After two weeks away from Memorial Stadium, Nebraska is back in action to take on the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday, Nov. 4. The Huskers had a last-second comeback win last week, which got their season back on track, but are facing off against a Northwestern team that is on fire with its recent upset of No. 16 Michigan State. Matchups between the two teams are always competitive, and there are a number of storylines to follow.
For Nebraska fans, Northwestern might as well be known as the “Cardiac Cats,” as games between the two teams almost always give fans’ hearts a jolt as they come down to the wire. Since joining the Big Ten Conference, four of the six meetings between the teams were decided by three points or less. In 2011, the 3-5 Wildcats stunned then No. 10 Nebraska at Memorial Stadium, derailing an otherwise successful season for the Huskers.
Following the loss, Nebraska eked out wins in the next two team meetings, 29-28 in 2012, and a 27-24 win in 2013 for the ages, as Jordan Westerkamp caught a game-winning Hail Mary to give the Huskers the victory. In head coach Mike Riley’s first game against Northwestern, though, it was yet another tense affair. Nebraska scored with four minutes left to play, but failed to complete a two-point conversion that would have tied the game, and Northwestern ran out the clock. The loss was the fifth of the season for Nebraska, and Riley faces a similar predicament this week. Fans of both teams should keep their aspirin handy, because the game is sure to be a close affair.
Battle in the trenches
The matchup features two teams with running games going in opposite directions. Both teams have similar averages for rush yards per game so far this season, with Nebraska gaining 121.9 yards on the ground and Northwestern gaining 127.8 yards per game. However, Northwestern defense has fared much better against the run than Nebraska’s, only allowing an average of 118 yards per game, compared to Nebraska’s 170 rush yards allowed per game.
Despite these similarities, the two team’s running back situations could not be more different. Uncertain is the best word to describe Nebraska’s running game at this point in time. Presumed starter Devine Ozigbo only has 32 yards off of 19 carries from the last two games combined, and his backup, Mikale Wilbon, only has four carries over the same time period. Freshman Jaylin Bradley did well in his limited time against Purdue, but it’s impossible to predict how Riley will rotate his running backs moving ahead. Contrast that with Northwestern, who has a bonafide superstar in senior Justin Jackson. There’s no question Jackson will dominate the carries for Northwestern, and he will do so against a vulnerable Nebraska defense.
Both Northwestern and Nebraska languish near the bottom of the Big Ten turnover differential charts, with both teams possessing a minus four differential. In fact, the teams’ quarterbacks occupy the top two spots in interceptions, with Tanner Lee leading the conference with 10 and Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson in second with nine. However, both quarterbacks cleaned up their acts in their last two outings with zero interceptions between the two of them in those games.
Additionally, both teams struggled to create turnovers, with Northwestern ranked 11th in the conference and the Huskers 13th in turnovers created, with 11 and nine, respectively. Given the history between the teams, a turnover could easily swing the momentum of the game, especially if either team’s quarterback throws the ball 40-plus times, like they both did last week.
The game is set for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, Nov. 4, and will be broadcasted live on BTN and BTN2Go.