By Drew Myers
In week five, Northwestern will be playing its annual match-up against Nebraska, but this year they will be playing on the road after beating Nebraska in a thrilling 34-31 OT win at Ryan Field in 2018. That means that Northwestern will be forced to play in the unforgiving Memorial Stadium, which houses a raucous 85,458 fans for every Husker home game. When the stadium is full, which it undoubtedly will since Nebraska has sold out an NCAA-record 368 consecutive games at Memorial Stadium, the number of people in the stadium alone would make it the third-largest city in Nebraska. With Northwestern looking to make it to the Big Ten Championship Game in back-to-back season, the importance of this game cannot be understated. This means that Northwestern will have to strive to be undefeated in Big Ten play this season. The Nebraska road game comes after a brutal opening schedule that sees Northwestern playing Stanford, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, meaning that Northwestern will have been thoroughly tested coming into Memorial Stadium. It’s possible that the fate of Northwestern’s season could be decided in these opening games, but this game nonetheless will likely remain a highly important game that the Wildcats must win.
Northwestern Offense vs. Nebraska Defense
Northwestern’s offense for the first time in four years is going to have a new starting quarterback, Hunter Johnson. Johnson comes to Northwestern after transferring from Clemson, where Trevor Lawrence was able to successfully beat out Johnson for the starting quarterback position. It is no doubt that Johnson has some serious talent and he could give the Wildcats a significant upgrade in the quarterback position, especially in the running game where he could potentially be more versatile in the backfield than Clayton Thorson was. This is important because Nebraska has struggled mightily with run defense in the past two seasons, giving up an average of over 5 yards per carry. Northwestern is going to want to try and exploit this potential flaw, but it will be difficult as Northwestern did not run the ball all that well in 2018. If Isaiah Bowser, who saw himself become the starting running back after Jeremy Larkin had a career-ending injury, can run effectively against Nebraska, then Northwestern has a decent chance of winning this game.
Northwestern Defense vs. Nebraska Offense
Nebraska’s offense last season wasn’t bad by any marks; however, it didn’t produce the eye-popping displays some might have expected from a Scott Frost team. The most concerning player for Northwestern defense will be Adrian Martinez who can beat you both with his feet and athleticism, as well as his arm. In his freshman debut last season, Martinez had 3,246 total yards and threw for 25 touchdowns. Not to mention that he averaged 50 rushing yards in all four games that the Cornhuskers won last season. Facing Martinez will provide familiar challenges to the Northwestern defense which struggled to stop other running quarterbacks last season including Michigan’s Shea Patterson and Notre Dame’s Ian Book. This means it will come down to Northwestern’s ability to stop by the run and contain Martinez to the pocket. Thankfully, Northwestern is seeing the return of Joe Gaziano who led the team in sacks, but they are losing other players on the defensive line, including Jordan Thompson. Northwestern’s defense will be tested and it will take a strong defensive line to stop Nebraska.
Nebraska 31, Northwestern 21
While Northwestern might be a solid road team, Memorial Stadium on the road after the tough opening schedule will be too much for the Wildcats. What gives me hesitation is that Nebraska only won four games last season and there was lots of hope that Scott Frost would turn things around quickly. But, with Martinez going into his second year and with Frost as good of a coach as he is, I think it’s possible that Nebraska will be able to live up to the hype that their attracting in the preseason. Regardless though, this game will no doubt be close throughout, but Nebraska will pull away with the win.