After two rough performances to open Big Ten play, the ‘Cats continue their season-opening gauntlet by traveling to Lincoln to take on Nebraska Saturday afternoon. After entering the season with significant buzz, the Huskers have been somewhat disappointing thus far and were blown out at home last week against Ohio State. Can the ‘Cats take down Nebraska for the third straight year? Let’s see what our staff thinks:
Parker Johnson (@ParkerKJohnson): Northwestern 17, Nebraska 16
I refuse to believe that this team will ever score more than 20 points, but with the Wildcats’ elite defense, they are still in every game. Coming up against a Nebraska team that is worst in the Big Ten in turnover margin, I predict Northwestern will prevail through a decisive defensive touchdown late in the game.
Player to watch: Mick McCall, Offensive Coordinator, Northwestern
Do I really need to add anything here?
Kevin Sweeney (@CBB_Central): Northwestern 24, Nebraska 21
Blame playcalling, blame Hunter Johnson, blame the offensive line, blame whoever you want for the Northwestern offensive struggles. While I’m certainly not the biggest fan of Mick McCall’s playcalling, it has become evident over the past few weeks that the ‘Cats desperately want to establish the run game. Against two of the nation’s best run defenses in Michigan State and Wisconsin, Northwestern wasn’t able to do that, and that set the offense back in a major way. Against a Nebraska defense that has been terrible against the run, Drake Anderson will find a way to consistently pick up chunk yardage and help the offense stay on schedule. Meanwhile, the ‘Cats defense will force some miscues by a turnover-prone but dynamic Nebraska offense.
Player to Watch: Wandale Robinson, WR, Nebraska
I could have gone with Robinson, JD Spielman, or Maurice Washington here: the three dynamic in-space playmakers on the Nebraska offense. The team speed with this group is incredibly high, and Scott Frost does a nice job finding different ways to get his playmakers the ball in space. Tackling will be of the utmost importance for Northwestern’s linebackers and defensive backs.
Eric Rynston-Lobel (@ericr_l): Northwestern 24, Nebraska 14
The ‘Cats offense will look better against a defense not named Wisconsin or Michigan State–not great, but definitely better than the last two weeks. Hunter Johnson will be motivated to make it through the entire game, and Drake Anderson will carry a load in the run game. The defense will also pick up where it left off last week.
Player to watch: Drake Anderson, RB, Northwestern
With Isaiah Bowser questionable, the ‘Cats will rely on Anderson to take some of the pressure off of Johnson.
Eli Finkelstein (@elidaman13): Northwestern 20, Nebraska 13
Following an embarrassing loss against Ohio State, Nebraska is looking to rebound against the ‘Cats. But with a strong defensive front led by Paddy Fisher, the ‘Cats will slow down the Cornhuskers offense led by Adrian Martinez. Despite struggling in the first four games, the ‘Cats offense will move the ball well against the mediocre Nebraska defense. ‘Cats by a TD.
Player to Watch: Northwestern QB
Whether it be Hunter Johnson or Aidan Smith, the ‘Cats QB will have to perform well to bring home the victory. Nebraska has a considerably weak secondary which could allow for a decent passing game from Northwestern. If the starter for NU is able to spread the ball around the field and move the chains, the ‘Cats have a solid chance against the Cornhuskers.
Ben Krieger (@thebenkrieger): Northwestern 23, Nebraska 21
Coming off a tough loss to Wisconsin, the Wildcats head to Memorial Stadium hoping to earn their first conference win. After a hot start from Scott Frost’s offense, Northwestern clamps down and allows just one score in the second half to give their offense a chance. Instead of waiting until the final minutes of the game, the Wildcats turn to the hurry-up offense during the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal to stun the Cornhuskers.
Player to watch: Adrian Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Martinez was a big reason for Nebraska’s preseason hype, and he lived up to expectations for the first four weeks of the season. Prior to his three-interception dud against Ohio State last weekend, Martinez had a 7-2 TD-INT ratio along with three rushing touchdowns. Martinez turned it over three times in the Wildcats’ comeback victory last year, though, and he’ll need to take better care of the football for the Cornhuskers to avenge that loss this weekend.
Jack Lido (@JackSLido): Northwestern 23, Nebraska 17
Northwestern has had Nebraska’s number in close games, winning the last two matchups and needing overtime in both. This figures to be another close one. Both teams head into a loud Memorial Stadium with uber-talented quarterbacks that haven’t quite lived up to their respective hype (Adrian Martinez is not a Heisman hopeful, and Hunter Johnson is not improving Northwestern’s offense), and Big Ten Title hopes that have been either heavily diminished or shattered. But alas, both teams have had this game marked as “winnable,” and are desperate to get back on track after ugly conference losses. The Wildcats need to put pressure on Nebraska’s QB Adrian Martinez; they also need to set the edge to contain Nebraska’s best runner: also Adrian Martinez. Can you guess who my player to watch is?
Player to Watch: Hunter Johnson/Aidan Smith, QBs, Northwestern
A ha! Duped ya! While it’s important that Northwestern’s defense stops Adrian Martinez, it won’t mean anything if the Huskers win the game 14-3 with 2 defensive touchdowns! While I’m being facetious, Northwestern absolutely sedated themselves by turning the ball over against Wisconsin. Unfortunately, Mick McCall isn’t a player, but I’d watch him too. Northwestern’s offense doesn’t need to do much; the QB (whoever it may be) needs to eat up clock, get a handful of chances in the red zone, and not turn the ball over.