The Huskers square off in another division game on Saturday against Northwestern in Lincoln. Nebraska returns to action after beating Michigan State, 24-3, while Northwestern looks to win their first division game.
Both Nebraska and Northwestern have two of the better offenses in the Big Ten with mobile quarterbacks. The difference might come in defense though. While both rank in the bottom half of the conference Northwestern is second to last in total defense coming in second to last in passing defense and third to last in rush defense. Here are a few keys to the game on Saturday:
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1. Run the ball, a lot: Northwestern is not good at stopping the run. Nebraska is good at running the football. There is one caveat though and that is to try to find a way to back down Rex Burkhead. Against Michigan State, Burkhead rushed the ball for 35 times and late in the game looked like Kellen Winslow coming off the field short two people helping him off and a towel over his head. If anyone wanted to see where the Burkhead fuel tank finally exhausted it was just a few short plays after where he was last Saturday. Look for a heavy dose of Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard this weekend.
2. Contain the quarterback: Whether its Dan Persa or Kain Colter at quarterback the Nebraska defense must be able to contain either mobile quarterback. Quarterback mobility has been the Achilles heel to the Nebraska defense all season seeing it once against Russell Wilson and against Braxton Miller. There is no wonder why the Nebraska coaching staff likes the idea of a quarterback like Taylor Martinez in their own offensive backfield…it’s like a 12th player on the field. Nebraska more than likely won’t pressure as much up front with the defensive line this week as they did with the Michigan State team. That means the secondary will have to step up and play tight for longer periods of time.
3. Play a clean game: Nebraska has been known to get a little sloppy and over the past couple of games Nebraska has put the ball on the rug a few too many times, but they have gotten them all back. More than that, Nebraska just isn’t causing a lot of turnovers this season being even on the year with a +0 turnover margin. Northwestern on the other hand is an opportunistic team coming into the game at +5. Nebraska can’t tempt fate and give Northwestern chances to get turnovers.
The game on Saturday looks a lot like Minnesota, but Northwestern has the ability to put some points on the board and move the football. Defensively, this will be a huge task for Nebraska to make sure that Northwestern has the long field, are put in 2nd and 3rd and long situations and don’t give them any help in trying to beat them.
Road teams in the Big Ten this season just haven’t fared very well and this Saturday shouldn’t be any different even though I could see the game going two different ways on Saturday. The first way is the scary way. Nebraska has an emotional down game after playing very stout for the past 10 quarters or so of football. Nebraska comes out and doesn’t execute offensively, is caught flat-footed defensively and costs themselves points and yardage through turnovers and penalties.
I just don’t see Nebraska doing that at home when the idea in the game will be to run the ball, a lot, and take time off of the clock will be a byproduct from all of the rushing attempts. As I said before in the first thing I will be watching on Saturday there is a strong need to give the ball to the other backs, get them some work and allow Burkhead to take some time off. I would try to limit him to 12-15 carries is all.
If Nebraska doesn’t turn the football over and can establish the run it could be a very demoralizing trip to Lincoln for Northwestern and I think that is what is precisely going to happen. I just can’t see Nebraska losing sight of the goal now to make it to Indianapolis to try and win the Big Ten title in their first year in conference play. Give me the Huskers, 45-20.