Northwestern is finally in the win column, and this week the Wildcats face a team that’s been there three times already: the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The two Big Ten West foes have been meeting each other regularly for the last half-decade (when the Big Ten split into Leaders and Legends), and the games have been highly entertaining. Of the five contests since 2011, four have been decided by three points or fewer.
Last year was one of those contests. Northwestern hung on in Lincoln, denying a two-point conversion attempt and then running out the clock to win 30-28 and clinch bowl eligibility.
Here are three key things to know about a very talented Husker squad:
1. Tommy Armstrong Jr. has been fantastic, and so has the offense
Armstrong still heads the attack for the Huskers, and this year he has been much better with his ball security. After throwing a combined 28 interceptions over the past two seasons, he has just one so far this season compared to seven touchdowns. He’s also second on the team in rushing yards (149). He still struggles with accuracy (completing just 54.5 percent so far) but his dual-threat ability will put a scare into any defense. Overall, this offense has been very good, ranking 14th in the nation in offensive S&P+.
2. The run defense is susceptible to big plays
A huge strength of the defense—stopping the run—is nowhere to be found thus far in 2016. After finishing 36th in S&P+ in run defense last year, the Huskers have struggled in that department in 2016, giving up 166.0 rush yards per game this year. Oregon ran for 336 yards on 7.1 yards per carry last week, and even before that, Wyoming was able to manage 131 rushing yards in Week 2. The Huskers lost DT Vincent Valentine, who declared for the draft early last year and was picked in the third round by the Patriots, and have yet to fill that hole.
3. The pass defense is solid and very aggressive
Led by safety Nate Gerry and cornerback Chris Jones, the Husker secondary has been impressive and aggressive in 2016 with six picks through three games (though five came in one game vs. Wyoming). It’s a veteran group too; starting safeties Gerry (senior) and Kieron Williams (junior) while starting cornerbacks Jones and Joshua Kalu are both juniors.