With redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez watching from the sideline with an ankle injury, Nebraska was without its most explosive runner against Iowa State. Luckily, Iowa State was there to save the day. Running ball both out of the backfield and as the Wildcat quarterback, Burkhead carried Nebraska's offense to an important win on the road.
As of now, it's looking like Martinez will be ready to return to the starting lineup tonight against Kansas. With him back and assuming he's back to full form, the Huskers will have a clear advantage here against a Jayhawk defense that has allowed 202 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 108th in the country. Even if Martinez ends up not playing, Burkhead and Co. should be more than capable of picking up the slack once again.
NU Pass Offense vs. KU Pass Defense
While Nebraska was able to get by without Martinez last week in the running game, there's no denying that its passing game was virtually non-existent with backup Cody Green running the offense. Green completed seven of his 12 passes in the game for just 79 yards, and the Huskers offense looked completely one-dimensional at times against the Cyclones.
Again, assuming Martinez is good to go Nebraska should be much better through the air tonight, as he's taken some big strides in his passing the past few weeks. If Green has to play again, he'll be going up against a decent KU secondary that is giving up an averaged of 212 passing yards per game, though the Jayhawks have only picked off four passes in nine games.
KU Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
Running back James Sims has emerged as Kansas's feature back this season, leading the way for the Jayhawks with 121 carries for 558 yards and seven touchdowns. However, after Sims, there's not much else. No other player is averaging more than 26 rushing yards a game, and KU only has a combined four rushing touchdowns outside of Sims.
The good news for the Jayhawks is Nebraska has had its share of struggles stopping No. 1 running backs this season. The Huskers have already allowed four 100-plus yard rushers this season, including two in the past three games. While stopping the run has obviously been a problem area for the Blackshirts this season, don't expect Kansas to come in and start running wild against them.
KU Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
After seven games of minimal output from Jordan webb, Kansas made a change at quarterback and named junior college transfer Quinn Mecham the starter two weeks ago against Iowa State. Mecham has been especially efficient in his first two starts, completing 72.6 percent of his passes, and he was 23-of-28 passing for 252 yards and two touchdowns in last week's miraculous comeback over Colorado.
However, Nebraska's pass defense is just a little bit better than the likes of Iowa State and the Buffaloes. The Huskers rank sixth nationally in pass defense, allowing an average of just 154 yards per game, and their 15 interceptions lead the Big 12 Conference and rank fifth in the country. Needless to say, Mecham will have never seen a defense as good as NU's in his short collegiate career.
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
Kansas kicker Jacob Branstetter has been okay this season, connecting on 7-of-11 field goals, and punter Alonso Rojas is averaging 43.6 yards per punt. In the return game, D.J. Beshears is a formidable threat, averaging nearly 27 yards a return including a 96-yarder for a touchdown. The Jayhawks have been dismal on punt returns, though, averaging only 3.75 yards per return to rank 111th nationally.
After getting pulled for fumbling on a costly return last week against Iowa State, senior Niles Paul will be back returning kickoffs for Nebraska tonight. As always, kicker/punter Alex Henery has been the model of consistency, and he once again gives the Huskers the edge in both areas.
Nebraska Will Win If:
It will help considerably if Martinez is able to suit up and play anywhere close to the level he's shown throughout the season, but if for some reason he's unable to play, Nebraska will once again have to turn to its running game and defense to carry the team. Ball security will also be a big issue, as Kansas head coach Turner Gill has openly said he wants to capitalize on the Huskers' propensity to put the ball on the turf.
Kansas Will Win If:
It's able to get something going in the running game and not make Mecham try to win the game with his arm against Nebraska's talented secondary. The Jayhawks will likely also need a little help to pull off the upset, so look for them to go after the football on every play defensively to try and force a few turnovers.
No single player will have a bigger impact in how this game plays out than Martinez. His presence on the field changes everything for both Nebraska's offense and opposing defenses, and even if he's not 100 percent, the fact that he's out there will keep Kansas defense honest and keyed in on him, opening up opportunities for others to make plays.