Oregon Ducks (2-0 SU, 0-2 ATS) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS)
College Football Week 3
Date/Time: Saturday, September 17, 2016 3:30 PM ET
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ORE +3.5/NEB -3.5
Over/Under Total: 73
The Oregon Ducks come out to Memorial Stadium to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers, as both teams get into the more-difficult parts of their schedules. The Cornhuskers have won and covered the spread with conclusive wins over Fresno State and Wyoming. In the third of three straight home games to open the season, they get a much tougher proposition with the incoming Oregon Ducks, who beat Virginia 44-26 in week two action. Oregon is also playing their first really serious game of the season. Who comes out ahead in this one?
The Ducks carry over some good momentum from last season, in addition to their 2-0 start in ‘16. They are with a new QB in Dakota Prukop, who was good in his second start against Virginia, throwing for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns. In game one, he Ducks beat UC Davis, before scoring a 44-26 win over UVA in week two. Brady Hoke is in his first season as defensive coordinator and so far, the verdict is still out. Giving up 28 to UC Davis and 26 to Virginia shows there could be issues in games like this one against Nebraska. Against Virginia, two late TDs by the Cavaliers made it look closer than it really was. We’ll see if the new 4-3 scheme eventually comes around and this week would be a good time to start.
We saw Prukop get this Oregon offense rolling better in week two. He has a lot of tools at this disposal, including one of the best backs in the conference with Royce Freeman, who got rolling with 207 rushing yards against Virginia on Saturday. While Prukop continues warming to the task in the Oregon offense, it helps to have a reliable back like Freeman. Prukop also made better use of his aerial weapons. Olympian/receiver Devon Allen had 141 yards and a touchdown. WR Darren Carrington was useful. Big target Pharaoh Brown sprung to life with 5 catches and a TD. And there are other pieces, any of which can chip in with production.
The Oregon defense will need to provide some support at some point. Last season, they gave up an alarming 37.5 points per game, a better than two touchdown per game increase on the previous season. An experienced secondary could be better, but they lost 6 starters in the front 7 and that’s been evident through 2 games. It’s a bit upsetting to fathom what will happen against a better offense. Were their struggles in weeks one and two more about urgency and the fact that they had a nice cushion? Or are there going to be endless growing pains up-front? They usually find some answers, but the “D” has been trending downward and it’s worth keeping an eye on.
Nebraska head coach Mike Riley is very familiar with Oregon after a long tenure at Oregon State. They brought in Riley with the idea of rejoining the national stage. Last season was a letdown, but it sets up nicely with this season and weeks one and two didn’t disappoint. They really took it to Fresno in week one, before winning against a higher-quality Wyoming team last week. It was just 24-17 Nebraska heading into the 4th quarter against a resourceful and improved Cowboys team. But a quartet of 4th-quarter touchdowns put the game out of reach for the ‘Huskers. Six Wyoming second-half turnovers played a big role in that, but they might not be able to rely on that this week.
That sets up one of the biggest home games that Nebraska has been involved with for a few years. Expect the rabid Lincoln throng to act accordingly. They are dug in well with their first three games here and this is as well as things could set up for the ‘Huskers, as they look to restore some of their national luster. This is robust test and they have prepared well, with two nice wins where they covered the spread both times.
Tommy Armstrong, Jr. is back behind center for one more go-around for the Cornhuskers. Against Wyoming, he was good, passing for 377 yards and three touchdowns. He connected twice with receiver Jordan Westerkamp, while also running in a TD. In the red-zone, he has increased presence and poise and is a threat to break loose a run at any time. That type of variety could take them a long way.
Mike Riley looks to have diversified his approach with some interesting plays and formations. We’ve seen tight end sweeps, some tricky option stuff, and other interesting wrinkles through two games. There is more overall imagination on the offense and more tailoring of the system to match the skills of his key players. The line looks pretty good and when Armstrong, Jr. is protected, he can operate quite smoothly. And while they figure to see more pressure this week, the Oregon defensive front looks a little dicey.
This game could come down to how well the Nebraska defense contains the high-octane Oregon offense. Fresno and Wyoming bear little resemblance with what Oregon brings to the table in terms of offensive firepower. They won’t be able to fully contain the Ducks, but this would be a good time to put some of that playmaking ability on the defense to use. On Saturday, we saw Nate Gerry pick off two passes, while Kieron Williams returned an interception for a score. With a lot of returning pieces and in the second year of a new system, this “D” was supposed to be better this season. Oregon should put that notion to the test, but maybe the Cornhuskers can create just enough positive developments on defense to thwart a full Oregon offensive outpouring.
We see an Oregon team trying to reclaim their spot in the national discussion, while Nebraska is trying to get back to the same spot after an even longer time out of the spotlight. It’s a tough game, with both teams not completely defined yet after two warm-up type games where getting real information can be a challenge. One can picture Nebraska getting some business done against this Ducks “D,” but there is no abundant reason to not forecast a lot of offensive success for Oregon. I see the high-powered Ducks’ offense making them an appealing choice getting points in Lincoln against a Cornhuskers bunch that might still not be completely ready for prime-time. I’m going with the Ducks and the points.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Oregon Ducks plus 3.5 points.
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