A week ago, talk about Nebraska's running game centered on its stable of talented running backs. Now, you have to throw the quarterback into the mix as well. After redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez gashed Western Kentucky for 127 yards and three touchdowns on just seven carries last Saturday, the Huskers' ground attack became even more dangerous that it already was to begin with.
Considering NU faces an Idaho defense that gave up 148 rushing yards to I-AA North Dakota last week, Martinez and backs Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead and Dontrayevous Robinson should once again put up some big numbers on the ground this week.
NU Pass Offense vs UI Pass Defense
With Martinez getting the start once again today, it will be interesting to see if he's able to do a little more through the air against a Vandal defense that ranked 116th nationally in pass defense last season. Last week, Martinez completed some nice passes, but he also got away with some risky throws that arguably should have been picked off.
Idaho held North Dakota to just 122 passing yards and picked off two passes last week, but then again, it was against North Dakota. Nebraska's wide receivers will be some of the biggest the Vandals' secondary will face all season, and there's really no reason why the Huskers can't be a little more aggressive against such a physically inferior defensive backfield.
UI Rush Offense vs NU Rush Defense
The 155 yards and a touchdown Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey put up against Nebraska last week were definitely reasons for concern, especially considering NU didn't give up that many yards against any of the talented backs it faced all last season. However, the players and coaches have insisted Rainey's big day was more a result of communication and alignment issues on their part and not because they were physically beaten up front.
The good news for the Husker defense is that Idaho doesn't present nearly the challenge WKU was in the run game. Sure, they rushed for nearly 150 yards and three touchdowns against UND, but the Vandals still lost four starting offensive linemen from last season, and their pass-first mentality doesn't necessarily do much for the running game either. Also, word is that sophomore Eric Martin will get the start at linebacker over Alonzo Whaley, so NU should be even more physical against the run.
UI Pass Offense vs NU Pass Defense
If there's one area where Nebraska should genuinely be concerned about going into today's game, it's how they're going to handle Idaho's explosive passing attack led by quarterback Nathan Enderle. The Huskers' secondary is considered one of the biggest strengths of the defense, but it certainly wasn't tested much at all last week.
That definitely won't be the case today, as there's no doubt that the Vandals will come out slinging the ball all over the place. Enderle and Co. passed for 399 yards and three touchdowns last week, but the passing game definitely wasn't perfect. North Dakota racked up four sacks in the first half alone and also added an interception.
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
As usual, Nebraska gets the edge on special teams primarily because of senior kicker/punter Alex Henery and punt returner Niles Paul. Henery didn't really have to do much last week, and Paul came oh-so-close to breaking a couple of punt returns. In addition, kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic and kickoff returner Tim Marlowe did excellent jobs. Kunalic put two kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, and Marlowe averaged 34.5 yards per return. Idaho return man Justin Veltung is a threat on kick returns, but Kunalic should be able to make him a non-factor.
Nebraska Will Win If:
It continues to dominate in the run game and finds a way to put pressure on Enderle all game. Though Idaho's offensive line weighs in at an average of roughly 340 pounds, Nebraska's defensive line is much faster and more athletic, and it should be able to put some serious heat on Enderle and at least throw him off his rhythm. And if Martinez pulls off another performance like he did last week, then it's pretty much game over right there.
Idaho Will Win If:
It can force Nebraska to pass the ball and create some turnovers while also putting up some points through the air. Enderle is one of the better quarterbacks in the country right now, and if he can get enough time in the pocket to go through his reads he should be able to find some holes in NU's coverage, especially considering the inexperience at linebacker and safety.
There's no question that the one element Nebraska has that Idaho doesn't is a natural playmaker like Martinez. What he lacks in experience and his sometimes questionable decision making he more than makes up for with the ability to score every time he takes a snap. Add in Idaho's recent defensive struggles, and Martinez could be in for another highlight reel performance, which will only further separate himself from the rest of the pack as clear cut starter at quarterback.