover or two dictating how the game swings. This is quarterback Dakota Prukop’s first “big game” with the Ducks, but the senior has played a lot of football and is running an offense that will work for him if he does his part. Nebraska has gotten the better of the fourth quarter the last two weeks (50-0), but Oregon won seven more games over the past two years than Fresno State and Wyoming combined.

Our prediction: Oregon 44, Nebraska 42

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