Game Day: Nebraska vs. Northwestern

Shouldering the load

As the Huskers lean on Tanner Lee’s rocket right arm heading into Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game with Northwestern, coach Mike Riley sees the quarterback’s growth and perseverance. He appreciates it.

READ MORE »

2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Northwestern rush defense

Nebraska’s run game is less productive than it’s ever been in the Big Ten era, and 40 measly yards at Purdue did nothing to change that. Other than a few good moves from freshman Jaylin Bradley, NU’s power game was stopped in its tracks, and the Huskers only attempted one fruitless jet sweep. Northwestern, meanwhile, has shut down some pretty good rushing attacks and held five teams to fewer than 100 rushing this season. Nose tackle Tyler Lancaster is hard to move and 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Paddy Fisher looks like one of the Big Ten’s best middle linebackers with 75 tackles. Northwestern’s safeties and corners pursue and tackle well.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Northwestern pass defense

The Wildcats like to rush four guys and play zone coverage behind them. It’s pretty smart and safe stuff, but Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee — off the 431-yard, two-touchdown gem at Purdue — should be able to hit some short, quick passes to receivers Stanley Morgan and De’Mornay Pierson-El outside the numbers. Then, if he gets some time, Northwestern has shown some vulnerability on longer crossing routes down the field. The Wildcats have one excellent pass rusher in sophomore defensive end Joe Gaziano, whose bull rush is hard for tackles to handle. If Nebraska can block him, it should be in business between the 20-yard-lines with its passing game.

Northwestern rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Nebraska’s defenders struggled to get off blocks and make tackles at Purdue, giving up 199 rushing yards in the process. It might have been the Huskers’ worst tackling performance of the season, and that’s saying something. Northwestern's Justin Jackson is one of many excellent Big Ten backs, and he’ll be tough to tackle in the open field. He’s easier to corral near the line of scrimmage before he gets a head of steam going. Northwestern’s offensive line, annually a weakness of the program, is again leaky. Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall tries to get creative with the run game, using read-option and speed-option looks; those may work against the Huskers.

Northwestern pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

The Wildcats average 40.6 pass attempts per game, which says something about their run game; it also speaks to the confidence coach Pat Fitzgerald has in third-year starter Clayton Thorson, who manages Northwestern’s ball-control, short-passing offense well. Thorson doesn’t get much help from his offensive line — which has given up 24 sacks — but his diverse group of receiving targets (slot Flynn Nagel, wideout Bennett Skowronek, tight end Cameron Green and superback Garrett Dickerson) can create mismatch problems. Nebraska’s pass defense could have been burned a lot worse at Purdue if PU receivers hadn’t dropped several long passes. NU’s secondary has health and performance issues — four corners and four safeties played at Purdue — but Nebraska’s pass rush should get after Thorson. Watch Thorson’s scrambling, though; it gives defenses fits. He’s especially good right up the middle of the field.

Special teams

Northwestern’s special teams was a bona fide grease fire just a few years ago, but it’s much better this season — competitive, even. Wildcat punter Hunter Niswander (6-foot-5, 243 pounds) is even bigger than Nebraska’s Caleb Lightbourn (6-3, 235), and both have made big strides this season. Nebraska has the better returners in De’Mornay Pierson-El and JD Spielman, and the better kicker in Drew Brown.

Intangibles

Northwestern loves playing on the road and loves playing at Nebraska, where only a Ron Kellogg-to-Jordan Westerkamp Hail Mary prevented the Wildcats from being 3-0 in Memorial Stadium in the Big Ten era. But the Wildcats also come off two straight home overtime wins against physical teams — Iowa and Michigan State — that may take some of the wind out of their sails. Nebraska coach Mike Riley is fighting for his job, and players want to fight for him. NU gets a rare — for this season anyway — mid-afternoon start.

Key matchup: Northwestern’s red-zone offense vs. Nebraska’s red-zone defense

The Wildcats have the Big Ten’s most efficient red-zone attack, scoring on 93.75 percent of their trips. They’ve scored touchdowns on 75 percent of those trips. Nebraska’s red-zone defense, the baby of Bob Diaco’s defensive philosophy, has been so-so and struggled at Purdue. The Husker home crowd should help.

