Game Day: Nebraska vs. Bethune-Cookman

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2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Bethune-Cookman rush defense

Nebraska’s rushing prowess has returned in full after a two-year hiatus, and it’s fun to watch. One of every five runs this season has gone for at least 10 yards, and the big runs from the Minnesota win should carry over to Saturday. Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington are an effective 1-2 punch, and Adrian Martinez — who broke off a 53-yarder against Minnesota — keeps defenses honest. Bethune-Cookman gives up 184.6 rushing yards per game to mostly FCS competition, so NU can — and darn well should — make hay. BCU will probably try to load the box against the run and force NU to pass. The Huskers, with a significant advantage in size, should run the ball anyway.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Bethune-Cookman pass defense

Speaking of 1-2 punches, it’s fun to watch Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman walk out of practice most days laughing and joking with each other. They’ve found their stride as receivers and teammates, and it’s hard to slow down either one of them — much less both of them. Spielman had been the big-play guy for the first six games, but Morgan got into the act against Minnesota, catching touchdowns of 35 and 67 yards. Martinez is an above-average passer for a true freshman, even if he targets the dynamic duo a bit too often. Nebraska should have chances for big plays once BCU loads up to stop the run. Bethune-Cookman has a pass rusher worth watching in junior Marques Ford, who has six sacks and originally committed to Rutgers out of high school and was an Under Armour All-American.

Bethune-Cookman rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

The matchup here depends on the health of quarterback Akevious Williams, BCU's leading rusher and most dangerous offensive player. Williams is the best running quarterback Nebraska will have faced to date. And given some of the issues NU had against Minnesota backup Tanner Morgan, it stands to reason Williams, even with an FCS-caliber line, can poke a few holes in the Husker front seven. Nebraska gets back nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg from a knee ailment. NU will likely make an effort to jam BCU’s run game and put pressure on Williams’ throwing ability. Nebraska’s run defense hasn’t been very good this season, but it’s not significantly worse than it has been in most years since joining the Big Ten.

Bethune-Cookman pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

BCU has good receivers. Keavon Mitchell, Malique Jackson and Jimmie Robinson aren’t big guys, but they’ll challenge Nebraska’s secondary with their speed and shiftiness. And though BCU has faced mostly FCS competition, its line has only allowed eight sacks. If Williams can get time, his 62.2 completion rate suggests he can find and connect with open receivers. Nebraska’s secondary remains a work in progress. NU’s pass rush isn’t even quite that good, though Erik Chinander’s blitzes may get home more easily against BCU.

Special teams

Nebraska allowed an 87-yard kickoff return last week and had a stinker of a punt. Bethune-Cookman has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this season and averages 11.2 yards on punt returns. BCU has only kicked five touchbacks on kickoffs, so look for Maurice Washington to get a few cracks at a big return. Can his teammates refrain from committing penalties?

Intangibles

Oddly, some of the FCS teams that have traveled to Memorial Stadium tend to hang in there for at least a half, and McNeese State nearly pulled off a massive upset in 2014. Bethune-Cookman, at 4-4, isn’t as good as McNeese State, but Nebraska would be wise not to overlook the Wildcats’ skill players. The 11 a.m. start has been a bugaboo for Nebraska in recent years, featuring losses to Northern Illinois and Troy. The Huskers don’t want to come out sleepy. The team with zero to lose and $800,000 to gain will be the looser of the two.

Key matchup: Nebraska’s offensive line vs. Bethune-Cookman’s front seven

Scott Frost’s run scheme works when Ozigbo and Washington have full tanks. The Huskers should run all over Bethune-Cookman, for at least 200 yards, preferably 300. That’s what Big Ten teams should do to FCS defenses, even if Bethune-Cookman sells out to stop the run. It's time for the Pipeline to be the Pipeline — at least for a week.

Our take

We’ve learned in the 21st Century of Nebraska football that nothing is a sure thing. Even if Bethune-Cookman is the weakest overall opponent to visit NU since Idaho State in 2012 — the Huskers won 73-7 — Nebraska’s sheer lack of consistency and discipline, over several years, suggests a scenario where BCU keeps the game close. And under a different coaching staff — like the last one — it almost certainly would be. Frost’s offense is designed to overwhelm lesser foes, even if the defense allows a few points along the way. NU goes over 500 yards and 40 points for a second-straight week and notches its second win of the season.

Our prediction: NEBRASKA 48, BETHUNE-COOKMAN 21

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Game notes

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