Breaking down they key matchups for Nebraska-Troy
Nebraska rush offense vs. Troy rush defense
Troy has had a top 25 run defense nationally the last two seasons in yards allowed per carry and per game. That’s good for any league, especially the Sun Belt. Only three teams since 2016 have run for more than 200 yards on the Trojans, and NU will be challenged to do so if quarterback Adrian Martinez doesn’t play. Martinez is a game-changer in the run game. Backup Andrew Bunch can occasionally sneak in a 10-yard run but won’t likely bust off a 40-yarder. NU’s top three running backs — Greg Bell, Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington — each had their moments against Colorado. Troy’s linebackers — anchored by “bandit” Hunter Reese and inside linebacker Tron Folsom — are active and swarm to the ball. Troy’s defensive line is a little undersized, but aggressive. This game will be a challenge for NU, but it did just rack up 329 rushing yards against the Buffs.
Nebraska pass offense vs. Troy pass defense
Martinez and Bunch are equally capable passers, and Bunch may throw the touch pass a bit better than the true freshman. Troy’s risk/reward defense leaves it a little vulnerable to the big play, evident in the 8.9 yards allowed per pass through two games. Troy defensive coordinator Vic Koenning likes to hunt the passer — 42 sacks last season — but if NU’s offensive line can protect well, opportunities for receivers Stanley Morgan, JD Spielman, Mike Williams and Tyjon Lindsey should be there. Look for tight ends Kurt Rafdal, Austin Allen and Jack Stoll to get in the mix, too.
Troy rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense
The Huskers’ front seven dominated Colorado, stuffing tailbacks and making life tough for quarterback Steven Montez. The depth and aggression of NU’s front seven bodes well for the Troy game, as the Trojan offensive line lacks the size and athleticism of Colorado’s. Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker is a threat to run, and the Trojans will occasionally design plays for him. Nebraska has made stopping the run a priority and that won’t change here.
Troy pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense
Barker will be playing in the toughest atmosphere of his career. He didn’t lead Troy to an upset at LSU last year. Another guy who’s no longer at the school did that. And while the Trojans have above-average receivers for a Group of Five conference — Deondre Douglas among them — Nebraska should be able to lock them up well enough for the Huskers’ pass rush to get home. Look for a few turnovers, too.
Nebraska did nothing worth writing home about last week. Just the opposite. A missed field goal, four special teams penalties, mediocrity across the board. Troy wasn’t much better in two home games. Hard to find an edge here, aside from NU having slightly better athletes and the home-field advantage.
Usually, the big, bad home team with all the history gets some sort of bump in a game like this. But Troy nearly beat Clemson in 2016. It did beat LSU last year. Troy’s not worried about playing at Nebraska. It surely relishes and welcomes the opportunity. NU, on the other hand, has to be hungry for a first win. Who wouldn’t be after the way the Colorado game ended? The resolve and certitude of Husker captains may be worth something, even in an 11 a.m. start. Nebraska’s new morning practice regimen will help.
Key matchup: Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker vs. Nebraska’s secondary
If Troy can’t score, it’s going to be hard to pull off any kind of upset. That means, if Nebraska shuts down Troy’s run game — and you can count on it — the 6-foot-1, 206-pound Barker will have to throw for the Trojans to win. How much difference, really, is there between Barker and Bunch? Not much. NU’s secondary needs to make Barker, who’s making his third career start, pay for any mistakes.