July 6, 2009

Summer forecast: Florida Atlantic

With the start of the 2009 season drawing closer every day, HuskersIllustrated.com couldn't help but jump ahead and take a look at Nebraska might stack up upcoming match-ups. Today we kick off a new series called "Summer Forecasts", where we breakdown the Huskers' biggest strengths and weaknesses against all 12 of their regular-season opponents this season. First, NU's season opener against Florida Atlantic…

NU's biggest strength: The running game

Nebraska has built itself a reputation as a run-first, ball control-oriented offense that likes to beat opponents up before going for the kill with a big pass play. That mentality plays perfectly into Florida Atlantic's biggest question mark coming into this season - its front seven.

The Owls return just one starter from last season on the defensive line (junior end Daniel Joseph) and must replace all three of its linebackers, including Frantz Joseph, the second-leading tackler in the nation last year. In 2008, FAU was dismal against the run, allowing an average of 178.1 yards per game on the ground to rank 98th nationally.

Maybe a fresh start in the front seven is what the Owls need to get back on track, but it will likely prove an awfully difficult task to get off to a good start against a running game like Nebraska's. Led by returning juniors Roy Helu and Quentin Castille, the Huskers look poised to build even further upon a rushing attack that averaged nearly 170 ypg.

NU's biggest weakness: Defending the pass

If Florida Atlantic can do anything, it can definitely throw the football. With senior quarterback Rusty Smith and senior receiver Cortez Gent both returning, the Owls should once again boast one of the country's top passing units (last year they ranked 25th nationally with 254.8 ypg). Not only that, but like Nebraska, FAU boasts a deep cast of tight end that will only add to Smith's list of targets.

The Huskers weren't terrible against the pass last season, but they certainly weren't good against it, either. Nebraska struggled mightily at times against some of the pass-heavy offenses in the Big 12 Conference, and even gave up 342 yards through the air against Western Michigan.

It will be crucial for the Huskers' defensive backs to hit the ground running, as the Owls will undoubtedly throw the ball early and often. Nebraska's young linebackers will also be tested heavily against FAU's tight ends, as it has three with starting experience returning.

Early HI.com projected point spread: -17.5

Early HI.com final score prediction: NU 45, FAU 27

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