Nebraska vs. Northwestern: Wildcat Matchup a Chance for Blackshirt Redemption
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini promised to fix the Blackshirts.
Following the South Dakota State game, Pelini was clear. "I'll get this fixed. Trust me," was the head coach's parting statement at the post-game press conference, via Huskers.com.
Since then, it has been a season of ups and downs for the Nebraska defense.
The Minnesota matchup was a definite low.
More often that not, the Blackshirts looked lost. The Gophers appeared to have taken a page right out of Wisconsin's playbook from the 2012 Big Ten Championship game.
By the second quarter, the Gophers were faking jet sweeps on just about every play. Pelini recognized the defense struggled. He was firm in Monday's press conference, via Huskers.com, that it was not representative of what the group can accomplish.
We weren’t in the right spot. (Minnesota) was doing something that was a lot different from what Wisconsin was doing (in last year’s Big Ten Championship). We’ve seen jet sweep this year and we’ve played it pretty well. We’ve done really well against it for the most part of the year.
As a result, it was no surprise that Husker defenders Ciante Evans, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Corey Cooper, Josh Mitchell, David Santos, Jason Ankrah and Thad Randle all lost their Blackshirts.
"I don’t wear a Blackshirt. If I wore a Blackshirt I’d take mine off, too. We didn’t do anything at all well enough to have one," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said after Thursday's practice, via the Daily Nebraskan.
Saturday's home matchup with Northwestern is an opportunity to turn a new page.
The Blackshirts have had plenty of shining moments that are clouded by their struggles. It's time to get the Nebraska defense back on track.
Northwestern is not Minnesota.
Some credit must be given to the Minnesota offensive line for their effort against Nebraska. However, Northwestern does not have the Gophers offensive line.
In fact, the matchup with the Wildcats' offensive line is a favorable one for the Blackshirts.
Will Nebraska's defense step up against Northwestern?
Northwestern running back Stephen Buckley will provide a challenge, though. In Venric Mark's absence, Buckley ran for 99 yards versus Iowa. Buckley will be the go-to guy for the Wildcats.
However, with the Northwestern offensive line much weaker than Minnesota's, the Huskers can put pressure on Wildcat quarterback Kain Colter.
That pressure will be necessary, since Colter is efficient and mobile. He will also challenge the Nebraska defense.
There is no reason not to test the Huskers on the ground, either.
It's crucial that Nebraska is prepared to stop the run. Ranked 75th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 173.7 yards per game, Northwestern will be looking to exploit Nebraska's weak points.
Since the Huskers know this now, it can be prevented.
Nebraska's defense can do it too.
Against Illinois, the young defense held the Fighting Illini to only 17 points and 372 yards. That was much improved from the 602 yards allowed to Wyoming and 465 yards to South Dakota state.
The group that showed up against Illinois proved it can win. Finding that going forward will be the ultimate challenge.
With Northwestern reeling from four straight losses, Nebraska's defense has a chance to step up to the plate.
If they execute properly, the Blackshirts can get themsleves back on track prior to facing Michigan and Michigan State.
The road only gets tougher from this point. If there was ever a week for the Huskers to rally, it's this one.
Northwestern is not a team to look past. However, the Wildcats do provide the Huskers an opportunity at redemption.
Pelini said he would fix the defense. It's time to make good on that promise.
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