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Wyoming Cowboys at Nebraska Cornhuskers: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

When: Sat. Sept. 10, 2016; noon ET
Where: Lincoln, Neb.; Memorial Stadium (86,047)
TV: ESPN2
All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 7-0
Last Meeting: Nebraska win, 37-34 (Aug. 30, 2013)
Line: Nebraska -24.5

Don’t look now, but Craig Bohl has his Wyoming Cowboys doing some bigger things these days. What, with the team on a three-game win streak and coming off the heels of a OT victory over Northern Illinois. This Cowboys team comes in to Lincoln about as hot as it ever has been.

Awaiting them is a Huskers offense that is clearly more dedicated to the run game than it any previous Mike Riley-coached offense. That emphasis has made the Huskers offense nearly unstoppable in the last two games of this new-look offense. All of it will be challenged by a Wyoming team that seems to have fully bought in to Bohl’s system and ideas.

This should be a way more interesting game than the experts in Las Vegas see it, but why?

1 Burning Question: Can Nebraska Avoid Looking Ahead to Oregon?

Few would blame the Huskers players for being excited for what awaits them next week with the Oregon Ducks on the schedule. Looking ahead to that matchup is something you can easily see 18 or 19-year-old’s doing, but this Wyoming team isn’t the joke many made it out to be in the offseason.

While the Cowboys have a long way to go to consistently compete at the level Nebraska does, this is their biggest shot to take a big name down this season. If the Huskers don’t realize they’ll be getting Wyoming’s best shot it could be a long day in Lincoln.

Luckily, Mike Riley seems pretty adept at getting his players to focus less on the things around them and more on what is right in front of them. Avoiding complacency in this contest is paramount if the Huskers want the big victory. Letting Wyoming hang around could be very dangerous indeed.

2 Key Stats:

— 243. That is the rushing yards gained by the Cowboys in the win over Northern Illinois. Something tells us that the Huskers defense is going to be tested far more in the run game than it was last week, as Nebraska faced just 26 attempts from Fresno State. Not only did Wyoming put up an impressive team rushing number last week, it also averaged 4.3 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns on the ground.

— 59. That is the yards allowed rushing by the Nebraska defense before taking away the negative yardage. I only point this stat out to point out that something is going to have to give in the matchup between these two teams. Sometimes the low rushing totals can be deceiving, with the way sacks count as loss of yards in college football, but that was clearly not a big factor for a team that officially let only 31 yards happen on the ground. Nebraska showed up well up front, but this will be a bigger challenge from a Mountain West team that actually likes to run the ball first.

3 Key Players:

Josh Allen, Wyoming QB: It may feel like looking in a mirror watching Allen and Tommy Armstrong going at it at quarterback. Both are as likely to kill a team with their feet as their arm, but some would say Allen is actually the better passing quarterback. Allen was 19 of 29 for 245 yards and two touchdowns in the win last week, while also adding 70 yards on just 10 carries on the ground as well. Can he keep the Huskers defense off balance in this one?

Ross Dzuris, Nebraska DE: Last week Dzuris was a monster up front, but that was just one week against a weak offensive line. With the Cowboys running a more read-option look Dzuris’ position on the end is going to be huge. He came up with just four total tackles, but three of them were for losses and two of those were sacks. If he can get in to the Cowboys’ backfield early and often it might be blowout city again for the Huskers.

Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska QB: I’ve said it for a few years now, but the only person that seems to be able to hold Armstrong back is himself. With the offense fitting his style much better these days, that comfort level continues to grow for the senior signal caller. He had 11 carries for 42 yards and two big touchdowns rushing, yet he continued to struggle a bit in the passing game — completing just 50 percent of his passes. That stuff can’t happen against better teams that take away the run game, and Wyoming is much more capable of that than Fresno State.

4 Bold Prognostications:

Nebraska will give up more than 100 yards rushing: No doubt last weeks 31 yards given up on the ground was an eye-opening moment for the Nebraska defense. But, it was a perfect storm, and the Wyoming offense is going to test this group to a greater degree. Look for the Cowboys to go over 100 yards rushing, but maybe not more as the Huskers front seven continues to impress.

— Devin Ozigbo will rush for over 150 yards: Yes, Terrell Newby is listed as the starter for this game, but let’s be realistic…he isn’t the dynamic running back the Huskers need to complement Armstrong’s running ability. That man is Ozigbo, who topped the 100-yard mark last week (103 yards on 17 carries). I fully expect him to see more carries this week, and one of those will be a big gainer to put him over the 150-yard mark.

— Pierson-El will return a punt for a touchdown: Remember the days of De’Mornay Pierson-El and his dynamic ability in the punt return game? It has been awhile since the college football nation has seen that, and after a year away thanks to an injury he’ll remind people just how dangerous he really is in the return game by breaking one loose for a touchdown. Sure, Nebraska didn’t get a chance to return a punt last week, but at some point an opponent will kick to Big Red and that’s Pierson-El’s cue to do some damage.

— Wyoming scores more than 20 points: All the feels last week about the Huskers defense my be put in perspective this weekend thanks to a different caliber of offense happening from a second-straight Mountain West opponent on the schedule. Craig Bohl’s team will find a way to get some points put on the board and sow some serious doubts about just how good the Huskers defense really is.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Nebraska 33-24
Dave: Nebraska 38-24
Phil H.: Nebraska 37-13
Philip R.: Nebraska 38-24
Zach: Nebraska 41-14

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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