Game Day: Nebraska vs. Northern Illinois

Risks and rewards

Why? Why do they play football? Who is their motivation? How do they push through the grind for a morning kickoff? Family. Hope for the future. Faith in what football means. And, more to the point, out of love.

READ MORE »

2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Northern Illinois rush defense

The Huskers’ run game has been pretty sturdy so far — 4.99 yards per carry, including 5.71 yards per carry on first down — so long as Tre Bryant is in the game. Bryant has accounted for 299 of the Huskers’ 334 yards so far. Will he be good to go for Saturday? If not, the burden falls to Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo. Through two games, NIU is giving up just 2.19 yards per carry. That’s top 20 nationally but includes a game against Eastern Illinois. Nebraska’s size and skill personnel will be the Huskies’ biggest challenge thus far, so look for NIU to take a few chances with run stunts and blitzes. Look for Nebraska to try and hit a big jet sweep or two; Northern Illinois’ defense may be ripe for it.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Northern Illinois pass defense

If Nebraska can establish the run and stay in control of the game, the Huskers should get some chances at big pass plays, either on the “RPO” slant play to receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El or a deep route to Stanley Morgan. NU needs to find a consistent No. 3 receiver between JD Spielman and Tyjon Lindsey. A second receiving tight end behind Tyler Hoppes wouldn’t hurt, either. NIU gave up 191 yards passing to offense-challenged Boston College before dominating Eastern Illinois. The Huskies get after the quarterback pretty good, led by pass rusher/linebacker Sutton Smith. Nebraska has to protect better than it did in the loss to Oregon. Look for redshirt freshman Matt Farniok to get his second straight start at right tackle.

Northern Illinois rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

The Huskies run a spread, no-huddle, read-option offense, but the current quarterback, Daniel Santacaterina, is more of a thrower than injured starter Ryan Graham. So NIU will have to scheme it up and grind it out. Nebraska’s run defense, anchored by a better-than-average run-stopping defensive line, should be up for the challenge. Running backs Marcus Jones and Marcus Childers are both smaller, heavy runners that Nebraska has to be mindful to wrap up. NIU will try to pop a jet sweep or two.

Northern Illinois pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

If one listens between the lyrics of Bob Diaco’s Tuesday press conference, Nebraska’s secondary is still working through growing pains that come with three new starters at cornerback. Coupled with safety Joshua Kalu’s hamstring injury, NU’s secondary will be protected from deep passes and thus tested pretty frequently with short passes — both in bubble screens and quick curl and stick routes in between linebackers and safeties. Santacaterina is a better passer than Graham, and receivers Chad Beebe, D.J. Brown and Spencer Tears form a good trio.

Special teams

Nebraska kicker Drew Brown has been excellent on kickoffs — solid on field goals, too — while punter Caleb Lightbourn had one of the best games of his career at Oregon. Nebraska is still trying to figure out the punt return system — De’Mornay Pierson-El turned down a great look at the end of the Oregon game. Northern Illinois freshman punter Matt Ference is off to a great start — a 41.0-yard average — but NIU kicker Christian Hagan has missed 3 of 6 field goal attempts this season.

Intangibles

It’s been awhile since NIU was a Big Ten giant-killer. The last Power Five team the Huskies beat was Northwestern in 2014. NIU’s defenses have slowly declined since that year, and, in 2017, the offense appears to be the weakness headed into Memorial Stadium. NU hasn’t lost in Lincoln since the 2015 season. Nebraska expects to play well after a sloppy start at Oregon. The Huskers’ second half at Eugene can be a building block.

Key matchup: Daniel Santacaterina vs. Nebraska’s secondary

NIU’s starter has thrown fewer than 100 career passes. That doesn’t bode well for him, but the Huskers have been pretty friendly to opposing quarterbacks stretching back to the last part of the 2016 season. If Santacaterina finds an early rhythm and puts together a couple first-half touchdown drives, NIU’s defense may hold up for four quarters. If the Huskies have to punt a lot, Nebraska’s offense will wear down the smaller foe.

Our take

NIU is a similar version of the Arkansas State team that made Nebraska sweat, but the Huskies perhaps have fewer playmakers. Nebraska has to rattle Santacaterina — a sack or two might be nice — and get better on third down after a 2-for-14 nightmare at Oregon. It won’t be easy. NU’s depth and excellence at the skill positions are down a bit right now. But, if Nebraska can avoid the turnover bug, it should pull out a win here. NIU has a chance, though, by shortening the game on offense and taking chances on defense.

Our prediction: NEBRASKA 30, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 17

Live updates

Videos

Extras

Game notes

Check out a PDF of the game notes for the Nebraska-Northern Illinois 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

All of Nebraska's history vs. Purdue football is recent. Except one 1958 game

Nebraska and Purdue faced off as conference opponents for the first time in 2013, which ignited what will be at least 13 consecutive seasons with one another on the schedule. But 2013 wasn't the first overall matchup. Nope, that came…

Monday rewind: Nebraska football needs a spark — and maybe a little time 'away from each other'

We wrote this story out of Minnesota in 2013 and 2017, too. The names change. The clichés, too, a little bit. And even if it’s supposed to be different under Scott Frost — even if, one day, it is —…

Stopping the run is crucial in the Big Ten West, and Husker football ranks as the worst

Time and again, opposing coaches see Nebraska step off the bus and wonder if they can run the ball on them. And then they do.

'Keep it going or pack it up': Scott Frost delivers frank message to Huskers after Minnesota loss

Scott Frost had one hand in his pocket, and the other one was carrying a playsheet. And nothing was fine for the Nebraska football coach.

