LINCOLN — Brett Smith has played in some big stadiums during his two years as Wyoming's starting quarterback. He's played against some good pass defenses, too.
But Nebraska's matchup zone — a hallmark of coach Bo Pelini's defensive scheme — is unique among his experiences.
“Nebraska does some things that I've never seen any other team do,” Smith said in a phone interview Tuesday. “They play receivers really aggressively.”
Couple that with the experienced athletes NU is expected to use in the secondary — “some of the most elite players in the country,” Smith said — and the Cowboys' offense has a hefty challenge Saturday night when it plays the Huskers in an expanded Memorial Stadium.
Smith, who has 5,459 yards passing and 47 touchdowns in two seasons, said Wyoming will have to respond by crafting a game plan that tries to create the routes that exploit tight man-to-man coverage.
That game plan, too, could give Smith a chance to scramble. Though he only rushed for 2 yards during NU's 38-14 win in 2011, he frequently escaped the Huskers' blitzes, weaving out of the pocket to hit open receivers on the run. Smith has 958 rushing yards in his career, and his mobility is a concern for Pelini.
“He's very poised,” Pelini said. “He has excellent feet. I don't know what he runs (in the 40-yard dash), but he's very elusive in the pocket and he buys time. I think he's a really good player.”
Wyoming's offense, Pelini said, has migrated in the last two years toward more of a one-back, four-wide receiver spread offense under coach Dave Christensen, who served as Missouri's offensive coordinator for many of the Tigers' best seasons in the 2000s. In 2011, the Cowboys more frequently employed a tight end.
The Huskers match personnel to formations, so if Wyoming forgoes using a tight end, Nebraska will likely operate with a dime defense. Like last year, NU lacks an experienced option at the dime; senior Mo Seisay, junior Zaire Anderson and true freshman Nate Gerry are battling for playing time.
The Cowboys' receivers have plenty of experience; eight of Smith's top nine targets from last year's 4-8 team return. The best of that bunch is 5-foot-10, 187-pound Robert Herron, who averaged 21.2 yards per catch last season and caught four passes for 35 yards against Nebraska in 2011.
“Robert's the big-play guy,” Smith said. “Really dynamic. Lots of speed.” Smith called another of the his small receivers, 5-9, 175-pound Jalen Claiborne, “fearless.”
His team will need that mindset, Smith said, squaring off against a Husker offense that expects to rank among the nation's best.
“We have to keep the ball out of their hands as much as possible,” Smith said. “That means staying on the field and making plays.”
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