Our take

If Northwestern’s offensive line and running game were better, it’d be hard to pick against the Wildcats. But there are just enough scuff spots on the armor for Nebraska’s defense — bedraggled as it has been in recent weeks — to make something happen. If the Huskers can nab a turnover or two and cobble out 80 to 90 rushing yards, they can steal a win over the better team. Tanner Lee is not likely to back down from any challenge at this point.

Our prediction: NEBRASKA 23, NORTHWESTERN 21

Live updates

Photos

World-Herald fan photos »

#Huskers on Instagram

Videos

Extras

Game notes

Check out a PDF of the game notes for the Nebraska-Northwestern matchup provided by the Husker Athletic Department. Click here »

Husker History

Find information on every win, loss and tie in Husker history. With historical World-Herald front pages, photos, stories, key stats and more, our ever-growing Husker History Database is your new home for archiving one of the nation's most tradition-rich programs. Click here »

On social media

Check out the Big Red Today page on Facebook to discuss the latest news with the top Husker fans, and follow us on Twitter to get instant updates and analysis whenever news breaks. Plus, look back at historical moments in Nebraska football by following @HuskerHistory on Twitter.

BRT app

IPhone and Android users, get your Husker updates on the go by downloading our free Big Red Today app from the App Store and the Google Play store. Omaha.com/BRTapp and Omaha.com/android

Recruiting updates

Visit the Big Red Today recruiting page to find the latest updates on potential future Huskers, including player cards for those athletes already committed. Click here »

Email alerts

Sign up for the Big Red Today email newsletter to get the Husker news, analysis, daily headlines and more delivered to your inbox. Click here »

Big Red Today coverage

Unwavered: Even in cloudy times for Husker football, Mike Riley always sunny

The Nebraska coaching job can age a man like the American presidency has aged men, and Mike Riley wears all of the three years — and then some — that he’s been at Nebraska. He left a place he knew…

Shatel: Mike Riley was a good face for Nebraska, not a good fit for football program

When I see Mike Riley, I see tears. There are any number of images, memories, crammed into Riley’s three years at Nebraska. But I will always go back to Saturday morning, July 30, 2016.

Pospisil: Nile Kinnick is remembered for his many accolades, but not even the record books recalled his six picks against NU in ’38

On this Thanksgiving Throwback Thursday, let’s go back to 1938. It was a miserable season by Nebraska standards. With a win and a tie after seven games, coach Biff Jones’ second year in Lincoln was guaranteed to end with the…

Omaha South grad Noah Fant has Hawkeyes' TD record for a tight end; he wants it for all positions

Noah Fant has goals for the rest of his football career at Iowa, big enough that they’d make him one of the all-time great Hawkeyes. The sophomore tight end from Omaha South already owns Iowa’s single-season record for touchdown catches…

Huskers in coaching déjà vu: Several players were there in 2014 for the last firing of NU football coach

For Nebraska’s upperclassmen, it’s happening again. A Black Friday game against Iowa. Speculation about the coach. A potential firing. Not easy stuff.

Husker notes: NU freshman JD Spielman 'still questionable' for Iowa game; Senior Day in Lincoln and more

One of Nebraska's most explosive playmakers is the only Husker whose status is in doubt against Iowa for the Black Friday season finale.

Former Husker Scott Frost, UCF cooling speculation with undefeated season on the line

UCF coach Scott Frost finished his postgame television interview and made his way toward the tunnel behind the corner of the end zone at Lincoln Financial Field.

Carriker Chronicles: Trash talk, three keys and a prediction for the Nebraska-Iowa game

All year round, Adam Carriker is taking the pulse of Husker Nation. In Wednesday's episode, Carriker is joined by one of his kids to present the prediction championship belts, give his three keys and a prediction for Nebraska's Black Friday…

Husker notes: Another Antler success story; One more time for David Knevel and more

Nebraska senior captain and inside linebacker Chris Weber is the latest in a line of Elkhorn High School graduates who joined NU’s team as walk-ons and earned scholarships by their final seasons. Spencer Long, Jake Long, Trevor Roach and Graham…

Pick Six Podcast: Why Iowa is a rival; the need to win; if not Frost, then who?

World-Herald staff writers Sam McKewon and Evan Bland tackle the hottest Husker headlines in the Nov. 14 episode of the "Pick Six Podcast."

