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Two-Minute Drill: Key matchups that will decide Nebraska-Buffalo

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Sam digs into the three keys for the Huskers as they host a dangerous MAC opponent.

Each week, the Two-Minute Drill provides an in-depth breakdown on all the key matchups that will decide a winner in the Husker game. Today we look at what Buffalo brings to the showdown with Nebraska.

* * *

WHEN NEBRASKA RUNS THE BALL

Since 2019, Buffalo has allowed 4 yards per carry five times in 20 games. Three of those opponents ran their quarterback at least 10 times. That feels like a good (designed) pitch count for Adrian Martinez (pictured). He doesn’t need to be the lead ball-carrier like he was last season, he just needs to make the Bulls wonder whether he’ll pull the ball back when he places it into Markese Stepp’s belly on the read option. EDGE: NEBRASKA

WHEN NEBRASKA THROWS THE BALL

Oliver Martin will likely be back, which should help Nebraska’s vertical passing attack. Buffalo didn’t tackle receivers well in the 2020 MAC title game, which could help the Huskers’ horizontal passing attack. Counterpoint: While Nebraska kept Martinez sack-free against Fordham, it allowed five sacks to Illinois. Buffalo is much closer to the latter. And beware of linebacker Kadofi Wright, the fifth-year senior who’s scored three defensive touchdowns in his career and is one of the best coverage linebackers in the MAC. EDGE: NEBRASKA

WHEN BUFFALO RUNS THE BALL

Brace for bruises. Buffalo has averaged at least 41.5 carries the past three seasons, including 50.7 in 2019. Most will come out of the shotgun. The good: Kevin Marks, who carried the ball 112 times for 741 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, returns. So does 5-foot-9 Ron Cook. And while quarterback Kyle Vantrease doesn’t run often, he’s effective on naked bootlegs near the goal line. The bad: Jaret Patterson, who ran for 1,072 yards and 19 touchdowns in six games last season, left for the NFL. Buffalo lost three starters on the offensive line, too. The new guys looked great against Wagner, but Nebraska (3.89 yards per carry allowed) is bigger and more experienced. EDGE: NEBRASKA

WHEN BUFFALO THROWS THE BALL

Eye discipline will be key. The Bulls love throwing deep off play-action fakes, and Vantrease has no problem throwing jump balls. Jovany Ruiz (20 catches for 192 yards and one touchdown last season), who caught a 58-yard touchdown 45 seconds into last week’s win over Wagner, will be a receiver to watch. But the Bulls lost their top two wideouts from last season. Nebraska returns an experienced secondary, and freshman Quinton Newsome looks good through two weeks. EDGE: NEBRASKA

SPECIAL TEAMS

Both teams have their quirks in the third phase. Nebraska is still sitting at zero weeks without a weird punt-return mistake. Buffalo is 12 of 23 on field goals since 2019. Both Alex McNulty and Jackson Baltar made short kicks (35 and 33 yards, respectively) against Wagner, but they compose the same duo that has struggled the past two seasons. Missed kicks hurt less than turnovers. EDGE: BUFFALO

INTANGIBLES

Samori Touré celebrated Montana’s win over Washington last week. Chris Kolarevic watched intently as Northern Iowa took Iowa State to the wire. After watching all the Week 1 chaos, the Huskers know, or at least say they know, that they can’t take Buffalo lightly. Surprise is one of few advantages teams like the Bulls have against larger competition. If NU learned a lesson from watching Georgia Tech, Washington State and Vanderbilt lose to smaller schools last week, it won’t take Buffalo lightly. EDGE: NEBRASKA

KEY MATCHUP

Both teams want to run the ball, neither hides that desire. And the key to any good run game is blocking. Can Nebraska wear Buffalo down like it did Fordham? Is Buffalo’s offensive line, down three starters from a group considered among the best in the FBS last year, prepared for the jump required from Wagner to NU? The answer goes a long way to determining a winner Saturday. EDGE: NEBRASKA

OUR TAKE

Similar to Week Zero, this game feels like a bellwether that tells us how tight Nebraska has twisted its screws. It should be able to slow Buffalo’s running game and grab an early lead. The Huskers should find a way to leverage Martinez on the ground and poke holes in Buffalo’s secondary. Assuming NU has learned from its long list of Week Zero mistakes, it should grab some momentum before traveling to Norman. NEBRASKA 27, BUFFALO 10


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