Nebraska Football: Previewing the Northwestern Game

Chad Robb@@MrFantasyNASCARCorrespondent IOctober 31, 2011

Nebraska Football: Previewing the Northwestern Game

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    Northwestern Wildcats vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

    Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska3:30 p.m. EST

    TV Coverage: BTN

    The Northwestern Wildcats come to Lincoln Saturday to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

    Nebraska is coming off of their biggest win of the season. Nebraska was in a must-win situation last week against Michigan State. They took care of business and now turn their focus to the Northwestern Wildcats.

    Can the Cornhuskers keep the momentum going against a Northwestern team that Nebraska should dominate? I think so.

    Northwestern and Nebraska have played each other four times. Nebraska holds a 3-1 edge in the series.

    The last time the two schools met was in the 2000 Alamo Bowl. Nebraska easily defeated Northwestern 66-17.

    Northwestern broke their five-game losing streak last week by defeating Indiana 59-38. They have had no problems putting points on the board this year. The Wildcats are averaging 31.6 points per game.

    The problem with Northwestern is preventing opposing teams from scoring. They are allowing 35.2 points per game in their five losses this season.

    Nebraska has been playing well ever since their 48-17 loss to Wisconsin. They are ranked No. 10 in the BCS.

    With their win last week, Nebraska controls their destiny. If the Cornhuskers can win the remaining games on their schedule, they will be headed to the inaugural Big Ten Championship game with the possibility of a trip to the Rose Bowl.

    Nebraska must take it one game at a time. The next step is to beat Northwestern at home.

    Here is a how I see this game breaking down.

Nebraska’s Offense vs. Northwestern’s Defense

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    Nebraska Total Offense Ranking: 51

    Northwestern Total Defense Ranking: 98

    Nebraska has found their identity on offense.

    They are a run-first team, with the majority of these runs come from running back Rex Burkhead.

    Last week, Nebraska let Burkhead carry them to victory over Michigan State. Burkhead had a career-high 35 carries in the game.

    Nebraska will continue to run the ball and allow quarterback Taylor Martinez to make just enough plays in the passing game to win the game.

    The biggest mismatch in this game is Nebraska’s ability to run the ball vs. Northwestern’s inability to stop the run.

    Nebraska ranks No. 9 in the country in rushing offense, while Northwestern ranks No. 95 in rushing defense.

    Nebraska is averaging 253 yards per game on the ground. Northwestern is allowing an average of 194 yards per game on the ground.

    Look for the Cornhuskers to run it right at Northwestern in this game.

     

    Edge

    I give a huge edge in this matchup to the Cornhuskers.

    Nebraska will not have any problems moving the ball on Northwestern’s defense. The only way Nebraska allows Northwestern to stop them is if Nebraska stops themselves.

    Nebraska must focus on the run and eliminate turnovers. Giving the ball to Northwestern is the only way the Wildcats keep this matchup close.

Nebraska’s Defense vs. Northwestern’s Offense

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    Nebraska Total Defense Ranking: 29

    Northwestern Total Offense Ranking: 37

    Nebraska has been mixing players into their defense the entire season trying to find the right combination that would work.

    The Blackshirts defense finally put it all together last week and totally shut down a good Michigan State offense. This week, Nebraska fans will find out if the Blackshirts are back to restoring their dominance or if Michigan State was just having a bad game last week.

    I did not see anything in that game that makes me think the Blackshirts are not back.

    One of the biggest contributors to Nebraska’s success last week was their ability to put pressure on the quarterback. Nebraska was having problems all season generating sacks. Last week, their defensive line confused Michigan State and was able to sack their quarterback four times.

    Now that Nebraska’s young players understand Coach Bo Pelini’s defensive system, I look for the Blackshirts to be able to create pressure on the opposing quarterback.

    The strength of the Northwestern team is their quarterback Dan Persa. Last year Persa was the Big Ten first-team quarterback. He was given the honor over Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor.

    If Nebraska can contain Persa, the Blackshirts will be able to dominate this game.

     

    Edge

    I give the edge in this matchup to Nebraska.

    Nebraska’s defense seems to be on a roll right now. Northwestern has been able to put up points all season, but they will have their work cut out for them against a stingy Nebraska defense.

    Playing in Lincoln will also help the Blackshirts. Northwestern must come out and put some early points on the board in order to take the Nebraska crowd out of the game.

    If Nebraska jumps on the Wildcats early in the game, the crowd will be rocking, and so will the Nebraska defense.

Special Teams

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    Nebraska has an outstanding kick and punt returner in Ameer Abdullah.

    Nebraska is ranked No. 2 in the country in kick returns and No. 44 in the country in punt returns. The problem is that opposing teams have learned how good Abdullah is this year.

    Teams have started to kick away from him, preventing a long return.

    Nebraska has a good place-kicker and punter as well.

    Brett Maher handles the place-kicking and punting duties for the Cornhuskers. Maher has made 14-17 field goals and is averaging 45 yards per punt.

    Northwestern is not so good at returning kickoffs (ranked No. 73) but they have been able to have success with punt returns.

    Wide receiver Mark Venric averages 12.8 yards per punt return and ranks No. 17 in the country.

    Northwestern’s place-kicker Jeff Budzien has converted 5-8 field goals with a long of 47 yards.

    He has not had as many opportunities as Nebraska’s kicker, but he is good enough to make a clutch kick if called upon.

     

    Edge

    I give the edge in this matchup to Nebraska.

    Ameer Abdullah is a game-changer for the Cornhuskers. If Northwestern decides to kick the ball to Abdullah, Nebraska might find themselves with excellent field position in this game.

    My advice to Northwestern is to take a page out of Ohio State and Michigan State’s game plan and punt the ball out of bounds.

Prediction

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    Nebraska should have no problem in this game.

    As long as the Cornhuskers stay true to who they are, run the ball and play good defense, Nebraska will able to dominate an overmatched Northwestern team.

    Nebraska needs to win this game to stay at the top of the Legends division. I do not see any reason why the Cornhuskers should not come away with a victory on Saturday and improve their record to 8-1 on the season.

    Nebraska wins this game 49-17.

     

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