College Football

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. McNeese State Cowboys Game Preview

Erin SorensenContributor ISeptember 1, 2014

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. McNeese State Cowboys Game Preview

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    After a 55-7 victory over Florida Atlantic, the Huskers are ready to take on the Cowboys of McNeese State. While Nebraska has a game under its belt so far, this weekend’s matchup is the season opener for the Cowboys.

    The two programs have only ever met once before in 2002. In that matchup, the Huskers won 38-14. Twelve years later, Nebraska is ready to take on the Cowboys once again.

    McNeese State finished 10-3 in 2013, while also making an appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, per Huskers.com. Additionally, the Cowboys return 16 starters.

    Who will come away victories in this Week 2 matchup?

     

    Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.

    When: Saturday, September 6 at 12 p.m. EST

    Watch: ESPNU

    Listen: Husker Sports Network or Sirius Channel 119, XM 203

Nebraska Keys to Victory

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    1. Run the Ball

    Why fix what isn't broke? It was clear against FAU that Ameer Abdullah is ready to run. He's not the only one either. Terrell Newby also had over 100 yards against the Owls, which means there is little reason the Huskers need to force throwing the football if it just doesn't make sense.

    After all, McNeese State has safety Aaron Sam. He's going to make it a little more difficult to confidently put the ball in the air for quarterback Tommy Armstrong. With Armstrong and Newby, why force it anyway? Run the ball.

     

    2. Stop the Run

    While passing the ball would be a smarter decision for the Cowboys, the receiving corps isn't exactly ideal. That means McNeese State will likely attempt to run the ball as much as it can.

    Running backs Kelvin Bennett and Dylan Long will lead the way. Bennett rushed for 774 yards and four touchdowns in 2013, while Long rushed for 335 yards and 10 touchdowns. That's definitely not too shabby for either.

    However, the Nebraska defensive line has the ability to stop both. That's going to be key. Forcing McNeese State to put the ball in the air will put pressure on Nebraska's secondary, but it's not a strength for the Cowboys. That game plan should fall in the Huskers' favor.

     

    3. Crowd Support

    Much like last week, this isn't going to feel like a "big" game for Husker fans. With an early kickoff against a team the Huskers should beat, fans may be tempted to take it easy.

    However, that's the exact opposite of what the Huskers need. As Nebraska prepares for bigger games ahead, the team needs to know the crowd is there regardless of opponent. So fans need to show up and be loud. If anything, at least the new fireworks should keep things going if the Huskers take a big lead.

McNeese State Keys to Victory

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    1. Throw the Ball

    Against Florida Atlantic, Nebraska's secondary didn't look spectacular. That means this is an area McNeese State can take advantage of. While it may seem like running the ball is the best idea with Randy Gregory out, it's not. The Huskers defensive line still looked as sharp as ever against the Owls.

    That means the Cowboys need to put the ball in the air. However, it won't be easy for McNeese State to do this. The receiving corps is thinner than it was in 2013, as only three of its six receivers return. So this may not be the easiest task for the Cowboys, but running the ball likely won't do much either.

     

    2. Stop the Run

    Nebraska is going to run the football. That's pretty much a foregone conclusion. With senior Ameer Abdullah leading the way, there is little reason to believe the Huskers won't just run the ball over and over again. That won't be easy to stop either.

    Plus, the Huskers know from McNeese State's 2013 season that the Cowboy secondary is what needs to be watched out for. That means Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong won't feel pressured to put the ball in the air unless necessary.

    McNeese State's defense will need to be ready to stop the run, as it seems likely that it will be Nebraska's focus.

     

    3. Stay Calm

    Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles, Louisiana, holds 17,410. That's quite the difference from Nebraska's Memorial Stadium.

    For McNeese State, staying calm under the pressure of 90,000-plus fans is going to be crucial. It's easy to fall apart in situations like that, but the Cowboys will need to find a way to tune it out. Kansas State transfer Daniel Sams knows what it's like to play in a bigger stadium and he'll offer good insight and experience. For those without the experience, it will be important to just take it all in and remain calm.

Nebraska Players to Watch

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    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Ameer Abdullah (RB, Sr.)

    After an outstanding showing against Florida Atlantic University, there is no reason not to keep an eye on I-back Ameer Abdullah. In fact, he may just take a permanent place here for the season. It's hard not to watch him though, isn't it?

    After all, he's making a strong case for not only national attention but to be a Heisman candidate. Against FAU, he racked up 232 yards on 21 attempts. Before the season began, it seemed likely he would surpass the 1,000-yard-season benchmark with little issue. Now it seems likely he'll get close to 2,000 yards.

    Expect another 200 yards or more from the I-back this week.

     

    Alex Lewis (OL, Jr.)

    If there's any reason to keep an eye on Alex Lewis, just take Bo Pelini's word for it:

    "He has come out and been a great teammate and really just been ‘N’. He plays hard and he is aggressive, he works hard at what he does. He is not overly vocal with what he does, he doesn’t say a whole heckuva lot, but he goes out there and has a great approach every single day. He practices hard and loves to play. He has done a great job for us on and off the field. He has worked really hard in the classroom and has done great academically. He has done everything we have asked."

    By the end of the matchup with FAU, Lewis was a part of an offensive line that allowed the Huskers to rush for 498 yards. Not too bad for the junior's first game.

    As the Huskers prepare for McNeese State, it'll be fun to watch Lewis again and see just how much he brings to the Nebraska offensive line.

McNeese State Players to Watch

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Antoine Everett (OL, Sr.)

