Without quarterback Taylor Martinez in the lineup, Nebraska's offense all around has taken some major steps backwards the past few weeks. However, no area has suffered more than the running game. Running backs Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu have done an admirable job of putting the rushing responsibilities almost entirely on their shoulders, but the Huskers are undeniably a far less explosive team running the football without a healthy Martinez.
That's not good news for NU going up against a Colorado defense that ranks 28th nationally with an average of just 128.9 rushing yards allowed per game this season. For Nebraska to get anything going offensively with Martinez on the bench, its offensive line is going to have to step up big time and pave the way.
NU Pass Offense vs. CU Pass Defense
Again, without Martinez, Nebraska will have to find a way to make up for his production in the passing game as well. Sophomore quarterback Cody Green will take the reigns for his fourth career start today, and he's struggled throwing the ball in his seven games played this season. Green has completed just 20-of-35 passes (57.1 percent) for 215 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
There's a good chance Colorado will make a concerted effort to stop NU's running game first and foremost, which will likely force Green to come up with some big throws to keep the defense honest. The Buffaloes come into the game giving up nearly 230 passing yards per contest, so the opportunities should be there for Green to make some plays with is arm, though he will be without the help of NU's top receiver Niles Paul, who broke his foot on Tuesday.
CU Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
Nebaska has seemingly gotten better and better against the run every week, which as been a problem area for its defense all season. While Texas A&M came out and tried to run right at NU last week, the Blackshirts held the Aggies to just 138 yards on 41 attempts in the loss.
The Huskers will definitely need just as good of a showing today, as Colorado's offense has shifted from a pass-happy scheme to a run-first attack the past two games under interim head coach Brian Cabral. The Buffaloes rushed for 251 yards in last week's win over Kansas State, led by running back Rodney Stewart's 34 carries for 195 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
CU Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
Like always, there are few teams who really have a chance at holding the advantage over Nebraska in this match-up, and Colorado isn't one of them. Boasting the nation's No. 2 pass defense, there's little doubt that the departing seniors in the secondary aren't going to allow the Buffaloes to come in and get the best of them in their final game in Memorial Stadium.
However, it's not as if Colorado doesn't have the weapons to at least challenge the Blackshirts through the air. Quarterback Cody Hawkins has flourished under Cabral, throwing for 468 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions while guiding CU to two straight victories.
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Nebraska's return game will look a bit different with Paul out of the mix, though Burkhead handled all of the punt return duties last week against A&M. Look for receiver Tim Marlowe to fill in as the No. 1 kickoff returner, with possibly Burkhead or another receiver (possibly Brandon Kinnie) to step in as the No. 2 return man. Even though he was snubbed from the list of Groza Award finalists, senior kicker/punter Alex Henery is as good as anyone in the country at both positions, and he'll be looking to prove his doubters wrong today.
As for Colorado, return man Arthur Jaffee is a threat on kickoffs, as he ran back an 89-yarder two weeks ago against Iowa State. Other than that, though, the Buffaloes don't rank higher than 51st nationally in any other major special teams statistical category.
Nebraska Will Win If:
It can find a way to produce any semblance of offensive consistency with Martinez sidelined for the entire game. Green is going to have to make some plays, as the Huskers can't continue to hope Burkhead and Helu can carry the offense for four quarters again. Also, the defense is going to have to come out and once again put the offense in as many good positions as possible.
Colorado Will Win If:
It can continue to ride the momentum gained from its new coach and take advantage of a Nebraska team trying to figure out exactly what it is offensively without Martinez under center. Stopping the run will of course be key, but if the Buffaloes can take advantage of the mistakes Green is susceptible to make, there's no reason they can come in and spoil the Huskers' goal of winning their final Big 12 championship.
The past week has been one of the most drama-filled week's in recent Husker memory with all of the Martinez issues, head coach Bo Pelini's sideline antics against A&M and the loss of Paul. However, it just seems that whenever it looks as if the Pelini-led Huskers are backed into a corner, they come back and find a way to get it done. There's too much on the line to come out flat today, and Nebraska's knows it.