Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Florida Atlantic Owls: Complete Game Preview Template
Nebraska kicks off its 125th season of college football against Florida Atlantic on Saturday. When the matchup was originally scheduled, fans expected to see a battle of the Pelini brothers. That won't be the case, after all.
Carl Pelini resigned from Florida Atlantic last October a midst drug use allegations. The news overshadowed the Owls' 2013 season. Despite having a good November, the team still finished 6-6 overall, which was not what FAU envisioned for the season.
The two programs last met in 2009, where the Huskers put up a 49-3 victory in the season opener at Memorial Stadium. It's the only time the two have met until now.
Who will come out victorious in this Week 1 matchup?
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
When: Saturday, August 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST
Watch: Big Ten Network
Listen: Husker Sports Network or Sirius Channel 146, XM 201
Betting Line: Nebraska (-23)
Bleacher Report's Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee preview the 2014 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Nebraska Keys to Victory
1. Run the Ball
With I-back Ameer Abdullah on hand and the Florida Atlantic defensive line in a rebuilding mode, there's no reason not to run the ball. Plus, the Owls secondary is easily the most talented group on defense, which means Nebraska really shouldn't put the ball in the air if it's not necessary.
As Tommy Armstrong begins to lead the Nebraska offense, allowing Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby to run is the best bet against Florida Atlantic.
2. Stop the Pass
Florida Atlantic likely knows it won't get too far running the ball on Nebraska. With Randy Gregory leading the way, Jaquez Johnson won't want to hold on to the ball for too long. That means he'll be targeting his wide receivers and tight ends, especially William Dukes.
The Nebraska secondary will need to be ready to step up and defend the pass. It seems safe to assume the Owls will be putting the ball in the air a lot against Nebraska. The Huskers will just need to be prepared for it.
If the Owls do try to run the ball, it'll sophomore running back Jay Warren who attempts it. It just doesn't seem likely that it'll happen much.
3. Be Loud
It can occasionally be difficult to get loud for nonconference games. Florida Atlantic may especially seem like a game that doesn't give fans much of a reason to show up.
However, the Huskers are going to need fans more than ever. As a young group looks to establish itself on the field, fan support and participation can work wonders. Keeping Memorial Stadium rocking will not only shake Florida Atlantic's confidence, but it will also do nothing but benefit the young Huskers.
Florida Atlantic Keys to Victory
1. Stop the Running Game
The Florida Atlantic secondary is strong. That means the Huskers will likely want to pass less, in favor of running the ball.
Head coach Charlie Partridge will need to help his team put a stop to Ameer Abdullah. It won't be easy, as the FAU defensive line is in a state of transition. However, it's imperative that the group finds a way to limit Nebraska's options to run.
If FAU can force Nebraska to throw the ball, it'll be better for the Owls in the long run.
2. Throw the Ball
Jaquez Johnson is a good runner, but facing the Nebraska offensive line might keep him from putting that talent into action. Instead, Johnson will likely target senior William Dukes.
Dukes caught 35 passes for 553 yards and six touchdowns in 2013, per FAUSports.com. The Nebraska secondary will be keeping their eye on Dukes, but that shouldn't stop Johnson from passing to him. The running game likely won't be there for the Owls so putting the ball in the air is likely the best bet.
3. Stay Calm
Memorial Stadium can be intimidating. It's a big stadium, with nearly 70,000-plus more fans that FAU is used to at home.
The Owls will need to remain calm and find ways to settle down when the going gets tough. If the Nebraska crowd is loud, it might be difficult to hear on offense, but Florida Atlantic will need to find a way to work through it. Failing to remain calm will result in bad news for the Owls.
Nebraska Players to Watch
Tommy Armstrong (QB, Soph.)
This is it for Tommy Armstrong. After an interesting 2013 where he wasn't projected to start, the job ultimately became his after former quarterback Taylor Martinez was injured. Armstrong spent the rest of 2013 battling various opinions on whether or not he was a better player than both Martinez and Ron Kellogg III.
Saturday brings a whole new opportunity for Armstrong, though. He has spent the offseason working on his own mental game and preparing to be the leader Nebraska needs. While FAU isn't the toughest opponent, it will still provide a good look for Husker fans as to what Armstrong can now bring to the table.
