Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Northwestern Wildcats: Complete Game Preview
For the first time in four weeks, Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium.
Saturday's matchup between Nebraska and Northwestern will be the seventh all-time meeting between the two programs.
In the last two meetings, the Huskers and Wildcats have created exciting games. Decided by a total of four points in each game, it has been nothing short of dramatic.
Adding to it, the road team has won in the last two meetings.
Both Nebraska and Northwestern are looking to get back into Big Ten action. The Wildcats have a little more to prove, as it is currently 0-4 in Big Ten play.
As for Nebraska, the Huskers are 2-1 in conference play. Neither team are ranked.
The Huskers are looking to stay in the Legends Division race. Will they grab the home win over Northwestern?
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
When: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 3:30 p.m. EST
Watch: Big Ten Network
Listen: Husker Sports Network, Sirius Channel 92, XM 193
Betting Line: Nebraska (-7.5)
Nebraska's Keys to Victory
1. Run the Ball
Why do the Nebraska coaches feel the need to fix things that are not broke?
Against Minnesota, for instance, the Huskers continuously tried passing the ball with a quarterback that was struggling to do that. Beyond that, the Gophers were ready for Nebraska to pass.
When the Huskers focused on the run game, things started to fall into place.
There's a good possibility that a lot of hesitation to run was a result of quarterback Taylor Martinez's toe injuries. However, Martinez showcased his ability to move the ball on the ground with a 35-yard run late in the third quarter.
That was also the first play designed for Martinez to run. Yet, it took three quarters to make it happen.
Plus, when a team has a player like I-back Ameer Abdullah, there is no excuse not to use him.
Abdullah is only 19 yards from 1,000 rushing yards. Hopefully Saturday brings him the numbers he needs and the success the Huskers need.
2. Stop the Run
On the other hand, the Nebraska defense needs to figure out how to stop Northwestern's running game.
In Monday's press conference, head coach Bo Pelini admitted that a couple of guys continuously had busted coverage. Those mistakes allowed Minnesota to find holes to run through. Had Nebraska been able to contain the Gophers, a lot could have been different.
This is now going to be a sensitive topic for the Huskers going forward.
Against Iowa, Northwestern was able to rush for 225 yards—that was without star running back Venric Mark.
The Huskers' excuses on defense are gone. This team must stop the run. If it is unable to do that, it will be a long November.
In 2012, the Huskers were plagued with turnovers against Northwestern.
Nebraska lost the football a total of three times while in Evanston last year. Two were on punt returns, while one was a lost fumble on offense.
Those turnovers allowed Northwestern to take a 28-16 lead. The Huskers then had to battle back.
By the end of the game, Nebraska came out victorious 29-28.
The year prior, in 2011, Nebraska also lost two fumbles to Northwestern. The Wildcats went on to win that on 25-21.
Needless to say, turnovers are an issue for Nebraska, especially against Northwestern. There is no need for déjà vu.
Preventing turnovers could truly make the difference in what is expected to be a close game.
Northwestern's Keys to Victory
1. Run the Ball
Much like Nebraska's keys to victory, Northwestern must also focus on the ground game.
Against Iowa, the Wildcats ran the ball roughly 80 percent of the time. This started to have effect toward the end of the game.
Nebraska's defense can be easy to confuse and wear down. Running the ball straight at the Huskers would be a good way to take advantage of Nebraska's defensive struggles.
If healthy, quarterback Kain Colter can have a big impact in this department. Allowing Colter to run when able would be something that would challenge Nebraska's young linebackers.
Plus, Nebraska ranks No. 9 in the Big Ten in rush defense, so it's a good area to put some focus.
Against Iowa, head coach Pat Fitzgerald seemed to take on a very conservative game plan.
This was clear at the end of the fourth quarter when Fitzgerald played for overtime, instead of trying to win in regulation. With a strong placekicker, it was a questionable call.
Northwestern needs to breathe a little life back into its offense. This will require making the play calls that will win the game, not just tie it.
Taking a chance can come with its problems. It can also pay off.
Fitzgerald needs to trust his offense a little more and be a little more daring with his play-calling.
3. Force Turnovers
As much as the Huskers need to watch out for turnovers, Northwestern can take advantage of Nebraska's mistakes.
Putting pressure on the Huskers' offensive line will help do just that.
Without senior Spencer Long, the Nebraska offensive line is struggling to fill the void he left behind. Against Minnesota, the Husker offensive line struggled with blocks.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez found himself in high-pressure situations and often sacked against the Gophers. It's moments like those that force turnovers.
Putting plenty of attention up front and putting the Huskers in uncomfortable situations will result in the loss of the ball. Northwestern will do nothing but benefit from those mistakes.
Players to Watch from Nebraska
1. Ameer Abdullah (Jr., I-Back)
Nebraska knew it had something special in 2012 when Ameer Abdullah stepped up in place of injured I-Back Rex Burkhead. By the end of his sophomore season, Abdullah had ran for 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns.
Since then, Abdullah has only grown to be more impressive.
Prior to Minnesota, Abdullah was averaging 7.16 yards per carry and 136 yards per game. Those numbers are what have created a lot of buzz around the I-Back.
Against Minnesota, Abdullah racked up 165 yards despite the Husker offense's trouble.
With only 19 yards until he hits 1,000 rushing yards for the season, there is little doubt Abdullah won't be gunning for that milestone.
Northwestern better look out for Abdullah. After the loss to Minnesota, he could be the spark that Nebraska's offense needs.
