The Matchup: Troy at Nebraska
Troy (1-1) at Nebraska (0-1)
Saturday, 11 a.m., Memorial Stadium
TV: BTN (Joe Benanati, James Laurinatis, Damon Benning)
WHAT’S AT STAKE: Nebraska is seeking to avoid its first 0-2 start to a season since 1957, and is faced with this scenario for only the second time since 1985. The Huskers bounced back from a 33-28 loss to BYU to open the 2015 season by trouncing South Alabama in their second game. Now, after falling to Colorado by, ironically, the same score as that BYU game, Nebraska welcomes a Troy team that’s anything but intimidated by road games against Power 5 Conference teams. To wit: The Trojans won at LSU last season. “I’ve coached at a place like this, and when you go play a game like this, it’s like the Super Bowl for them,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “It’s a great opportunity for a team to come into an environment like this and try to win.” Rest assured, the Huskers will be dialed in and won’t take Troy lightly. “We’ve got to match their intensity,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “They play with passion and intensity, and we’ve got to come out and match that intensity.”
ABOUT TROY: The Trojans, from Troy, Alabama, are coming off a 59-7 victory over Florida A&M, a week after losing 56-20 at home to then-No. 22 Boise State. This is Troy’s (formerly Troy State) fourth trip to Lincoln, and the Huskers have won all of the previous games, most recently 56-0, in 2006. Neal Brown is in his fourth season as Troy’s head coach and brings a 26-14 career record to Lincoln. “We want to win the game and we are playing the game to win, but we have to continue to get better,” Neal said of his team’s trip to Lincoln. “We have to make sure we play good fundamental football, if we do that I think we will have an opportunity.” Troy, like Nebraska, is young. The Trojans have just 12 scholarship seniors and 14 overall seniors on their roster.
KEY STATISTIC: Troy collected 14 tackles for loss last week against Florida A&M, its most in a game since 2015. Last season, the Trojans set a school record with 112 tackles for loss in one season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Nebraska’s linebackers, in general, were active against Colorado, as their starting four combined for 42 tackles, including seven for loss and 2.5 sacks in the Huskers’ season opener. Keep an eye, in particular, on Dedrick Young II, who had nine tackles last week and is approaching Nebraska’s Top 10 career tackles chart. … Running back Greg Bell (25, above) ran for 104 yards last week and looks to capitalize on opportunities for bigger runs. Nebraska’s 329 rushing yards were its most in a game in four years. … Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker (7) was responsible for five touchdowns – four passing and one rushing – in last week’s victory over Florida A&M, which fell one short of the Troy school record. … Cornerback Marcus Jones (8) tied an FBS record last season when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in one game as a true freshman. He finished last season with three kickoff returns for touchdowns, and was named the Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year.
WHEN NEBRASKA HAS THE BALL: The big questions, of course, is whether freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez plays after his impressive debut against Colorado, or whether his sore knee means walk-on freshman Andrew Bunch makes his first career start. Either way, look for Nebraska to try to establish the running game early and often, as it did last week against Colorado. “We have to be able to run the ball and establish the line of scrimmage,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “Once again, we’re counting on them to dominate up front.” Nebraska’s challenge is a Troy defense that can be described as versatile and multiple – linebackers who cover receivers, corners who play safety and safeties who can play linebacker. “They’re all over the place,” Walters said. “They do what they do well. We’ve got to do a good job of identifying each guy and where they line up, and then it just comes down to being physical and finishing blocks.” Last week, Troy forced four turnovers and had 14 tackles for loss. “They’re athletic, they’re physical, they fly around,” Walters said. “They’re not overly big size-wise, but they fly around and they’re aggressive.” Nebraska coaches, meanwhile, have complete confidence in Bunch, should he start in place of Martinez.
WHEN TROY HAS THE BALL: You’ve probably heard by now that Nebraska’s seven sacks last week against Colorado is already halfway to the team’s total for all of last season. Great. Now, how about some turnovers? "Any time you get to the quarterback seven times … you need to get some turnovers out of the deal,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. Nebraska didn’t force a turnover against Colorado, and faces a Troy team that went turnover-free last week. Can the Blackshirts make the game easier for an offense that may be shorthanded by creating a short field? Troy has been balanced through two games, with an average of 208 rushing yards and 220 passing yards. The Trojans have allowed eight sacks – five by Boise State, three by Florida A&M. Troy coach Neal Brown wants better downfield throwing, continued improvement in downfield blocking by wide receivers and a better start overall for an offense that’s gone three-and-out on its first drives of its first two games. Brown has accolades for Nebraska’s defense, too. “Defensively, they may be the biggest defense that I have ever played against, and that’s going back into the SEC and Big 12 days as well,” said Neal, a former offensive coordinator at Texas Tech and Kentucky.
NEBRASKA WINS IF .... The Huskers limit mistakes and take care of the football. Yeah, we said the same thing last week, and Nebraska committed 11 penalties and went minus-3 in turnovers, with lost fumbles on its first two possessions. “We shouldn’t see any fumbles Saturday,” Walters said, referencing the emphasis on ball security in practice this week. A positive turnover margin should result in victory, no matter who starts at quarterback.
BY THE NUMBERS
5 : Straight victories away from home for Troy, which is the fourth-longest active road winning streak in the nation.
87: Percent of Nebraska’s total offense, against Colorado, produced by players making their Husker debuts. Of the 565 total yards, 492 were from players in their first Nebraska game, including 236 passing and 256 rushing.
565: Total yards of offense by Nebraska in its season opener, its most in a game since the 2016 game against Northwestern, when the Huskers produced 556 yards.
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