Randy Gregory (DE, Jr.)
Randy Gregory had 66 tackles and 10.5 sacks in 2013, per Huskers.com. As a result, he became a fan favorite and a big leader for the Huskers.
Going forward in 2014, Gregory is poised to be even stronger than he was last season. Against Florida Atlantic, he should wreak havoc. He's an All-American that will be difficult to get by for the Owls.
All eyes will be on Gregory not only against Florida Atlantic but all season. With the junior likely gearing up to declare for the NFL draft, the 2014 season could be a very strong one for the defensive end.
Florida Atlantic Players to Watch
Jaquez Johnson (QB, RS Jr.)
Quarterback Jaquez Johnson had a breakout year for the Owls in 2013. He ultimately combined for 2,633 yards of offense, per FAUSports.com. Not bad considering the coaching drama going on around him.
Johnson had competition from sophomore Greg Hankerson during the offseason for the starting role. At this point, the job should belong to the redshirt junior. His experience will be beneficial for Partridge as a new coach.
FAU worked to develop Johnson as a more balanced quarterback during the offseason, which is something Nebraska will have to be paying attention to. He's also a good runner, which the Huskers will need to be prepared to stop.
D’Joun (DJ) Smith (DB, Sr.)
D'Joun Smith isn't just well known in Conference USA. Ranking No. 2 in the nation with passes defense and third nationally in interceptions, per the Daily Nebraskan, his awareness far reaches beyond South Florida.
With Tommy Armstrong settling in to his role at the helm of the Huskers offense, Smith could easily take advantage of that. The Nebraska offensive line will have to be on the lookout for Smith. Failing to pay attention to the defensive back could be trouble for Armstrong.
What They’re Saying
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from Nebraska's weekly press conference on Aug. 25 via Huskers.com.
Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini
On the red sport coat he wore the press conference:
You know, it’s the 125th year and I wanted to pay my respects to Coach (Bob) Devaney and Coach (Tom) Osborne. I was actually just downstairs trying on some different things we’ve been thinking about doing for game day, and I really didn’t have time to change. I like the look.
On where the team is now: "The time to talk is over. Let's see where we are on Saturday."
On his brother's departure from Florida Atlantic: "It's not about personal feelings. It's about our football team."
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong
On efficiency as a team:
Last year we struggled to get started as an offense. But there were times we'd get started and we'd get going. That's when we saw the full potential of what our offense could be. I feel like this year, we have the guys we need, guys who understand what we need to do, and we've been doing it all fall camp.
I-Back Ameer Abdullah
On being named a team captain: "It means a lot. I've been here four years now and I've seen the caliber of players who have been chosen to be captains of this team, and to be with the likes of those guys, it's an honor."
On how he plans to lead the team: "We all know the season is a long grind and a lot of people are excited to be out there for the first game or the second game, but as the season goes on you get worn down and you kinda lose that fire. I want to be that spark for the team."
Offensive Lineman Jake Cotton
On his father's (Barney Cotton) reaction after being named a captain: "I could tell he was very proud. I was very lucky to have that moment with my father."
Florida Atlantic returns 15 starters for the 2014 season. That's a huge benefit to the Owls as they adjust to life with a new head coach.
The Huskers, on the other hand, return 14 starters. This includes players like Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory, who both look to lead their respective sides of the ball.
When it comes to the season opener for both, Nebraska looks to hold the major edge over the Owls. After all, adjustments to a new coach are always difficult. It seems Florida Atlantic has been handling it well, but it's still never an easy transition.
A big benefit for the Huskers is the sheer size of Memorial Stadium. FAU's stadium only holds 29,419 versus the Huskers' 92,000. That can be intimidating for any team not used to it.
If the Huskers focus on running the football, things should go in Nebraska's favor most of the day. There may still be some growing pains for the Huskers as young talent settles in, but ultimately Nebraska should secure a strong victory.
Prediction: 34-10 Nebraska
For complete team coverage and everything Huskers, you can follow Erin on Twitter at @erinsorensen.