Big Red Report's Nebraska at Northwestern Preview

Presented by:

By: Josh Harvey
Oct. 19, 2012

Game Headlines:

* Nebraska looks to get back on track after a blowout road loss to Ohio State two weeks ago.

* The Huskers look to avenge a 28-25 upset loss to the hands of Northwestern last season.

* Saturday's matchup could go a long way in deciding the Legends Division.

ISU/Nebraska Video Previews:

Rex Burkhead (RB)

Eric Martin (DE)

Brett Qvale (OT)

Coach Joseph (DB)

Bo Pelini Thursday practice:

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Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (7th season)
Wisconsin's record in 2012: 6-1

Opponent Analysis: After holding off Minnesota on Saturday, Northwestern became bowl eligible, but that was the furthest thing from the Wildcats' minds Monday. In his seventh season, Pat Fitzgerald and crew have their eyes set on a division title.

“They’re a good defense, and their really well coached” said Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. “They are going to play their hearts out.”

Last season, Nebraska was ranked No. 10 in the country when Northwestern came to Lincoln. The Huskers were fresh off victories over Ohio State and Minnesota, possibly looking ahead to Michigan State. A 28-25 upset loss was just the start of bad things to come for Nebraska to finish out the year.

“We never play on the revenge angle,” Nebraska head coach Pelini said. “It’s about execution. It’s about doing what we need to do to play better and be a better football team. Everybody has their different motivations. Whatever that is, it is. But at the end of the day it comes down to what you’re going to do between the white lines.”

Big Red Report Prediction:
Nebraska 34...Northwestern 28 (Harvey)

Six questions for publisher Chris Emma:

1.) On Saturday, Northwestern became bowl eligible. How big of a deal was that for the players this early on in the season? “It proved as a sign of change that the Wildcats didn't care one bit about being bowl-eligible already, even as it's the earliest date ever Northwestern has reached bowl eligibility. Pat Fitzgerald and each player who met the media after Saturday's game shrugged it off as no big accomplishment. This is now the sixth consecutive year NU has reached the six-win mark, so it's beginning to mean less each year.”

2.) Talk about the quarterback situation right now between Kain Coulter and Trevor Siemian. Right now is it a 50/50 split and who in your eyes gives them the best chance to win? “The greatest debate this year has been how Northwestern should manage its quarterbacks. Kain Colter provides a boost in the rushing attack, but has been underutilized as a passer, while Trevor Siemian has been inconsistent as a thrower. In my opinion, NU should commit to Colter as its quarterback and unleash him as a thrower, because he does have a great arm.

3.) Many people projected Venric Mark would be a special player, but did anyone expect this type of production from the junior? “Nobody expected Venric Mark would find himself in this role, but he has flourished to this point and has become the biggest surprise on the team, and maybe the greatest surprise in the Big Ten. Mark has shown he can bounce through the middle and has sustained durability, even while taking a beating.”

4.) After the defense was not able to get it done late against Penn State two weeks ago, they responded on Saturday holding off Minnesota. How big was it for this team going forward in the confidence department? “The biggest issue for Northwestern against Penn State was that it was unable to get off the field, namely due to third-down issues. Against Minnesota, the Wildcat defense forced turnovers, which was the most important difference from one week prior and changed the game in NU's favor. However, Northwestern's defense has enjoyed many highs and suffered through countless lows, so confidence seems to fluctuate.”

5.) Last year Northwestern upset then No. 10 Nebraska at home 28-25. For a program that is moving in the right direction, how big was that win for Fitzgerald and crew? “From a 2011 perspective, the victory was huge, as it brought Northwestern to a bowl, which seemed impossible after a five-game skid. From a long-term perspective, it was a signature win for Pat Fitzgerald and the program to hang their hats on. It meant a lot for frustrated fans to celebrate a critical win, and it's something they'll remember for a long time.”

6.) Compare Ryan Field to Memorial Stadium's atmosphere? “There is no comparing Ryan Field to Memorial Stadium, and it's hard to compare any other stadium to what Nebraska has. The environment in Lincoln is truly special. However, Ryan Field also is very unique. The stadium is located in a quiet neighborhood, but gets rowdy on Saturdays in the fall. The skyline of Chicago and Lake Michigan are visible from the west side of the stadium. It's a picturesque view that's hard to top in college football.”

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini presser

On what the team focused on over the bye week: Obviously, some fundamental work, some good-on-good things and also getting a jump on Northwestern. We got a little bit of recruiting in. We went back to basics in a lot of instances and working on getting better.

On if the bye week structure changed: It was the typical bye week structure.

On how he explains the turnover margin at this point in the season: It's an area we focus on and talk about. Obviously we've got to protect the ball better and we've got to take advantage of our opportunities when we get the opportunity to get the ball out. That comes from execution.

On if they can focus too much on turnovers to the point of overthinking it: No. Turnovers come from being in the right place and making plays when you're there. Once again it comes from execution.

On when things started to turn in the Ohio State game: I think I addressed that. It's lack of execution. That falls on me.

