Game Preview: Nebraska at Northwestern
By: Benjamin Goren
Saturday at 2:30 CST, the Cornhuskers of Nebraska (4-2) will ride into Evanston to play the Northwestern Wildcats (6-1).
The Cornhuskers, coming off of a bye week, will be looking to rebound from their 63-38 drubbing at the hands of Ohio State. Nebraska brings with it a powerful stable of rushing options, leading the Huskers to the fifth best rushing attack in the FBS, averaging 292 yards a game. The Cornhuskers boast five different players with multiple rushing touchdowns, headed by senior Rex Burkhead at the running back position and junior Taylor Martinez at quarterback.
Burkhead, despite suffering a sprained MCL that held him to only three carries in the first three weeks, has amassed 392 yards and three scores on an astounding 9.1 yards per carry.
Taylor Martinez was hassled into three interceptions against the Ohio State defense, but has still shown incredible growth as a passer since his sophomore season. Last year, Martinez struggled as a passer, throwing only thirteen touchdowns against eight interceptions. This year, thanks to a heavy off-season program to relearn his mechanics, Martinez is completing over two thirds of his passes for nearly 1300 yards and twelve scores against only four interceptions.
Northwestern will defend home field coming off a workmanlike 21-13 victory at Minnesota. Northwestern leaned on junior running back Venric Mark to carry the offense, and he responded rushing for 182 yards and two scores on 20 carries. As a whole, however, the offense struggled to get any traction, only amassing 275 total yards. The passing game was non-existent as the Wildcats only mustered eleven completions for 67 yards on seventeen attempts. The Northwestern offense will need to show up if they want to hang with the 8th best scoring offense in the country from Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers provides the toughest test the relatively unproven Wildcats have seen this year. To move to 7-1, Northwestern will need to:
1) Put Taylor Martinez in 3rd and long situations. Despite his improvements, Martinez is still significantly more dangerous as a runner than as a thrower.
2) Get the ball in Kain Colter’s and Venric Mark’s hands. Northwestern’s one loss came when Mark and Colter combined for only 23 touches for 119 yards. Against the 91st ranked rushing defense, Northwestern can look to use the spread option heavily to move the ball.
3) Take advantage of special teams. Nebraska is ranked 103rd in the FBS in net punting. Northwestern is ranked 3rd in average punt return yardage. This sets up well for a big day from Venric Mark on special teams.
4) Close the game. Northwestern has managed all of zero points in the fourth quarter over the last two weeks. Northwestern will need to finish stronger if it expects to hold off a Nebraska team that rallied from seventeen down against Wisconsin to eke out a win.
Prediction: Nebraska 38-34
While Venric Mark turns in another 100-yard rushing day with a big punt return and Kyle Prater catches his first touchdown pass, the extra week of preparation proves crucial as Taylor Martinez and the Cornhuskers hand the Wildcats their second loss of the year.