clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Opponent Breakdown: Week 8, Nebraska

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

Players to watch

Offense: Rex Burkhead

It's tough to pick just one of Nebraska's running backs in this category, as both Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah have been impressive this season, but Burkhead is more experienced and is the type of back that Northwestern struggles with — a physical rusher. Last year, NU held Burkhead in check, and this year's Wildcats rush defense isn't half bad. However, Burkhead has come on strong since returning from injury — he's averaging 9.1 yards per carry on 43 attempts this year — and has the potential to keep the NU defense on the field for a long time. Burkhead and Abdullah will split carries, and both could be effective, but Burkhead is similar to other running backs who have hurt NU in the past.

Defense: Will Compton 

The Nebraska defense has struggled this season, but the unit still has talent, particularly in linebacker Will Compton, an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick from last year who is making a name for himself as one of the better linebackers in the Big Ten in 2012. Compton has been all over the field for the Huskers, particularly in opposing backfields. Not only does he lead the team with 53 tackles, but he has 6 tackles-for-loss, 3 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 3 quarterback hurries and a recovered fumble. He's one of the better linebackers NU will face this year and needs to be a playmaker for an inconsistent Nebraska defense.

Biggest Strength: Rush Offense

Not only does Nebraska have a mobile quarterback in Martinez, but it also has a two-headed monster at running back, now that Abdullah has joined Burkhead in receiving significant carries. Martinez has 338 yards on the ground and 5 touchdowns, while Abdullah has 514 yards on 86 carries (6.0-yard average) and Burkhead has 392 yards on 43 carries (9.1-yard average). While Burkhead is considered more of a physical runner and Abdullah is considered an outside rusher, both are capable of moving a pile or breaking away from opposing defenses. Throw in Martinez's versatile rushing ability, and this rush offense is one of the best in the Big Ten.

Biggest Weakness: Rush Defense

The Huskers' defense is really a mixed bag. They're No. 7 in the Big Ten in total defense, but No. 10 in scoring defense. They're No. 3 in pass defense, but No. 10 in rush defense. They've only forced 9 turnovers — the third fewest in the conference. Of course, no aspect of the defense is great, but the the rush defense is the worst part of the unit, which has struggled to stop mobile quarterbacks. That could be a problem for Nebraska once again, especially considering how well Kain Colter and Venric Mark are running the ball right now using the zone read attack. Considering how good both running games are, this could be a "shootout" not the ground, but the Nebraska rush defense must step up, as the NU defense has shown its ability to stop the run. If the Huskers' rush defense continues to struggle, NU will be able to keep the Nebraska defense on the field.

Under the radar: Daimion Stafford

For all the talk about how back the Nebraska defense has been this year, the pass defense has actually been impressive, ranking No. 3 in the conference. A big reason for that is safety Daimion Stafford, the Huskers' second-leading tackler, with 39 tackles on the year. A senior, he has helped provide consistency for an otherwise up-and-down defense, and he'll be needed on Saturday to help make the Northwestern offense one-dimensional. NU has struggled to throw the ball, and if the secondary can continue its good coverage, the Wildcats will become one-dimensional, ultimately making things easier on the Huskers' weak rush defense.