Shatel: Mugging in Minnesota shows Scott Frost's Huskers still lacking muscle, mindset

P.J. Fleck just shoved his oar right down Nebraska’s throat. People like to laugh at Fleck, the Minnesota football coach, saying he’s a huckster and a fake. Well, there was nothing fake about what Fleck’s Gophers did to Nebraska on…

Huskers 'knocked out of position' as physical Gophers pound Nebraska with ground game

The blank faces said it all. By the time Nebraska defenders trudged off the cold and misty field at TCF Bank Stadium, they had already processed much of the carnage. A 20-point third quarter that blew the doors off a…

Losing numbers: The stats and figures that defined Nebraska's loss to Minnesota

A closer look at the defining stats and figures from the Huskers' loss to Minnesota on Saturday.

Even with soft spots disguised as strengths, Minnesota finds room in Husker football's front seven

Minnesota carved up Nebraska’s defense with its run game Saturday night because it spotted soft spots disguised as strengths.

Nebraska-Minnesota: Breaking down the Huskers' performance on offense and defense

World-Herald staff writer Chris Heady takes a look at Nebraska's effort on both sides of the ball during the Huskers' loss to Minnesota.

Nebraska-Minnesota: Three things we learned, three things we still don't know

Three things we learned and three things we still don’t know about the Huskers coming out of Saturday's loss to Minnesota.

Husker pregame: Adrian Martinez not dressed for warmups; Noah Vedral poised for first start

Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez is not suited up for the game an hour ahead of kickoff and will not play against Minnesota.

$250,000-a-year consulting deal for former NU President Hank Bounds draws both concerns, praise

Some regents say it’s a win for Nebraska to bring Hank Bounds back because he is a good fundraiser who knows and cares about the projects involved. Some observers say they are perplexed by the amount he will receive, and…

They both have young offenses, but Minnesota can show Nebraska how fast they grow up

The Huskers think a strong second half is coming. Their counterparts in Minneapolis have already experienced it.

Shatel: What's up with Adrian Martinez? Is Noah Vedral ready? Let's ask Mario Verduzco

Noah Vedral knows the offense back and forward. We haven’t seen a lot of his game. He got in one game last year. And then last week. That’s the beauty of it, too. There isn’t a lot of film of…

Fremont senior offensive lineman Keegan Menning will walk on at Nebraska

Fremont senior Keegan Menning added his name to the list of walk-ons in Nebraska’s 2020 class on Thursday night.

Huskers discuss redshirt rule weekly, 'but things change.' Luke McCaffrey is the latest example

“It’s an awesome rule,” said Luke McCaffrey, who’s drawn raves from coaches and teammates while he redshirts and works to push Adrian Martinez for the starting role next season. “I think it’s fantastic.”

Mohamed Barry, Damian Jackson contenders for national awards

Mohamed Barry was named a quarterfinalist for the 2019 Lott Trophy, which recognizes a player who made the biggest impact on his team both on and off the field.

Huskers to practice outside Friday in preparation for 'football weather' in Minnesota

If it’s Christmas weather — 32 degrees — for Nebraska’s Saturday night game at Minnesota, well, Scott Frost can’t think anything much better.

Husker practice report, Oct. 10: Scott Frost not revealing playing status of injured players

While Nebraska's travel roster is rounding into form, the status of players at multiple key positions remains unclear.

106-year-old fan attends her first Husker game, meets Nebraska coach Scott Frost

"I just thought that I was on a different planet almost," she told The World-Herald. "It was a special place to be."

Husker opponent preview: Everything you need to know about the Minnesota Gophers

“Defensively, they’re a lot more sound than what we saw last year and more athletic," Scott Frost said. "They’ve definitely improved. You can tell it’s year three of his tenure up there. They’re starting to look like the team he…

Cold weather not changing Huskers' plan. Minnesota is pouring ice water on players

Weather, smeather. That was more or less the reaction from Nebraska offensive coaches Tuesday when probed about how they might adjust preparations for Saturday night's game at Minnesota that calls for temperatures in the mid-30s and a good chance of…

27 times Husker games were decided by a last-minute score since 2000

They've given you lifelong memories, permanent heartache, everlasting glee and eternal suffering.

Husker practice report, Oct. 9: Adrian Martinez, JD Spielman both in pads

Encouraging news this morning from Husker football practice. Adrian Martinez (knee) and JD Spielman (undisclosed) were both in pads for practice Wednesday.

Shatel: Noah Vedral's star-crossed turn involves Matt Turman's sister, Kansas State ... and fate

Earlier this week, I called Matt Turman to talk about his nephew, Noah Vedral, waiting and getting that big moment. But as we talked, it hit me that there's a bigger story. The story about the small, small world of…

Minnesota once told the Huskers they were 'no good.' Nebraska responded with 84 points

Nebraska has dominated Minnesota since 1963, claiming 19 of 22 games. But the Gophers have the all-time edge.

Bill Moos preaches patience, need for four-year development as Husker football makes 'evolution'

For Nebraska’s program to be full blast again, the A.D. says it will take two more recruiting classes and two more years of developing a walk-on program.

McKewon: Ronald Delancy brings more flavor from Miami, where they play defense with an edge

Nebraska received a commitment Tuesday from Miami Northwestern defensive back Ronald Delancy. Three takes on the decision of the 6-foot, 165-pounder.

'Just gotta stay locked in': Husker defensive backs will be tested by trio of Minnesota receivers

Inside linebacker Mohamed Barry doesn’t usually concern himself much with wide receivers. This week, he’s at full attention.

Monday rewind: The Huskers' offense was better than the final score against Northwestern showed

Credit Scott Frost and his staff for squeezing just enough of true freshman Wan’Dale Robinson, Martinez and backup quarterback Noah Vedral to win against a defense that had given up three plays of 30 yards or more heading into the…