Saturday, October 20. 2:30 pm CDT
Game Preview: Nebraska
by Jonathan Hodges
(6-1, 2-1) is headed back to Evanston to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers
(4-2, 1-1) in a pivotal game in the Legends Division race where the
winner will be a key challenger to Iowa and Michigan, who both
currently sit at 2-0 in conference play. The Huskers are coming off of
a bye (common theme for NU this season; the 'Cats are 3-0 in those
games so far with one remaining after this one) and a bad loss at Ohio
State in which they gave up 63 points. Northwestern, meanwhile, got
back on track on a rainy day in Minnesota by gutting out a
one-possession victory in which they scored three quick touchdowns only
to see the offense go to sleep while converting just 1-of-9 third
downs. Look out for Nebraska to seek revenge for last year's big upset
win by Northwestern in Lincoln when the 'Cats took down the then-No. 9
(AP) Huskers 28-25. Finally, the atmosphere should be great for the
game with a 2:30PM CT kickoff, the game televised on ABC, and a sold
out Ryan Field.
a plethora of rushing yards in this game as both teams feature strong
ground games and somewhat iffy passing (which is surprising for
Northwestern). NU ranks 18th nationally in rushing with Nebraska coming
in at 5th, and the teams have a combined average of 521.9 rushing yards
per game. It will be interesting how the defenses respond; NU's rush
defense remains solid at 22nd nationally, yielding 109.9 yards per game
which is still on pace for a school record, while Nebraska has a
somewhat uncharacteristic issue with run defense at 91st nationally
with 189.2 yards per game allowed. The question is: will these trends
continue? If they do, NU will be poised for a big win, but as any 'Cats
fan knows, nothing is ever that easy.
Look out for a good game and a great atmosphere at a game that may prove to be the turning point in both teams' seasons.
Opening Line: Nebraska by 7.
Who Should Win: Nebraska.
Yes, this is not your parents' Huskers blackshirt defense (ranking 91st
in rushing defense and 74th in scoring defense) and Northwestern does
have a very solid running game this season, but Nebraska will be well
prepared for this game after the bye week and has seen plenty of ways
to slow down the 'Cats following two sub-par offensive outputs on the
road. And, the Huskers continue to possess top flight talent all over
the field and have a stellar offense that is now getting solid passing
production from QB Taylor Martinez and his notorious shotput throwing
motion (he ranks 12th nationally and first in the Big Ten in passing
Upset Factor: Just
look what happened last season when everyone (myself included) counted
Northwestern out as NU rode into Lincoln with a 3-5 record and what
looked to be a bowl-less season. If the NU defense continues the trend
by containing the run game while the offense continues to produce on
the ground, then the 'Cats should be able to take control of this game.
Plus, add in the home-field advantage (Nebraska has lost their last 4
games away from home) and this game is ripe for the upset.
NU Offense vs. Nebraska Defense:
NU has had offensive hiccups in the last two contests after churning
out a school-record 704 yards against Indiana, but thankfully those
issues occurred on the road and the 'Cats are back home this week. Oh,
and they're facing a team that has had plenty of issues against the run
(189.2 yards per game allowed) and on the road (where they have allowed
49.5 points per game this year, in their two losses on the season).
Even with the Huskers having two weeks to prepare for Kain Colter,
Venric Mark, and NU's run-heavy spread offense, expect the 'Cats to
come out looking to run first and continue what they started in that
huge victory last season (in which NU ran for 207 yards and Colter had
2 rushing TDs). On defense, Nebraska seems to be missing some key
middle defenders from last season, but they are certainly not devoid of
talent: senior DE Cameron Meredith is a touted player, and fellow
senior MLB Will Compton leads the team in both tackles (53) and sacks
(3.0). Also, the Huskers' pass defense is respectable (15th nationally
in passing yards allowed, 28th in pass efficiency defense), so the key
will likely come down to if Nebraska can stop NU's ground game.
Finally, it will be interesting to see NU's offensive game plan after
seeing the two quarterback system's decline over the past two games
with some poor passing by Trevor Siemian.
NU Defense vs. Nebraska Offense:
This is where things will get interesting, as it is a strength vs.
