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

McKewon: Try tackling Marvin Scott when he reaches full speed. It doesn't look fun

Florida running back Marvin Scott, a 'freakish bodybuilder,' commits to Nebraska

Nebraska’s newest commit for the 2020 recruiting class won’t have to be pointed to the weight room.

Carriker Chronicles: Will the return of Husker Power bolster a second-year leap under Scott Frost?

On Saturday's episode, Adam Carriker discusses the second year under Scott Frost, whether or not the Huskers can make a leap in success and how the return of Husker power will help.

'Game-changer' Cam Jurgens is back and healthy, may start at center against South Alabama

Redshirt freshman center Cam Jurgens, previously limited in training camp due to an undisclosed injury, was back at full speed this week, coach Scott Frost said, and now appears headed for the No. 1 spot on the NU depth chart.

Chatelain: This 'bizarre' Husker stat is so 'insane,' Scott Frost couldn't believe it's true

Any examination — any obituary for the glory years — must include the factor that unites the Callahan, Pelini and Riley eras.

Adrian Martinez says he is 'very thankful' to play for Husker fans on Jim Rome Show

Husker quarterback Adrian Martinez phoned into the Jim Rome Show Friday.

Husker practice report, Aug. 23: Scott Frost wants to build off the look of new alternative jerseys

Nebraska has a new leader at center.

Huskers place walk-on lineman Trent Hixson from Omaha Skutt on scholarship

Trent Hixson was already trending toward starting at left guard this season. Now he'll do so as a scholarship player.

Former Husker receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El catches touchdown pass for Raiders in NFL preseason game

Pierson-El hauled in a key touchdown pass from Nathan Peterman with 5:48 left in the fourth quarter, one of his six receptions in the game.

With Huskers set to 'invade' Buffs' stadium, ticket prices hit Colorado's all-time high

Most of Colorado's home game tickets start at $40 for seats in the end zone and top out around $135 near midfield. But prices are driven by fan interest. And interest is high for the renewed rivalry ticket.

Husker receiver Jaevon McQuitty found his confidence and vows not to be forgotten

With the season opener barely more than a week away, signs point to McQuitty as a contributor.

McKewon: Predicting how the Big Ten West will be won in 2019 shapes up as a fool's errand

2019 is the kind of season in the Big Ten West where you predict in pencil, not ink, and you keep a fat, pink eraser on your desk.

Huskers land commitment from Oklahoma running back recruit Sevion Morrison

Morrison becomes the ninth commit in the Huskers' latest recruiting cycle and the first in more than six weeks.

McKewon: New Husker commit Sevion Morrison can run in just about any offensive system

Three quick takes on the decision from the 6-foot, 201-pound three-star prospect.

Huskers make big jump in football, men's basketball recruiting spending — just like rest of Big Ten

The money Nebraska spends on recruiting its football and men’s basketball student-athletes has increased dramatically in the last five years, according a study released Thursday morning by the USA Today Network. Some teams in the Big Ten have juiced their…

Husker notes: Jack Stoll's goal? A lot of points; Receivers developing depth

Who will be the starting running back? The Huskers like their options

A depth chart for the Nebraska running backs coach can look one way before the season. But by October it may be completely different based on what players show in games.

Husker practice report, Aug. 21: Offensive depth chart takes shape with opener around the corner

Nebraska began preparations for South Alabama on Wednesday, which means the offensive depth chart is close to final.

The time will come for the Huskers' Black Sweatshirt Posse; for now, members are hungry and waiting

Players like Casey Rogers know they are part of the next group up.

Three teams — including Nebraska — sit one game apart for No. 5 on all-time wins chart

Nebraska and Notre Dame are tied for fifth with 897 wins apiece, and Oklahoma sits one game back at 896.

Shatel: Are the Huskers ready for expectations? Is there an air of urgency at Memorial Stadium?

The expectation at Nebraska should be a team that is well-coached, plays physical and plays hard. A team always held to a high standard. Do that and the other stuff will fall into place. Are expectations in place? Not yet,…

Pick Six Podcast: Reasonable expectations for the Huskers, featuring The World-Herald's Tom Shatel

World-Herald staff writers Sam McKewon, Chris Heady and Evan Bland tackle the hottest Husker headlines in the latest episode of the Pick Six Podcast.

Some opinions 'totally changed' toward the positive as Big Ten Network visits Huskers' practice

The Big Ten Network made its annual bus tour stop in Lincoln on Monday, and the reactions were almost unanimously positive.

Video: Nebraska fall football practice, Aug. 19

Check out all the video from Monday's Huskers fall football practice as compiled by The World-Herald.

Carriker Chronicles: Alternate uniforms honor Nebraska's Blackshirt tradition

On Monday's episode, Adam Carriker shares his thoughts on the alternate uniforms Nebraska will wear during the 2019 season.

Husker Practice Report, Aug. 19: No 'mush faces' on Nebraska's defense, Erik Chinander says

Chinander finds no fault with the effort and passion of his defense this training camp.

Huskers make preseason AP Top 25 for first time since 2014

Nebraska is officially a top-25 team again.

Sam McKewon's preseason AP Top 25 ballot

Here's how Sam McKewon voted in his preseason AP Top 25 ballot for the college football season.

Three Huskers haven't been charged in drug cases because of prosecutors’ concerns over hemp law

Three Nebraska football players who have been cited on suspicion of possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia have yet to be charged in Lancaster County Court because of prosecutors’ concerns about an industrial hemp bill recently passed in the Nebraska…

Even in the hot sun, Huskers are showing more energy and not squandering practice time

Highly motivated Huskers are loving practice, even as dog days of summer set in.