Over Halloween weekend, Husker players stayed home instead of playing their first home game of the season.
The cancellation was just another hurdle for the 2020 Husker season and while Nebraska sat at home, Northwestern came back from a 17-0 deficit against Iowa to begin the year 2-0. Now, Nebraska’s margin of error for making the Big Ten championship has thinned quickly and a loss to the Wildcats would harm its chances further.
At a Wednesday press conference, Husker coaches spoke highly of Northwestern’s disciplined football on both sides.
The Wildcats have committed only 11 penalties through the first two weeks of the season, the least of any Big Ten team that has played two games. On the other hand, Nebraska committed eight penalties in its only game of the year so far.
Those penalties include two questionable targeting calls, one on junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and the other on senior safety Deontai Williams. As a result, both players will be missing in the secondary for the first half of Saturday’s game.
Now, Nebraska will look towards its depth to fill in.
“I got a lot of confidence in the guys we play week-to-week,” defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said. “Whether it’s somewhere during the game or the next game or wherever it may be, they’re starters. Whoever is in the game is a starter.”
One member of the Nebraska secondary who is expected to have a larger role against Northwestern is redshirt freshman safety Myles Farmer. Farmer played against Ohio State on special teams, along with some occasional defensive snaps.
Farmer will likely replace Williams at safety, and Fisher said he’s glad he can get the redshirt freshman some more time on the field.
“Anytime that I can get the younger guys into the game, it’s a bonus for me,” Fisher said. “There’s nothing like game experience.”
Farmer is not the only defensive back that will have a larger role on Saturday. With the loss of Taylor-Britt, another cornerback or possibly multiple cornerbacks may have to play the first half.
One candidate is sophomore cornerback Quinton Newsome, who transitioned from safety to cornerback after high school. The move was something Fisher planned from day one as he said he watched Newsome play through all of high school.
Now, Newsome and a somewhat new secondary will go up against an improved Northwestern offense.
Graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey, who beat Nebraska last year in Memorial Stadium while playing for Indiana, is the starting quarterback for the Wildcats. Four quarterbacks received snaps for Northwestern in 2019, so Ramsey will likely bring more stability to the position.
Along with an experienced quarterback, Northwestern brings a new offensive coordinator, Mike Bajakian, that has changed the outlook of the offense.
“It’s a different run game,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “They’ll be implementing more use of multiple tight end sets and they got a little better quarterback run game.”
Northwestern’s new offense won’t be the only significant hurdle for Nebraska to win at Ryan Field. The Wildcat defense still is stout and Husker run game coordinator and offensive line coach Greg Austin joked that the same Northwestern linebackers have seemed to be there for the last four years.
That comes as no surprise, with senior linebacker and three-time All-Big Ten selection Paddy Fisher leading the Wildcat linebacking core.. Meanwhile, Northwestern’s defensive linemen create a challenge for any offensive linemen.
“Very rarely do their defensive line get moved out of their gap,” Austin said. “Those guys play a physical brand of football and we have our work cut out for us ... They’re a pretty strong and stout front against any team they play.”
Northwestern’s front seven was instrumental in beating the Hawkeyes last Saturday, as Iowa struggled to run the ball and relied on inexperienced sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras to handle the offense.
Unlike Iowa, Nebraska’s offensive line returns experience and extra rotation players that Austin wants to continue using. Austin’s rotations serve two purposes that can be key in handling the Northwestern front seven.
“We got some young promising guys and some guys with a lot of snaps under their belt. It’s all an effort to continue and involve the young guys and keep the old guys healthy,” Austin said. “We have a lot of confidence in the [young guys] as much as the old guys.”
Nebraska comes to Evanston with a mix of old and new faces but one thing is certain: The Wildcats won’t beat themselves.
“They’re going to be very disciplined. They’re going to do the things they do and do it well,” Fisher said.