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FOOTBALL

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

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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 Fordham brings to the showdown with Nebraska.

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WHEN NEBRASKA RUNS THE BALL

The pushes and rushing lanes that materialized sporadically against Illinois should be bigger and more consistent for Nebraska against an FCS foe that has struggled to stop its peers on the ground. NU’s offense could use the game reps as it continues to break in a young left tackle and true freshman running back Gabe Ervin, with perhaps more totes for Markese Stepp and the debut of rusher Sevion Morrison along the way. Fordham linebacker Ryan Greenhagen was an FCS All-American in 2019 who had 123 tackles (18.5 for loss) in his last full season. But he can’t do it alone — the Rams have a significant size disadvantage across the line. EDGE: NEBRASKA

WHEN NEBRASKA THROWS THE BALL

It’s been a long time since the Huskers have enjoyed a big game through the air — once in the past 28 games have they eclipsed 300 yards passing. The inability or unwillingness to throw downfield has been a key factor. Pass protection for quarterback Adrian Martinez has been wobbly, too. Fordham, meanwhile, defended the pass well in its three-game spring. It picked off eight balls while allowing one touchdown, relying as much on its linebackers to drop into coverage as defensive backs. Still, Huskers like 6-foot-4 Omar Manning and 6-3 Samori Toure will have a few inches on any back-end defender while others like Oliver Martin have enough speed to make a house call. EDGE: NEBRASKA

WHEN FORDHAM RUNS THE BALL

The Rams' ground game was so poor last year that it generated 2.6 yards per rush on 98 attempts against Holy Cross, Colgate and Bucknell. Its 2019 attack (3.5 per rush) wasn’t much better, though running back Zach Davis did go for 1,057 and seven touchdowns before missing last spring with an injury. Six-foot-4, 220-pound quarterback Tim DeMorat isn’t a threat to take off, either. Nebraska’s space-eating front generally held Illinois in check and has plenty of depth to gum up the middle and hold the edge when Fordham wants to throw a change-up with a run. EDGE: NEBRASKA

WHEN FORDHAM PASSES THE BALL

These guys aren’t afraid to sling it. DeMorat spreads the ball around to an array of receivers 6-feet or shorter, including last year’s leading catcher in 5-9, 180-pound Fotis Kokosioulis (20 grabs, 278 yards). The quarterback has 25 scoring throws and completed attempts at a 62% rate the past two seasons — spanning 15 games — but also has 14 interceptions and has been sacked 51 times. Husker edge rushers like Pheldarius Payne could be in for a big game along with a veteran secondary eager to show it can turn deflections into takeaways. EDGE: NEBRASKA

SPECIAL TEAMS

These guys aren’t afraid to sling it. DeMorat spreads the ball around to an array of receivers 6-feet or shorter, including last year’s leading catcher in 5-9, 180-pound Fotis Kokosioulis (20 grabs, 278 yards). The quarterback has 25 scoring throws and completed attempts at a 62% rate the past two seasons — spanning 15 games — but also has 14 interceptions and has been sacked 51 times. Husker edge rushers like Pheldarius Payne could be in for a big game along with a veteran secondary eager to show it can turn deflections into takeaways. EDGE: NEBRASKA

INTANGIBLES

One Husker this week called Fordham a “trap” game but it should be more of a get-right affair as fans flock to Memorial Stadium for the first time in nearly two years. Considering NU has faced 18 straight Big Ten foes, Saturday should be a welcome relief and morale boost for backups who have long grinded behind the veil of the pandemic waiting for their chance. The stage is grand for the Rams, though much of the joy may be removed as the team deals with flash flooding in the New York City area from Hurricane Ida. EDGE: NEBRASKA

KEY MATCHUP

With all due respect to Fordham, this is about Nebraska against itself. Can the Huskers show, even for one game at home against an overmatched opponent, that they are able to avoid the variety of mistakes that have plagued the Scott Frost era? This needs to be one of the few blowouts Big Red has won in the past four years. If it is, the conversation about getting better goes on. If not, the path to a bowl game looks even more treacherous.

OUR TAKE

Put this one in the category of Bethune-Cookman 2018 and Northern Illinois and Maryland 2019 as a Nebraska runaway. The Huskers haven’t gotten a crack at many non-Power Five foes under Frost (four) and hold every physical and structural advantage possible against the Rams. Predicting NU to coast by a comfortable margin may seem bold given its chronic inconsistencies but says as much about Fordham on the other side. An easy win doesn’t change perception about anything but puts tougher conversation on hold — for a few hours — as the Sea of Red finally reunites. NEBRASKA 38, FORDHAM 13 ​


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