Should quarterback Taylor Martinez's sprained right ankle end up holding him out of today's game or even limit what he's able to do if he does play, Nebraska's running game will definitely be affected. The good news is that the Huskers still have senior Roy Helu, the school's all-time single game rushing leader, and sophomore Rex Burkhead to pick up the slack.
With the way Iowa State has defended the run the season, whether or not Martinez does play may not matter a whole lot. The Cyclones currently rank 99th nationally in run defense nearly 195 yards on the ground per game and 15 rushing touchdowns.
NU Pass Offense vs. ISU Pass Defense
Again, Martinez's status plays a big role here, as the style of offense Nebraska comes out with against ISU. Should he play, look for him to have bigger impact with his arm than his legs, as the Huskers will likely rely on their running backs to pound the ball and keep Martinez in the pocket.
If senior Zac Lee or Cody Green is to get start, they'll be working against an opportunistic Cyclone secondary that is tied with NU for the Big 12 Conference lead with 13 interceptions this season. However, Iowa State has fallen victim to big plays in the passing game, as it's given up an average of 238.4 ypg through the air.
ISU Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
Iowa State's offense hasn't been able to do much all year, but if there is one area you could call its strong point it would have to be its running game. Running back Alexander Robinson has rushed for 80 yards per game and eight touchdowns, but he's the only real threat in the backfield.
After getting gashed by Oklahoma State two weeks ago, the Huskers's run defense came back in a big way last week against Missouri, holding the Tigers to 142 yards and not allowing just one big run all day. With not much of a passing game to speak of for ISU, Nebraska should be able to key on stopping Robinson and forcing the Cyclones to be one-dimensional.
ISU Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
Iowa State does have a veteran senior quarterback in Austen Arnaud, but what he has in experience hasn't necessarily translated into much success in the passing game. Arnaud ranks in the bottom end of the Big 12 in every major passing statistic, and he has just 10 passing touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight games this season.
Should Nebraska force the Cyclones to throw the ball, there should be more than a few opportunities for the Huskers to create some turnovers. Like ISU, Nebraska has thrived on the mistakes of opposing quarterbacks, and that trend should only continue this afternoon.
Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
By now we all know what Nebraska brings to the table in special teams - one of the nation's best kicker/punters in Alex Henery and a return man in Niles Paul capable of going the distance at any time.
The Cyclones have one of the better kickoff returners in the conference Shontrelle Johnson, who's averaging 23.3 yards per return this year. Kicker Grant Mahoney has been shaky, making just 7-of-12 field goal attempts and missing an extra point. Punter Kirby Van Der Kamp ranks second in the Big 12 with an average of 45.6 yards per punt, and he's put 16 of his kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Nebraska Will Win If:
It can figure out how to stay out its own way this time around. The Huskers turned the ball over eight times in last season's loss to the Cyclones, and even then they still had a chance to win in the final minutes. With a much improved offense, there's no reason NU shouldn't run right over ISU and handle a relatively ineffective offense to get revenge for last year's debacle.
Iowa State Will Win If:
It can repeat last season's game plan to a T. The best chance the Cyclones have is if Martinez is a non-factor due to his ankle and Nebraska is forced to rely on Lee or Green to move the offense, as neither has had much of any playing time this year. Of course, forcing another eight turnovers won't hurt their chances either.
The biggest difference between this year and last year is that Nebraska, even without a healthy Martinez, has a dramatically improved offense that has put some huge numbers this season. In particular, the Huskers have dominated on the road, averaging more than 51 points in their three road game this year. With a chance to take one step closer to winning the North, don't expect them to slow down this week.