2. The entire Nebraska defense
Nebraska's defense is currently allowing 7.2 yards per play on first down. That's a shockingly high number.
On Saturday, Nebraska's defense as a whole will need to be watched. Pinpointing one player wouldn't be fair as this truly comes down to the group's effort.
Head coach Bo Pelini expects to switch things up, especially on the defensive line.
What happened against Minnesota cannot happen against any other Big Ten team going forward. The Blackshirts have to start playing to the level Pelini has claimed it is capable of.
Special attention can be given to linebackers Michael Rose and Josh Banderas. Pelini confirmed both would likely play in the middle, an area that struggled against Minnesota.
There are no more excuses for this group. The defense must come to play against Northwestern.
For a full depth chart, click here.
Players to Watch from Northwestern
1. Kain Colter (Sr., QB)
Northwestern's senior quarterback has been plagued with injuries this season. Against Minnesota, Colter was out with an ankle injury.
He returned against Iowa only to leave with what appeared to be a knee injury. While he briefly left, Colter did return to finish out the game.
Despite losing, Colter did account for 104 passing yards and 60 rushing yards again Iowa.
The quarterback will be an interesting player to watch, as it is clear he is banged up. Whether that has an effect on the field or not has yet to be seen.
However, it's clear the impact Colter has on his team. When he's on the field, the Wildcats tend to play better than when they are without him.
2. Chi Chi Ariguzo (Jr., LB)
Beyond having one of the arguably best names in college football, junior lineback Chi Chi Ariguzo is also a great player.
Against Iowa, Ariguzo had some big stops for Northwestern on many third downs.
Also, with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Ariguzo intercepted Iowa's ball. That interception did help prevent Northwestern from losing the game in regulation.
After Saturday's matchup with Iowa, Ariguzo was clear that the linebackers had done their job. He wasn't wrong either.
Strong and physical, Ariguzo will be a force to be reckoned with for the Huskers.
For a full depth chart, click here.
What Are They Saying?
Head Coach Bo Pelini
On Taylor Martinez and the quarterback situation:
Taylor (Martinez) had a hip pointer during the game. He didn’t practice yesterday. Right now if we played today, Tommy (Armstrong Jr.) would start with Ron (Kellogg III) filling in.
On Saturday's offensive plan versus Minnesota:
The disappointing thing is I thought we had some things in the passing game that we didn’t take advantage of. We had a number of opportunities. When someone loads the box the way they did, you have to be able to take advantage of it in the passing game. We had opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of. We had some drops. We had a couple of underthrown balls. We had some opportunities that could’ve been big plays that we missed. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the plan.
On the state of the program:
It’s something you deal with year after year. Every group is a little bit different. It’s a challenge every single year and every single week. You have to have respect for this game. At the end of the day, you have to be ready every single week or you can get humbled in a hurry.
On the roster's talent compared to three years ago:
In some respects, it’s better. I think maybe we are a little cleaner than we were a couple years ago. I haven’t changed in that I like the potential of this group. But at times we are our own worst enemy.
On how close Nebraska is to turning the corner:
I don’t think the state of our program is any different from where it was a week ago. Until we win them all, I’m not going to be satisfied. That’s what we are looking to do. That’s what we are working towards. That standard isn’t going to change. That’s what the expectation is and that’s what the expectation should be in a place like this.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong
On needing a leader in the next five weeks:
We need a huge leader, but at the same time we all need to be leaders. We all got to do our own jobs and if we do that things will come out the right way. We need young guys to step up and capitalize and make big plays. We need everyone to step up the next five weeks.
On his development at quarterback:
I honestly don’t think I need to prove anything. I think I just need to focus on being a leader and going out there and doing what I like doing, which is having fun and being able to lead these guys and execute the right way and put our players in the right position to succeed. If I have to go out there this week and take on Northwestern, I just have to put my team in a position to succeed.
Wide Receiver Quincy Enunwa
On playing through team injuries:
You just got to make sure the guys underneath are always ready to play. Injuries are expected and guys are always going to go down. That’s what we always tell the two’s – never take your reps for granted because you never know when it will be your turn to shine. You can’t really game plan for injuries as a starter, you just have to go out there and play hard no matter what. You don’t want to play scared that you are going to get hurt on the play – you just need to play full speed. It’s part of the game at the end of the day.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are courtesy of Nebraska's weekly press conference, via Huskers.com.
Whoever wins on Saturday gets to be the "real NU" for the next year.
With both teams laying claim of the NU title, it really is the only fair way to make it work. So who will take home the title this year?
The last time Northwestern traveled to Lincoln, Neb. in 2011, the Wildcats left victorious. It was a challenging loss for the Huskers, too. Seeking a spot in the Big Ten title game, the loss to Northwestern made things much more challenging.
Two years later, the Huskers are out to avenge not only that loss at home to Northwestern but last Saturday's loss to Minnesota.
Needless to say, Nebraska has a lot to play for.
Plus, Northwestern is currently 0-4 since ESPN's College Gameday. The Wildcats' quarterback Kain Colter went as far as to say the team currently sucks.
While it's not as bad as Colter says, it's still not great for Northwestern. It will be a challenging day for both teams.
Expect it to be a little too close for comfort on both ends throughout most of the game.
In the end, however, the Huskers will escape with the win.
Prediction: Nebraska 26, Northwestern 20
For complete team coverage and everything Huskers, you can follow Erin on Twitter at @erinsorensen.
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