(Sports Network) - The 16th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Colorado Buffaloes are set to close out the regular season with a game that is important to both squads.
This season has clearly been a disappointing one for Colorado, which got off to a 3-6 start. The sixth loss was the result of an epic collapse against Kansas, and Dan Hawkins was relieved of his head coaching duties after that demoralizing defeat. To the credit of interim head coach Brian Cabral, the Buffaloes have put together back-to-back victories, including last weekend's 44-36 decision over Kansas State. Put simply, a win this weekend would make Colorado eligible for a bowl bid, something that would have seemed highly unlikely a few weeks ago.
"How 'bout them Buffaloes!" exclaimed Cabral after the triumph over Kansas State. "I couldn't be more proud of our players and coaches by the way that they have responded the last two weeks. You couldn't have asked for more."
As for Nebraska, it is deadlocked atop the Big 12 North Division standings with Missouri at 5-2, and the club is 9-2 overall. Fortunately for the Cornhuskers, they beat Missouri in late October to earn the tiebreaker, so a victory over Colorado on Friday will send Bo Pelini's team to the Big 12 Conference Championship Game. Last weekend, Nebraska put forth its worst offensive showing of the season in a 9-6 loss to Texas A&M, a disappointing setback to say the least.
"The game's irrelevant," said Pelini, when asked what he told his team after the Texas A&M loss. "At the end we still control our destiny. If we take care of business next Friday we'll give ourselves a chance at the league championship. That's our main focus anyway."
Nebraska owns a 48-18-2 series advantage over Colorado, which includes two straight wins over the Buffaloes.
Judging by the fact that Colorado racked up 44 points against Kansas State last weekend, the Buffaloes obviously played well offensively. They finished with 476 total yards, and the fact that they had over 200 yards both rushing and receiving speaks to the tremendous balance they were able to achieve. Cody Hawkins completed 14-of-25 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, and the fact that he wasn't sacked at all was a credit to both Hawkins' quick delivery and the offensive line. Scotty McKnight had two touchdown catches, and tailback Rodney Scott rushed for 195 yards and two scores on 34 carries.
"Give me 40 [carries] if you can," said Stewart, who is more than willing to carry the load.
Defensively, Colorado yielded 411 yards to Kansas State, and the fact that the Buffaloes gave up just 101 rushing yards on 38 carries was highly impressive. The pass defense wasn't nearly as good, permitting 18.2 yards per completion, and the fact that Kansas State finished with five offensive touchdowns is disappointing to fans of the Buffaloes. Still, the result was a victory, and even the defense can be proud of that.
Overall this season, Colorado is generating 24.8 ppg and 368.5 total ypg, average numbers for a rather mediocre offense. Hawkins has thrown for 1,384 yards and 12 touchdowns against three interceptions, and he will remain under center for the rest of the season since Tyler Hansen is gone due to injury. Stewart has rushed for 1,230 yards and 10 touchdowns, as he has quietly had a phenomenal season. As for McKnight, the club's top receiver, he has posted 47 catches for 611 yards and seven touchdowns.
Opponents are posting 29.5 ppg and 399.4 total ypg against Colorado, which is allowing fewer than four yards per rushing attempt compared to 11.9 yards per pass completion. With 19 takeaways and 33 sacks, there have been some big plays made by the defense. Josh Hartigan is a player to watch, as he has seven sacks to his credit.
Nebraska is averaging 32.7 ppg and 425.9 total ypg this season, numbers that the players and coaches can be proud of. A freshman has been the catalyst for the Cornhuskers, as quarterback Taylor Martinez has thrown for 1,435 yards and nine touchdowns while also rushing for 974 yards and 12 scores. Unfortunately, he injured his ankle last time out and will likely miss Friday's tilt. Cody Green will take the reins, and he has thrown just 35 passes this season, an obvious concern heading into the bout with Colorado. Green will likely hand off to Roy Helu Jr. often, as the tailback has rushed for 1,043 yards with 10 touchdowns and is a big-time performer.
Colorado has been hot offensively the last few weeks, but the Nebraska defense is more than capable of slowing down the Buffaloes. The Cornhuskers are allowing only 16.7 ppg and 294.5 total ypg, and they actually allow more rushing yards per contest (151.4 ypg) than passing yards (143.1 ypg). Pelini's troops have recovered just three fumbles in 11 games, but they have intercepted 16 passes and registered 29 sacks. Lavonte David has recorded 120 tackles, including 14 TFLs and six sacks.
Neither Nebraska nor Texas A&M was able to score a touchdown in last week's 9-6 affair. The Cornhuskers posted just 306 total yards, four fewer yards than they allowed, and both Martinez and Green threw interceptions in that game.
Without Martinez, Nebraska may struggle a bit early on, but expect the Cornhuskers to take care of business against Colorado and advance to the Big 12 title game.