On the reason for making the statement regarding winning the final six games: It's week to week. I don't change our process. But I know this, if you win out, you control your own destiny. That's what I meant. It's nice to be in a position where you control your own destiny. And today we control our own destiny and can win out.

On his thoughts on Northwestern's Ventric Mark and Kain Colter: (They are) good players. They do a lot of good things. Kain Colter is kind of a multi-faceted guy. He's dangerous as a quarterback, good as a wide receiver. You've got to be prepared for whoever shows up at quarterback. You've got to be prepared to deal with Kain no matter where he lines up.

On if it's more difficult knowing they can line him up in so many areas: No. You've just got to be aware of where he is. The offense doesn't change a whole lot. They might feature a little bit different plays when he's in there. They can still run their whole gamut of their offense when he's in there.

On what to expect from a Pat Fitzgerald coached team: I think they are well-coached, they are sound and they play hard. I think Pat is a heck of a coach.

On how this week's plan compares to the one against Braxton Miller: They are different offenses. There are some similarities like any other spread-type offense. There are a lot of differences. It's not as much what you do, it's how you do it. If we execute, we'll do fine.

On how rare it is to see a team run a two-quarterback system as successfully as they do: You just don't see it a lot. I'm not exactly sure why they do it. They must obviously like both quarterbacks. It's a combination of liking what Kain Colter brings at the wide receiver position besides what he does at the quarterback position. I don't know all the reasons behind it. It doesn't change a lot what they do offensively and that allows them to do it. It's not like they have completely different packages. Other than changing out the quarterback and giving Kain Colter reps at those spots, it's probably not as hard for them as some people that have to run two completely different offenses for two different skill sets. That would be harder to do because it would be harder to practice that way.

On who stepped up on the team this last week: I'd say the same guys. Our team was pretty quiet last week and took a workman's like approach. They understand what's in front of them. They have a good understanding of what they need to do and it's hard, especially after a game like that to have a bye week. I think our guys are looking forward to Saturday to say the least.

On if he wanted a quiet team last week: I wanted an angry team and I think that's what I got right now. It's how you deal with it. You could have a varying amount of emotion. It's how you channel it going forward. That's what's in front of us.

On the difference between a team that plays well in these situations and a team that doesn't: I think a lot of it comes down to execution no matter what your emotions are, no matter what your motivations are. It comes back down to your preparation and executing. Sometimes in life you have to get hit in the mouth to pick up your resolve and get back to the realization that it's not just going to happen to me for whatever reason. You've got to earn it. You get what you earn in this world. It just doesn't happen on Saturday, it just doesn't happen for those 60 minutes. It's all the things that go up to allowing you to have all the success. It's why I have the philosophy of just staying focused on the process and the day-to-day of what's going to allow you to do that. I understand. I've been around this game long enough to know that you can get off kilter really quick and when you do, this is a humbling sport. You've got to have tremendous respect for the game that we play. It's the ultimate team sport and you have to be hitting on all cylinders, and you have to prepare accordingly for whatever situation you are going into knowing that if you aren't hitting on all cylinders, you can get humbled at any second.

On if he questions his own process after a result like that: No. I believe in my process and I've been coaching long enough that I know what I'm trying to do. I know that the process works. Obviously I question and I turn over every leaf. I turn over every rock to find out where we got off of that process and why what happened happened. There's a lot that goes into it. I'm not one who just looks at it and says it just happened by chance. You've got to continually look for solutions and ways to make it better so it doesn't happen again. Some things you can put a finger on, some things you can't put a finger on. At the end of the day, it's not magical. It comes back down to preparation and execution and continuing to educate your guys on how important that is. You continue to develop a better understanding of what you're doing and fundamentally doing what you're taught to do. That falls back on the coaching.

On if he's looked at what things he needs to fix now and what things he needs to fix in March: Oh yeah. As a head coach you think about all those things, especially during a bye week when you have a lot of time to think. I'm not going to get into all that right now, but you go through everything short term and long term.

On what the definition of the process is: Do everything in your power that day to be the best that you possibly can that day.

On how to get the team in shape so it doesn't get hit in the mouth: That's a good question. That's athletics. That's competition. That's sports. We're not alone, I promise you that. You watch across athletics. That is the greatest challenge you have as a football coach. It's how you get 140 guys every week going in the exact same direction, preparing a certain way, believing everything you say, having total respect for the game and your job and everything that goes into it to prepare yourself for that particular week.

On if the solutions include challenging the scout team at all: The scout team plays hard, I promise you that. Like any other team, they have their off days. Our scout team is doing a pretty good job.

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

Prediction on star of the game?

I'm 4-1 on the season, so I have been pretty solid in my projections. This week I'm going with senior linebacker Will Compton.

On Tuesday, Compton told reporters the time was now for the leaders of this team to step up - he's one of them.

It's no secret Northwestern runs the football, even more when Kain Colter is their quarterback. Compton will get plenty of opportunities on Saturday and I think he takes advantage of them.

- Harvey

Quote of the week:

“I feel weird being a grown man saying that another man is my best friend, but he is definitely one of my best friends from back home."

- Kenny Bell on friendship with Northwestern's Kain Colter