Nebraska Huskers (4-2) @ Northwestern Wildcats (6-1)
Saturday, October 20
ABC Regional / ESPN2
Northwestern Offense vs Nebraska Defense
Nebraska is coming off a much needed bye week following their 63-38 beatdown at Ohio State on October 6. The Huskers had no answer for mobile QB Braxton Miller and the zone-read attack of the Buckeyes as they gave up 371 yards rushing in that game. Nebraska will face another mobile QB in Northwestern's Kain Colter. Last year, Colter had his coming out party in Lincoln, amassing 229 total yards (115 pass yds, 57 rush yds, 57 rec yds) and 3 TD's. In that 2011 meeting, Nebraska spent the entire week preparing for Dan Persa at quarterback. When Persa went down in the second quarter, Colter took over the reigns, and Nebraska looked completely lost on defense trying to defend him. They should not be surprised by Northwestern's gameplan this time around, which is expected to feature Colter and their leading rusher, RB Venric Mark. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini claims that his team used the off week to figure out how to defend the zone-read rushing attack. Even if the Huskers turn out a solid defensive gameplan, they still need to make tackles in space, which is something they have struggled with all season. Expect Nebraska to pull up their safeties in an effort to slow down Colter and Mark. The Huskers need to limit gains on first and second down to put Northwestern in predictable passing situations. If that is the case, and the Wildcats have to go with their passing QB, Siemian, expect the matchup to shift greatly in Nebraska's favor. The Huskers matchup-zone should contain a Northwestern passing attack that is still unproven. Expect Nebraska's defensive line to get good pressure on 3rd and long situations, as they rank 7th in the nation in sack percentage.
Nebraska Offense vs Northwestern Defense
Statistically speaking, Northwestern's defense has done a good job against the run this year, but they have not seen a rushing attack like Nebraska yet this season. The Huskers rank 5th in the nation, averaging 274 rushing yards per game. Last week, Minnesota's dynamic QB, MarQueis Gray, tore up the Wildcats with designed quarterback keepers before he left the game in the second quarter. Gray finished with 9 carries, 86 yards (9.6ypc), and a touchdown. If Northwestern doesn't tighten up their defense, Taylor Martinez will absolutely shred them on the ground, which could ultimately set up well for the deep play-action pass.
Nebraska's star RB, Rex Burkhead, has been nursing a sprained MCL since the opening game. It is likely that he has benefitted from a week of rest, and is closer to 100%. Expect him to be on top of his game, side stepping and bulling defenders over.
Northwestern is only 1-3 against the spread and straight up as a home underdog in the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Nebraska is 3-1 against the spread as an away favorite over that time span. The weather for Saturday's game is expected to be low 60's, cloudy, with a slight wind of 10mph.
If the Huskers lose this game, Bo Pelini will start to feel the pressure of being on the hot seat. After all, this is the same Nebraska program that fired Frank Solich after churning out a nine win regular season in 2003. I think the week off has given Pelini and his staff time to develop a solid defensive gameplan. This Northwestern team poses less of a passing threat than UCLA or Ohio State, so expect Nebraska to load the box and bring the safeties up to stop the run. However, gameplanning is only one piece of the puzzle. The Nebraska defense still needs to execute, stay disciplined, and wrap-up. I am expecting big plays and long runs from both teams on Saturday, and for that reason I am leaning OVER 61 total points.
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