Nebraska (3-2, 1-1) turns its focus toward Northwestern (1-3, 0-2) after a blowout loss last week against Ohio State. The Wildcats are coming off a close loss to Wisconsin last week and are still in search of their first win in Big Ten play.
Here are four Northwestern players to watch:
The Wildcats’ quarterback situation is a mess. The starter at the beginning of the season, senior TJ Green, was injured in the season opener and is out for the year. Since then, sophomore Hunter Johnson has been the starter; although he left last Saturday’s game with a knee injury and is questionable for this weekend’s clash with the Huskers. If Johnson can’t play, then backup Aidan Smith will start.
Neither quarterback has been impressive this season as both have completion percentages below 50% on the season. Johnson currently is completing 48.3% of his passes for 367 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. If he plays, then the Huskers will have to worry about his legs. He doesn’t run often, but he’s a good athlete who can gain a first down when the pocket collapses.
Smith is more of a traditional pocket passer, but so far this year he has struggled in his limited time. He is 12-31 (38.7%) on his passes with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Between the two of them, they have two touchdowns through the air compared to seven interceptions. Neither has played well, which means it could be a field day for an aggressive Husker secondary.
Drake Anderson, RB
Coming into the season, Isaiah Bowser was expected to get a bulk of the running back touches after having a solid season last year. Instead, Bowser was injured in the season opener which opened the door for redshirt freshman Drake Anderson. Bowser has since returned, but Anderson has received most of the touches.
Anderson came out of nowhere after he redshirted last year and received only two touches in the season opener. Since then, he has gone on a tear as he has 300 rushing yards on 59 carries and three touchdowns over his last three games. He is not much of a receiving threat, having caught just two passes for one yard this year.
For a Northwestern offense that struggles to throw the ball, a lot of pressure is placed on Anderson to carry the offense, evidenced by his 59 carries in three games. If Nebraska shuts him down, then the Northwestern offense will struggle to do much of anything in Saturday’s contest.
Joe Gaziano, DL
It is no secret that the strength of Northwestern is its defense and specifically its toughness. Defensive end Joe Gaziano is a perfect characterization of that approach. He is not the most athletic nor the strongest defensive linemen, but he is tough, hard-nosed football player.
The senior is a defensive leader and was a big reason why this team made it to the Big Ten Championship Game last season. His efforts last year earned him a second team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and a third team selection by the media.
So far this year, he is tied for the Wildcat lead in sacks with 2 ½ on the year and has 17 tackles. He also has two forced fumbles on the year.
The Husker offensive line will have their hands full this week with Gaziano. They failed last week against Ohio State’s front and will have another tough task this week.
Paddy Fisher, LB
Junior linebacker Paddy Fisher has been one of the most important players for the Wildcats since he stepped on campus. Fisher started as a freshman and has only gotten better from there. His freshman year he was a second and third team selection for All-Big Ten and last season he was a first team and a second team selection. He also was on the AP All-America third team.
What those accolades mean is that he is a fantastic football player. He’s one of the best linebackers in the country and will make life difficult for the Husker running game. After two seasons with more than 100 tackles, Fisher currently has 27 tackles with one forced fumble and an interception.
Fisher also can help with the pass rush at times even though it isn’t one of his strengths. Northwestern has sent him on blitzes every once in a while that have been very disruptive for opponents. If the Huskers want to establish the run, they are going to have to do a good job of accounting for Fisher.