Game Day: Nebraska vs. Rutgers

Lowering the boom

A lack of noise off field could have coach Bo Pelini and his Nebraska football team poised to make plenty on it. There’s no off-the-field drama. No three-ring circus. There have been six wins and one loss that was no reason to panic, and a lot of press conferences in between that haven’t produced much news. A lot of football questions. A lot of football answers. What a deal.

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2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Rutgers rush defense

The Huskers have run the ball on every defense this year except Michigan State, and Rutgers will remind no one of Sparty. The Scarlet Knights rank 94th nationally by giving 4.74 yards per carry. Ohio State rolled up 324 rushing yards. Howard, a 1-7 FCS team, ran for 259 yards. Nebraska has a major advantage here regardless of which offensive linemen play.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Rutgers pass defense

The Scarlet Knights have a good pass rush, notching more than three sacks per game. Aside from that, once again, Rutgers is poor. Opponents complete 60.5 percent of their passes and average 7.9 yards per attempt, which ranks Rutgers at 111th in the nation. Nebraska's pass offense runs decidedly hot and cold, with quarterback Tommy Armstrong seeming to complete the hard passes better than he does the easy ones.

Rutgers rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Most teams — even the ones that initially have success — give up running the ball on Nebraska's defense. It doesn't seem like a winning proposition, apparently; only McNeese State and Michigan State ran the ball more than 35 times against the Huskers. If Rutgers sticks with it, there is some evidence that it'll pay off, and it's the best way to wear down Nebraska's talented-but-thin defensive line. Scarlet Knights running back Desmon Peoples is the kind of small, shifty runner who can give Nebraska troubles in the open field.

Rutgers pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

There is no comeback player of the year award in the Big Ten, but if there was, Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova would be that guy. Two poor years have given way to an excellent one, and he has good receiving targets who can test Nebraska's secondary in Leonte Carroo and Andrew Turzilli. Peoples is good out of the backfield, too. The Huskers excel at forcing incompletions, though they give up big plays, too.

Special teams

Has Nebraska's special teams, top to bottom, ever been quite so strong? Probably, yes, in 2009, with Alex Henery as kicker and punter. But this 2014 bunch is pretty good. De'Mornay Pierson-El is officially a guy other punters don't want to kick to, and Sam Foltz is blossoming into a clutch punter who can put balls inside the 20. The kickoff return unit could be better. As for Rutgers, kicker Kyle Federico is pretty good, having made 9 of 11 for the season, and defensive end Kemoko Turay has blocked three kicks. But Rutgers hasn't returned a punt for more than 20 yards this year, and just one kickoff for more than 30.

Intangibles

Rutgers is going through the Big Ten gauntlet for the first time and a 56-17 whipping at Ohio State — after playing historically mediocre Penn State and Michigan teams — had to give coach Kyle Flood pause. The Scarlet Knights don't have the size, speed or athleticism of Nebraska. That said, the Huskers need to see this as a trap game. The one they haven't been able to avoid in any year except 2012.

Key matchup: Rutgers' running game vs. NU's front seven

Nova is not going to pass the Scarlet Knights to a victory. He just won't. The Scarlet Knights either control the clock with a running game that works, or they're in for a long day. Nova might get Nebraska a few times, but he won't win for four quarters.

Our take

Rutgers' offense has had a nice season under coordinator Ralph Friedgen, and that offense is likely to get the Scarlet Knights in a bowl game. But the talent and playmakers aren't what Nebraska puts on the field. With the home-field advantage and a strong running game, the Huskers win — perhaps with authority.

Our prediction: Nebraska 40, Rutgers 21

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Game notes

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