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What you need to know: BYU vs Nebraska preview

In the first meeting on the gridiron, the Cougars will pit their offense against a new head coach in Mike Riley.

Tommy Armstrong looks to lead the Cornhuskers past the Cougars in their opening game.
Tommy Armstrong looks to lead the Cornhuskers past the Cougars in their opening game.
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The History

The BYU Cougars and Nebraska Cornhuskers will meet for the first time ever to kick off their seasons. Since the Cougars and Huskers have no history to review, we are going to stretch our definition a little.

Since Mike Riley, the former head coach at Oregon State, is the new head coach at Nebraska we have an idea of what his offense might be like. However, while BYU has played Oregon State several times against Riley, none were recent.

But, there was a common opponent between the Cougars and the Beavers in the form of the California Golden Bears. So we might as well take a look at what each team did against the Bears in 2014.

Corvallis, OR - 2014
Cal 45, Oregon State 31

Facing the Riley-led Beavers on the road, the possibly overlooked Bears put on a show as they rallied to beat the Beavers 45-31. The second quarter started off with a bang as OSU quarterback Sean Mannion found Rahmel Dockery from three yards out for a 7-3 lead. Cal would follow up with a 14 yard run by Daniel Lasco after a 10 play drive. The teams would trade touchdowns before Cal would kick a 26 yard field goal with 14 seconds left in the half. OSU would take charge in the third quarter as they scored three of the next four touchdowns while taking a 31-27 lead. With under nine minutes left in the game the Bears took the lead back on a touchdown pass by Jared Goff. The Bears would score 10 more points to come out with the 45-31 win. Lasco would be the star of the game with a 188 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

Berkeley, CA - 2014
BYU 42, Cal 35

In another shootout, the Cougars came out of Berkeley with a win. Christian Stewart threw for 433 yards and five touchdowns. BYU started off strong with two touchdowns in the first quarter but failed to score in the second and gave up 21 points in the first half. In the third quarter the Cougars once again outscored the Bears by a score of 14-7, leading to a dramatic fourth quarter. With under three minutes to play the Cougars and Bears were tied at 35 when Stewart found Jordan Leslie for a 38 yard touchdown and the lead. The Bears took the ball and drove down field and made it to the 9-yard line before a false start penalty put them back at the 14. With time running out the Cougars defense faced their four final plays and each one went from Jared Goff to Kenny Lawler, each of them incomplete as the Cougars held on for the win.

The Outlook

The outlook is always bright before the season starts. No games have been lost, very few players have had their season end due to injuries, and all looks right through your blue goggles. Fall camp excited almost everyone as the teams hit the field and the fans ate up any coverage of the team, while the coaches continued their traditional coach speak. So for at least one week, all looks rosy and the Cougars are on undefeated!

The Positives

Taysom Hill is back! Go ahead and shout it from the rooftops, run down the street in just your Hill jersey...on second thought, forget about that one....and pray to the football gods for his health if so inclined. Along with Hill being back, the Cougars have a fairly healthy receiving group that has height and speed. Even with questions at running back, the Cougars offense could be very daunting to any defense.

The defense seems to be gelling better than they were last year. With Bronco back at the helm and calling plays, the Cougars are excited to see how much improvement has taken place on the defensive side of the ball. There are definitely questions on this side of the ball, but early on it appears that things might be on the upswing.

The Negatives

The most pressing concern coming into this game could be the unknown that comes with the discipline from the Miami Beach Bowl to end last season. With not knowing who will miss the game due to suspension, it is hard to pinpoint where the Achilles heel may be.

As is the case in most opening games, it is tough to predict what will happen. It is even more difficult when one of the teams is introducing a new coach. Granted the Cougars know what style of play that Mike Riley used while at Oregon State, but they don't know how much of it was changed as he adjusted it to the talent at Nebraska.

The Match-ups

The key match-up of the game will be the players in the trenches. The Cougars offensive line will try and give Hill time to throw, while the Nebraska defensive line wants to force him to make bad decisions and turn the ball over with BYU's run game seemingly weaker.

The Cougars have talent up front but will need to gel and make the correct reads. The strength of the Nebraska defense could very well be their secondary, leaving what some to think of as a less than ideal pass rush from their defensive ends. Whichever group controls the line of scrimmage will put their team in a position to win the game and start their season off on the right note.

The Keys to Watch

When the Cornhuskers have the ball: Watch for Tommy Armstrong to look for consistency with his receivers. This could start with short passes to build his confidence as he finds out which receivers will be his play-makers. Watch for the Cougars to blitz from all over the place as they try to rattle Armstrong and cause timing issues with the receivers. One of the struggles in fall camp for the Cornhuskers was the injury bug to the receiving group and so it was hard for Armstrong to get into a good rhythm with them. Watch for the Cougars to take advantage of that and disrupt the offense with a good pass rush.

When the Cougars have the ball: Watch for the Cougars to continue with their Go Fast Go Hard mentality as they try to wear out the defense. Expect Coach Anae to try and establish the run from the get go as they try to take control of the game early. Hill has been accurate in the fall and so expect him to pick up where he left off with the injury last year and throw the ball a bit more as he tries to save his legs from overwork. Watch for the Cornhuskers to use their deep group of linebackers to disrupt the timing of the Cougars offense. Don't be surprised to see the linebackers try to cause some confusion in the backfield as they look for any way to rattle Hill in his return.

Interesting Tidbit

According to the Cornhuskers website, the football teams went through a number of names/mascots before settling on the Cornhuskers. Some of these were the Old Gold Knights, the Antelopes, the Rattlesnake Boys, and the Bugeaters. Surprisingly enough the Bugeaters was the most popular as it was named after the bull bats that feasted on insects. The team kept this name until 1899 when they had their first losing season in a decade. In 1900 the first Nebraska team used the Cornhusker label. If you want to see why they changed the name, make sure you click the above link.

One other interesting tradition was started in 2006. For each home game, two members of the Nebraska National Guard stand as "Gate Guardians." These Guardians stand in front of a gate to protect the entry of the team from the Tunnel Walk. The gates are made of bronze and have artistic renderings of former Nebraska greats. For a picture of the gates and the first to stand guard, click here.

Next Meeting

At this time, the two teams are not scheduled to play again.

The Broadcasting Details

Time: 1:30 pm MDT

Where: Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, NE


Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

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