Western Michigan brings a team to Lincoln this week that has experience and has had some success in road games against BCS conference schools in recent years. They have played Virginia, Florida State, Iowa, and West Virginia, and other than the blowout loss to West Virginia last year, each of these games was competitive, with Western Michigan beating Virginia and Iowa.
With this being Bo Pelini's first game back as Nebraska's permanent head coach, I expect an energized and loud atmosphere in Memorial Stadium. It will probably be louder and unlike anything the Broncos have encountered in some of their other road trips.
Offensively, the Broncos come in with an offense capable of making some plays. The plays they do make will be made through the air with QB Tim Hiller and WR Jamarko Simmons.
I expect the Huskers' D to bring the heat in multiple blitz packages and be aggressive in attacking the Broncos offense. This will create havoc at times for the Broncos, but I expect a couple of coverage breakdowns from the Huskers' D, and the Broncos will capitalize with TD passes.
Keep in mind, though: As productive as Hiller has been throwing the ball, he has quite often thrown the ball to the wrong team. I do expect a couple of mistakes from Hiller due to the environment and the different defensive blitz packages and schemes Bo Pelini will throw at the Broncos offense.
I don't expect to see much in the way of Western Michigan trying to establish a ground game this week. They are replacing two offensive linemen and will be facing a defensive line that has all four starters back. When they do run, it will be "token" attempts to try to back the Huskers defenders off and keep Bo Pelini from attacking the offensive line with multiple blitz packages on every play.
I expect the Nebraska offense to turn to the "old school" days of good old Nebraska smashmouth football behind a very solid and deep offensive line. Running behind the big guys up front will be possibly the deepest running back corps in the Big 12 in Marlon Lucky, Roy Helu, and Quentin Castille.
Nebraska's offense will be going against a defense that is very experienced and talented. The Broncos return 10 of 11 starters from last year's unit, and they will have to play well to keep the Broncos close in this game.
Although they return many players, the Broncos did appear to be vulnerable against some good running teams. I expect Nebraska to employ some old fashioned zone blocking schemes with the running backs looking to run between the tackles.
Nebraska will have success running the ball, which will open up the passing game to Nate Swift, Todd Peterson, and Niles Paul. Also, look for Nebraska to try to establish a downfield pass catching threat at tight end with Mike McNeil. I look for Joe Ganz to try at least twice to hit McNeil down the seam of the defense with big plays.
I expect some uncomfortable moments for Nebraska fans, but in the end my pick is....
Nebraska 34, Western Michigan 24
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