    Offensive lineman Antoine Everett has quite the impressive resume. Per McNeeseSports.com, Everett was named both preseason Sports Network All-American and preseason All-SLC First Team Offensive Line. Both honors make sense too. When looking at Everett's stats, he's earned it.

    He started in all 13 games in 2013 and helped lead the Cowboys to a record-breaking offensive season, per McNeeseSports.com. Expect Everett to give the Nebraska defensive line a bit of a challenge. While he's only one player, he's an experienced offensive lineman that's worth keeping an eye on.

     

    Aaron Sam (DB, Sr.)

    In 2013, Aaron Sam led McNeese State with 84 total tackles, per McNeeseSports.com. Additionally, he recorded 8.5 tackles for loss.

    Needless to say, Sam was the star of the Cowboys defense last year. At 5'9" and 182 pounds, he will be a challenge for Nebraska's receivers. Depending on who he lines up against, Huskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong will have to be aware of throwing near Sam.

What They’re Saying

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained from the Huskers' Monday press conference, via Huskers.com

     

    Head Coach Bo Pelini

    On Randy Gregory's injury:

    Randy Gregory, it was similar to what happened to (Andy) Janovich when he got hurt a couple weeks ago. It was an old injury, something that just flared up on him. They went in there and fixed it. I would say he’s doubtful for this week, but probable for the Fresno game.

     On preparing to face McNeese State:

    Like I talk to them every week, it doesn’t really matter who we play. Our approach needs to be the same. The way we practice, the way we execute and the way we game plan. We don’t change a thing about how we game plan. FBS, FCS—I couldn’t even tell you what we are. At the end of the day, they’re our next opponent. We’re going to approach it like we do any other week.

    On whether or not this is the last FCS team the Huskers will schedule:

    This is probably the last one. I would prefer it. When I say that, it sounds like McNeese State is not a good football team. I’m not saying that. I’d just prefer to not have to deal with that. And who knows where scheduling is going to go down the road. The whole shift of college football and what’s going to happen. The Big 5 conferences and whatever is being talked about. I think that scheduling will probably change for everybody across the board over the next few years. I would anticipate that, but I don’t know. It’s hard to say where it’s going to go. But I think this is the last time we’ll play a team an FCS team.

    On how many times he watched Jordan Westerkamp's catch:

    You know just once. I saw it on Sportscenter the other night and I was flipping through the channels - and I saw it live - that was enough for me. Unusual to say the least, just for somebody to have the - to even think to throw your hands back there to catch a football. Like I said, I haven’t been around that one. I have seen a lot, but I haven’t seen that one before.

     

    Senior I-Back Ameer Abdullah

    On if the offense could be better than against FAU:

    It could be much more efficient. Obviously, we had a pretty good day, but watching the film, we had a lot of mistakes, a lot of false steps, steps were really important, you know, to start the play off. Just one step in the wrong way can really throw off our whole offensive play, and as we get into the thick of our schedule, we’re going to need to be more efficient with our steps, much more crisp, because our opponents will be much better than Florida Atlantic.

    On what he thinks about the FCS:

    It scares me. It scares me, because like I said, they don’t have anything really to lose, you know. Not a lot of people are expecting them to win the game in the first place, so you can let it hang all loose. You can call all your fake plays. You can fake a punt, fake a field goal. You can blitz every single player if you want, just because, like I said, you’re not really expecting them to win the game so you might as well just apply everything in your playbook and try your best to get the upset of the week.

    On sophomore Terrell Newby:

    That’s just a little taste. He’s going to keep getting his carries. He’s going to keep getting his opportunities, and I need to hurry up and get out of here before he takes my spot. Luckily it’s my last semester, then you guys will see the truth next year.

     

    Sophomore Quarterback Tommy Armstrong

    On what he wants to improve on going forward:

    I left a bunch of passes out there. I overthrew a couple of passes to Ameer (Abdullah) and Alonzo (Moore). Just getting the ball down and made smart decisions and threw the ball away. We stressed on not taking sacks and not letting anybody in the pocket. We just got to get better at the passing game. I made smart decisions but I just got to get the ball to my receivers.

    On how the offense is different this year over last year:

    I think this year we are more aggressive. We like running the ball. We like throwing the ball to playmakers like Jordan (Westerkamp) and Kenny, Alonzo and stuff like that. You know they’re more healthy. The receiving corps is a lot healthier than they were last year.

    On where he'd like his completion percentage to be:

    This year, probably just stay over 60 (percent). Like I said, I left a lot, probably four or five passes that should have been complete. You know, just high balls, wrong reads and miscommunication and stuff like that. I've just got to make sure every week we are taking all of the film work and putting it out there on the field and making sure putting the ball on our receivers.

Prediction

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    In what will likely be the Huskers final FCS matchup, McNeese State should be almost scrimmage-like to play. After Nebraska's showing against Florida Atlantic University, it's hard to imagine the Huskers don't have a similar outing against the Cowboys.

    The one advantage McNeese State has is that the team didn't play on Labor Day weekend. Without tape to review, it'll make things interesting for Bo Pelini and his staff to prepare for. Regardless, it seems likely that the Huskers will put together a run-heavy game, which will be difficult for the Cowboys to stop.

    Expect Nebraska to own this game from start to finish. It'll ultimately be a feel-good win for the Huskers as the team prepares for bigger games in the weeks ahead.

    Prediction: 48-3 Nebraska

     

    For complete team coverage and everything Huskers, you can follow Erin on Twitter at @erinsorensen.

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