By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers have certainly looked the part of national title contenders in 2010 and that includes last week's 48-13 whipping of Kansas State in Manhattan in the team's Big 12-opener.
Mack Brown's Longhorns are struggling in the post-Colt McCoy era. The team is just 3-2 on the season and brings a two-game losing streak into this contest. Texas was idle this past weekend, following a 28-20 setback to Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game on October 2nd.
Texas owns a 9-4 edge in the all-time series with Nebraska and has been dominant since the formation of the Big 12, winning eight of the nine meetings.
Quarterback Garrett Gilbert certainly has some big shoes to fill in Austin. He has played to mixed reviews thus far, completing 63.3 percent of his pass attempts, for 1,151 yards with four TDs against five INTs. The supporting cast, in particular the skill positions, lacks star power this season, with the leading receiver being James Kirkendoll (23 receptions, for 288 yards, one TD) and the top tailbacks being Fozzy Whitaker (234 yards, two TDs) and Cody Johnson (146 yards, three TDs).
Gilbert realizes the challenge he faces in Nebraska's defense this week and just how good the Cornhuskers are on that side of the football.
"The soundness of it. Everyone knows their responsibility. Everyone does their responsibility. They're very athletic, very big and very physical. They're everything that you would like in a defense. They do very well. They stick to their guns. They play their defense and they don't get out of what they want to do."
The Texas defense has played well enough in most games to give the team a chance. The team is allowing 20.0 ppg, but doing so with foes netting a meager 254.2 yards of total offense per outing.
Junior LB Keenan Robinson leads Texas in tackles, with 50. He also has one sack and one INT. Defensive ends Eddie Jones (31 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 4.0 sacks) and Sam Acho (23 tackles, seven TFLs, 4.0 sacks) have done a nice job making plays upfield, as has defensive tackle Kheeston Randall (18 tackles, 9.0 TFLs).
Athletic, dual-threat QBs are becoming more and more the norm in college football, and Nebraska has one of the very best in freshman phenom Taylor Martinez. Last week, Martinez single-handily destroyed KSU's defense, rushing for a school-record 241 yards and four TDs on just 15 carries.
Martinez is the orchestrator of an explosive offense that is averaging 41.6 ppg. The strength is on the ground, where Nebraska is averaging a robust 337.6 yards per game (second nationally).
Martinez doesn't throw often, but when he does drop back, he has completed 60 percent of his attempts, for 660 yards and three TDs. What he has done is run the ball to the tune of 737 yards, averaging 10.8 yards per carry and 147.4 yards per game. The youngster has scored 12 of the team's 21 rushing TDs to date. He is not the only option on the ground either, with tailbacks Roy Helu Jr. (8.1 ypc, five TDs) and Rex Burkhead (6.9 ypc, three TDs) getting the job done as well.
The Nebraska defense has followed the offense's lead and has thrived also. Foes are averaging a modest 12.8 ppg thus far, and have really struggled in passing situations against the Cornhuskers, who are limiting teams to just 128.0 ypg through the air.
Opposing QBs usually stay away from throwing to Prince Amukamara's side of the field and that has allowed DBs DeJon Gomes (42 tackles, one INT), Rickey Thenarse (28 tackles, one INT), P.J. Smith (19 tackles, three INTs) and Alfonzo Dennard (13 tackles, three INTs). Junior LB Lavonte David leads the team in tackles (60) from his spot in the middle of the field, while All-Big 12 tackle Jared Crick (23 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 2.5 sacks) headlines the play up front.
The Cornhuskers are simply the better team on both sides of the football. Martinez is a dynamic playmaker under center and while he will definitely make plenty of plays in this one, the defense may just take center stage in a big win for Nebraska.