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November 27, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Colorado

NU Run Offense vs CU Run Defense
No player on Nebraska's roster has been hotter the past three weeks than junior running back Roy Helu. One of the biggest factors in the Huskers' current winning streak has been the play of Helu, who has rushed for an average of 128.7 yards per game with four rushing touchdowns.

If that weren't enough, Nebraska also got back the services of talented freshman running back Rex Burkhead who returned to action last week against Kansas State after missing more than five weeks with a broken foot.

To make things even more lopsided, Colorado comes into today's game with the nation's 83rd-ranked rush defense, giving up an average of nearly 164 yards per game on the ground. Last season, the Huskers ran 51 times for 178 yards in a 40-31 win over the Buffaloes in Lincoln.

NU Pass Offense vs CU Pass Defense
Junior quarterback Zac Lee hasn't put up huge numbers, but he's done everything he's needed to do to help Nebraska get victories since returning as the starter two weeks ago against Kansas.

Since replacing true freshman Cody Green - who started two games over Lee earlier this year - to start the second quarter against Oklahoma, Lee has completed 63 percent of his passes for 397 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, the Huskers are 3-0 since that point.

Colorado has been average at best against the pass this season, giving up nearly 214 passing yards per game. The Buffaloes have only nine interceptions compared to 18 passing touchdowns, and they rank dead last in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense (105.9).

CU Rush Offense vs NU Pass Defense
Since losing heralded running back Darrell Scott earlier this season, Colorado's running game has been sluggish to do much of anything. The Buffs rank 11th in the Big 12 in rushing with just 83.7 yards per game, and their 14 rushing touchdowns are the second-fewest in the conference.

Since Scott decided to transfer on Nov. 3, Colorado has just three rushing touchdowns in three games and has gone just 1-2 during that stretch. Last week against Oklahoma State, the Buffaloes rushed 22 times for a measly 13 yards.

To make matter matters even worse for CU, Nebraska comes into today's game boasting the nation's 14th-ranked rush defense at 99 yards allowed per game. By holding Kansas State's Daniel Thomas to 99 yards last week, the Huskers continued their claim of allowing just one 100-yard rusher all season.

CU Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
Colorado has had issues in the passing game since before the season even started, as it was unclear who would even be the starting quarterback until just before the opening game. Since then, junior Cody Hawkins has been replaced by sophomore Tyler Hansen as the starter.

Whoever has been under center for the Buffaloes, neither has done much to spark the offense. Not only does CU rank at the bottom of the Big 12 in total offense, but a lack of a consistent running game has forced Hansen and Hawkins to throw for a combined 15 interceptions, which is tied for the most in the conference.

Once again, Nebraska's defense will make things that much more difficult for Colorado in the passing game as well. The Huskers feature the best pass defense in the Big 12, holding opponents to less than 183 yards per game through the air. The most impressive stat? The Huskers have allowed just four passing touchdowns all season. Edge: NEBRASKA
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Junior kicker/punter Alex Henery is coming off arguably his best all-around performance of the season, as his impossible punts pinned Kansas State deep inside its own territory on several occasions and kept the field position advantage in Nebraska's favor all night. Colorado, on the other hand, has been downright bad on special teams. The Buffaloes rank last in the Big 12 in punting (32.1 yards per punt) and punt return average (3.0 yards per return). They rank second-to-last in the conference in field goals (10-of-16). Edge: NEBRASKA

Nebraska Will Win If: It continues its stellar play on defense and keeps its offensive momentum rolling. The Huskers are playing about as well as they have all season on both sides of the ball, and even though they have the North Division title wrapped up, closing out the regular season with a win over a division rival would be the perfect way to head into post-season play.

Colorado Will Win If: It can force Nebraska into making mistakes with the football and get some points by forcing turnovers. Lee has been about as secure with the football as ever the past couple weeks, but he's been known to give the ball away when faced with heavy pressure. Also, shutting down the Huskers' running game will be crucial to have any chance of pulling off the upset.

X-Factor: How mentally focused Nebraska is for this game will be the real determining factor as to whether it closes out the regular season with five straight wins. Both the coaching staff and the players have preached all week that they're not overlooking Colorado by any means even though they already have a berth in the Big 12 Championship locked up. As long as they come to play, there's no reason the Huskers can't get another win over the Buffs.

Prediction: Nebraska 24 Colorado 7

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