strength matchup: Nebraska's offense is putting up a ton of yards
(507.3 per game, 14th nationally) and points (43.7 per game, 8th
nationally) thanks to a high powered ground attack (292.0 rushing yards
per game), while the Northwestern defense's greatest strength is its
run defense (22nd nationally at 109.9 yards per game allowed). Much of
this success is thanks to the relatively unheralded but solid
linebacking corps, which includes the team's top three tacklers on the
season (Damien Proby at 62, Chi Chi Ariguzo at 59, and David Nwabuisi
at 51). That trio has combined for some really good stats: 172 tackles,
14 TFLs (including 2 sacks), 2 INTs, 8 PBUs, 2 QB hurries, and 4 fumble
recoveries. The defensive line has also contributed by generating
pressure in the backfield, while the secondary is still coming along,
but Ibraheim Campbell continues to live up to his billing while Nick
VanHoose just won Big Ten freshman of the week. They will be challenged
by the aforementioned QB Martinez who can tear it up on the ground (5.0
yards per carry with sacks included) along with a duo of solid running
backs: the multi-talented Ameer Abdullah (who just barely trails NU's
Venric Mark in all-purpose yards per game with 184.3; Mark has 184.6)
and the reliable Rex Burkhead (who is averaging 9.1 yards per carry but
has been dinged up with a knee injury at points this season, though he
is expected to play). If the run game is not enough of a challenge,
they compliment that with a home-run style passing attack: leading
receiver Kenny Bell averages 23.1 yards per reception and Martinez has
improved his passing this season with a 12:4 TD:INT ratio and a 66.4%
completion rate. He had his best passing game of last season against NU
(albeit most of that came in catch-up mode late in the game). The
Wildcat defense will certainly be tested and given issues earlier in
the season, this has the potential to be a shootout.
Although Nebraska has a good kicker/punter/kickoff man in Brett Maher
(8-of-13 FGs with a long of 54 this season), Northwestern's Jeff
Budzien has been money this year, hitting all 11 FG tries in 2012 along
with all 77 career XP attempts. According to Football Outsiders' Brian
Fremeau's FEI advanced statistics, Northwestern's special teams
efficiency ranks 11th nationally, including 14th in FGs and 6th on punt
returns. Speaking of punt returns, NU return man Venric Mark is, of
course, electric, and has boosted the 'Cats to a 3rd place ranking
nationally in punt returns (24.7 yards per return); meanwhile, Nebraska
ranks 115th nationally in punt return defense (15.9 yards per return
allowed). Nebraska also ranks 96th on kickoff return defense, which
should give NU a shot to break through there where it has had issues
this season (118th on kickoff returns). Nebraska's net punting ranks
103rd thanks to their issues against returns. On the flip side, NU
coverage teams remain respectable: the kickoff team is 57th despite
allowing a TD return against Indiana (which seems to have been
corrected over the past two games), while NU ranks 24th in punt return
defense. The Wildcats should have a good edge on special teams which NU
should try to use to gain an advantage in this otherwise pretty well
Northwestern has lost its last 8 games televised on ABC, although it
was an underdog in the last 6 of those (by a combined 104.5 points).
But, NU is 2-2 in home games televised on ABC since 2000.
Since 1995, NU has had 17 sellouts at Ryan Field and has been an
underdog at 15 of those (this game will make those numbers 18 and 16,
respectively); NU is 9-8 in those previous games.
- The 'Cats have won 4 of their last 5 home games (in Evanston) with a 2:30PM CT kickoff; NU is 4-3 in such games under Fitz.
RB/KR/PR Venric Mark is fourth nationally and first in the Big Ten in
all-purpose yards per game with 184.6. He has led all players in
all-purpose yards in 6 of 7 NU games this season (he has only been
beaten out by Kain Colter against Indiana).
Northwestern has a 1-0 home record against Nebraska, with its win
coming on October 3, 1931 by a score of 19-7. NU has a chance to even
the all-time series between the teams as it currently stands at 3-2 in
favor of Nebraska.
The Wildcats rank 29th in the first BCS standings (although only the
top 25 are officially published); NU has garnered votes in all major
polls (31st in the AP, 26th in the Coaches, and 28th in the Harris; the
latter two are included in the BCS formula), and currently has a BCS
computer average of 32.
Under Fitz, Northwestern is 22-0 when allowing 16 or fewer points on
defense. NU is 8-0 when scoring 40 or more points in a game under
is 23-6 at home versus unranked teams (Coaches Poll), under Fitz, good
for a 0.793 winning rate. NU has won 5 of its last 7 home games (at
Ryan Field) in which the 'Cats were underdogs against an unranked
The Over/Under for the game opened at 62. Under Fitz, NU has a 0.607
winning rate when the total is less than 62 and a 0.409 winning rate
when the total is greater than 62 (NU is 0-1 in games where exactly 62
points were scored).
For the first time since the inception of the AP Poll in 1936,
Northwestern will face an unranked Nebraska team. NU has faced the
Cornhuskers three times since then, and each time Nebraska was ranked
in the top 10 (10th in 1974, 9th in 2000, and 9th in 2011). Note that
the 'Cats faced Nebraska twice before the creation of the polls: 1902
in Lincoln and 1931 in Evanston.
its first three Big Ten games, NU has allowed just 1 sack (NU had 88
combined pass attempts in those games). Under Fitz, NU is 13-1 when it
out-sacks its opponent.
Prediction: Nebraska 47 - Northwestern 38
will be able to move the ball and put up a good amount of points
against a Nebraska defense that continues to struggle against the run,
and the special teams will allow the 'Cats to keep this one close.
Unfortunately, Nebraska's offense is running very well, NU's defense is
vulnerable, and Martinez is throwing the ball well. The Huskers will
unfortunately move the ball well all day long while the NU offense will
have a hiccup or two which will leave it behind. Expect a lot of
running and a lot of points in what should be yet another exciting
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