Iowa notes: Hawkeyes still have plenty of motivation; Ready for Nebraska and more

Iowa started the month with a shocking 55-24 rout of No. 3 Ohio State. It followed with disappointing losses to Wisconsin (38-14) and Purdue (24-15). With one game left in their regular season, the Hawkeyes (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) are…

Q&A with Kearney Catholic grad and Husker walk-on Thomas Connely

Thomas Connely also was a 2017 pick for the Brook Berringer and Tom Osborne Citizenship Teams and has volunteered his time with Uplifting Athletes, Souper Bowl of Caring and local hospital visits.

Carriker Chronicles: Official prediction for who will be Nebraska's next coach

All year round, Adam Carriker is taking the pulse of Husker Nation. In Tuesday's episode, Carriker makes his official prediction for who will be coaching the Huskers next year.

The price of failure: Husker football’s 3-year revolving door may cost $16.4 million in payouts to coaches, A.D.

If and when Riley is replaced, UNL will be paying three current and former football coaches and two athletic directors, all at once.

Stanley Morgan's motivation goes beyond record game; NU wide receiver ‘owes everything’ to mother

Cyril Crutchfield called a timeout and motioned for his offense to huddle around him. The St. Augustine High School drumline tapped a cadence into the muggy evening. Air horns chirped and fans danced on the metal bleachers, adding a constant…

Husker notes: Mike Riley embraces rivalry; Injury update; Tanner Lee says NFL talk can wait

Nebraska has been reluctant to embrace having a natural football rival over the years.

With his Husker clock ticking, receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El in no hurry in final media session

De’Mornay Pierson-El kept egging the media on.

Press conference, Nov. 20: Mike Riley says Nebraska has to find way to stop Iowa running attack

Iowa isn't having the season that it expected running the football, but that doesn't leave Nebraska with any less respect for what the Hawkeyes can do on the ground.

Video: Nebraska athletics press conference

Watch live Monday morning beginning at 10:45 a.m. as Nebraska coaches Tim Miles, John Cook and Mike Riley take the podium to discuss their teams.

Shatel: De'Mornay Pierson-El lit the fire for Huskers' rivalry with Hawkeyes

This series has a chance to be a good rivalry. It’s already got a spark.

Amid disappointing season, Husker fans are no longer glued to the tube

On Saturday, longtime Husker fans were picking up groceries at Walmart or Christmas shopping at Westroads Mall instead of settling into the couch in front their flat screen TVs.

Barfknecht: NU's struggling defense vs. Iowa's struggling offense — tickets won't fly off the shelf

Interest might be higher in seeing how many fans show up — and what the red and white vs. black and gold mix is — than the outcome of Iowa and Nebraska's game on Black Friday.

Carriker Chronicles: If not Scott Frost, who else could be coaching the Huskers next year?

All year round, Adam Carriker is taking the pulse of Husker Nation. In Sunday's episode, Carriker evaluates who else could be on Nebraska's radar if Scott Frost goes a different route.

McKewon: Even with little help, Tanner Lee looks like pro prospect

If Joe Ganz deserved credit for making the very end of the Bill Callahan era mildly enjoyable, so does Tanner Lee, especially one week after a concussion.

Pride and going out the right way motivating Huskers’ veteran players

Nebraska's seniors have been on an emotional ride during their time with the Huskers.

Second quarter a perfect display of Nebraska's inconsistency

Nebraska’s season can be summed in the second quarter Saturday.

Barfknecht's Big Ten rankings, Nov. 20

World-Herald staff writer Lee Barfknecht ranks the Big Ten football teams, as published in The World-Herald on Nov. 20.

Pride in Lions’ Den: Down 32 at half to Penn State, Huskers get consolation with five second-half TDs

The Blackshirts gave up more than 50 points in a game for the third time this season as Nebraska suffered its seventh loss of the year in a 56-44 defeat Saturday at Penn State.

Shatel: Tanner Lee's performance makes you wonder, 'What if?'

There’s one more game left to play this season, maybe one more game left in Tanner Lee’s limited Nebraska career. But it’s hard to imagine this not being a snapshot we keep of Lee and store wherever it is we’ll…

Husker notes: Tanner Lee productive in return; Off-field distractions; Another fourth-down call

In a way, it’s lucky. Because at this point in the season, the quarterbacks don’t throw much during practice.