LINCOLN, Neb. — Less than two weeks after Mike Riley accepted the job at Nebraska, someone pointed out to him Oregon would be in town during his second year.
He’s been looking forward to it ever since. And so has the entire state of Nebraska.
On Saturday, the wait is over.
No. 22 Oregon rolls into Lincoln 2-0 and looking to prove they’re not on a downward slide, while Nebraska has a chance to jump back into the national conversation.
Here’s how the matchups break down.
When Nebraska has the ball
Get ready for a shootout, folks.
Nebraska has shown it can throw when it needs to and run when it needs to. Oregon’s problem? The Ducks are not all that great at stopping either.
Brady Hoke’s 4-3 defense is still in its beginning phases, and the typically leaky Oregon defense doesn’t have many bright spots to hang its hat on besides overall speed.
Expect lots of shots down the field from Tommy Armstrong, lots of Terrell Newby and expect offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf to open up the playbook. Nebraska won’t be able to out-Oregon Oregon, but they’ll certainly be able to score on this Oregon defense. It’s just a matter of how.
When Oregon has the ball
Yes, Oregon is No. 22 and not in the top 10, but this is still Oregon. And its offense is dangerous.
Redshirt freshman Dakota Prukop is a dynamic quarterback who can run, throw and improvise. Prukop transferred from Montana State this year and won the starting spot. His Montana State highlights are absurd. He can be trouble in the zone-read game, and though he’s no Marcus Mariota, he’s a typical Oregon quarterback who forces defenses to be on their toes.
Behind him, running back Royce Freeman is no joke either.
Freeman ran for 1,800 yards as a sophomore and already has 294 yards rushing in two games this season. Freeman is a bulldozer with speed and does not go down easily. He’s big, he’s quick, and he’s going to truly test Nebraska’s front seven.
Nebraska’s special teams are still a work in progress.
The punting game is one of the worst in the country. The punt return game is still the most confusing part of the team. I honestly don’t know who will return punts this week.
On the other side, Oregon’s special teams are lethal. Mike Riley said kicking the ball away from Oregon’s playmakers on kickoffs and punts is in the game plan and a key for the game.
If Oregon dominates the special teams and swings field position in their favor with good returns, the Ducks could score quickly and take the home-field advantage away from Nebraska. On the other hand, if Nebraska trots out De’Mornay Pierson-El to return punts and he puts Nebraska in solid field position, the Huskers will be able to score quicker and keep up with the Ducks.
This is always a hard one because you really don’t know how each coach is actually planning the game.
The difference this week? Nebraska knows Oregon better than anyone in the country.
Nebraska’s coaching staff knows the ins and outs of Oregon’s offense, and even if they haven’t been the most successful (4-10 when they were at Oregon State), knowing your enemy is half of the battle.
The edge this week goes to Nebraska, simply because Mike Riley knows what it takes to beat Oregon, even if he hasn’t done it consistently.
I’ve gone back and forth on this game probably 100 times. Following Nebraska football for a while, I’m conditioned to expect the Huskers to lay an egg.
I think this week comes down to the wire, and both teams will have their way on offense. Dakota Prukop is going to put up video game numbers and so is the Nebraska offense.
This game is going to come down to the little things. Converting on third down, scoring touchdowns instead of field goals and field position.
We’re in for a fun one.
Chris Heady’s prediction: Nebraska 45, Oregon 42