Just over 24 hours until kickoff, we are breaking down Oregon’s next opponent; the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Each Friday, we will preview the Ducks upcoming opponent, including some keys to the contest:
GAME 2: NEBRASKA
Last season, the Huskers concluded with a respectable 9-4 overall record. Following a massive 3-point win vs the Ducks in Lincoln, 35-32, Nebraska moved their non-conference record to 3-0. The Huskers finished in third place in the B1G 10 West behind Wisconsin and Iowa. Incredibly, Nebraska was undefeated at home (7-0), while they were 2-4 on the road. They were 6-3 in conference but lost a few of their best players to graduation and the NFL this offseason. In 2017, they are trying to find their rhythm with a young and inexperienced, but talented, group.
Let’s take a look at their 5 key players for Saturday:
Tanner Lee, Quarterback
He completed 19-of-32 passes for 238 yards and a score vs Arkansas State last weekend. The Huskers barely escaped with the 43-36 victory from Memorial Stadium. However, the 6-foot-4 junior from Louisiana showed signs of life with a live arm and solid pocket presence. He could sling it if forced to, but I believe the Huskers want to control the clock on Saturday with a heavy dose of their running game. He is a legit quarterback compared to their former scrambler Taylor Martinez.
Tre Bryant, Running Back
Last week, Bryant rushed the rock 31 times for 192 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore back averaged 6.2 yards per carry in the season opener. He fell just 12 carries shy of his total 2016 campaign (43). Regardless, Bryant will be the focal point of this B1G 10 offense away from their home. The Ducks can not miss tackles this weekend vs Bryant. He will make UO pay.
De'Mornay Pierson-El, Wide Receiver
This was the guy that scared me last season and look what he did to the Ducks on special teams. The senior from Virginia was banged up in the season opener. He is officially listed as probable with a shoulder injury, but he will most likey suit-up for Saturday’s rematch. In 2016, he only caught one pass for 11 yards vs the Ducks, but it was his presence in the return game that made a difference. His 45-yard punt return setup a crucial Nebraska score. I would love to see Thomas Graham Jr. all over him on the outside. Pierson-El does not respond well to physicality.
Luke Gifford, Linebacker
The linebacker from Lincoln led the defensive charge with nine tackles in the season opener. The 235-pound junior will look to control his defense against a fast-paced Oregon attack that will run and pass without hesitation. At 6-foot-3 and in the middle, Gifford moves real well for a big man and has solid swivel in his hips. Not to mention, he’s Nebraska’s hometown version of Justin Herbert. He will make some big plays and is a fundamentally sound tackler.
Joshua Kalu, Defensive Back
Last but certainly not least is the head of Nebraska’s defense, Josh Kalu. In 2016, he recorded one interception on the year and it came against Northwestern. This season, he is already looking for pick No. 2 after his highlight catch in Week 1. He plays like an undersized linebacker at 6-foot-1, controlling his defense and bringing the pressure when necessary. He is one of Nebraska’s most-sound tacklers. The only way to move him off a receiver is with a quarterback pump fake or a double move by a skill position player.
X-Factor: Don’t Blink
“Keep an eye on two additional offensive weapons; J.D. Spielman and Tyjon Lindsey. Spielman is the nephew of former Ohio State and NFL tackling machine, Chris. Both are undersized athletes that are quick and shifty. Lindsey is as quick as they come and can reach his top speed as fast as anyone.”
Insight provided by lifelong Nebraska season-ticket holder David Gillan
That’s a look at the five keys players in Nebraska’s attack. They have always been a well-balanced team that has players on both sides of the ball. Not to mention, they can always run the rock with great success. Their fans are some of the best in the world and travel around with the team in a sea of red like groupies. You can’t help but appreciate a passionate and dedicated group like that. They remind me of Duck fans. Head coach Mike Riley will have his players ready to go from Autzen Stadium in just over 24 hours.