Northwestern and Nebraska have played some wild games since Nebraska joined the Big Ten. The game is projected to be close by Vegas and fans alike. We talked to the folks at Corn Nation, Nebraska’s SB Nation blog, to get a grasp of what we’ll see this weekend. This time, you won’t just get one set of answers, but four!
1. After the first seven games, it seemed like Riley would be gone for sure. Now, after a one-point win over Purdue things aren't quite so certain. Is he going to lose his job? More precisely, is he going to lose his job if Northwestern wins this game?
Paul Dalen: That’s impossible to know for certain, but an AD doesn’t make hiring/firing decisions based on one game. And let’s face it, it was Purdue. Losing to Purdue can be cause for firing if it comes to that. Beating Purdue, OTOH, should mean absolutely nothing. It’s one of those things that should just happen; like Trump tweeting nonsense or breathing. As for losing to NwU…NU’s bowl chances take a steep dive if we lose on Saturday and that might be the unforgivable sin. It would likely mean a second 5-7 regular season. And I can’t see how any Nebraska coach survives that.
Jon Johnston: I’d put him at 85 percent gone. I honestly don’t think it comes down to wins and losses anymore—the fan base has turned against him and if he sticks around for next year there’s chances that people won’t renew season tickets and the sacred sellout streak could end. That would mean the end of the world. Yes, we are saving mankind by maintaining a sellout streak since 1962. The only way Mike Riley is still in Lincoln next year is if every other coach turns us down and we have no choice but to retain him.
Ranchbabe: I tend to think he’s a dead man walking. When Nebraska is the underdog to every division opponent sans Illinois (and the B1G West ain’t exactly murderer’s row) the seat gets hot. A loss to NW certainly adds ammunition for the firing squad, but short of a spectacular stretch run that includes a Penn State upset, I don’t see how he keeps his job (and have you seen our offensive line - it ain’t happening). Of course, I thought Pelini would be fired after 2013 and he got another year, so what do I know?
Husker Mike: The Wisconsin debacle was the final straw for many Husker fans, it seemed. The secondary market on Husker football tickets collapsed, with ticket prices against Ohio State plummeting all the way from triple digits to below $20. Even if Mike Riley pulls off an upset of Penn State in a couple of weeks, I don’t see any way he stays. The athletic department knows that fans have had enough of him.
Andy Ketterson: 99%. The only reasoning being done in favor of him staying?
- “He could win out!! 8-4 and a good bowl game and he stays!” Yes, he could win out. And to quote Wayne, “Shyeah! And monkeys could fly out of my butt!”
- “We can’t keep firing coaches! We just can’t!” Uh, when they’re this mediocre? Presently AND historically? Yes, we damn well can.
That’s pretty much it. Oh yeah & the money stuff Mike said.
2. How has the team adapted to losing Newby and Armstrong? Have they adapted at all?
Paul: If he lined up behind even an average FBS line, Lee would probably be performing at the level he was hyped at before the season. He is becoming an elite level quarterback. But our offensive line is (and it seems like I write this every year) a catastrophe. Armstrong was a four-year starter and that accounts for a lot but he was the YOLO king. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Our current stable of RBs is okay, but again, our OL sucks. I’m not sure Newby would have performed well behind it either.
Ranch: I don’t think the loss of Newby has been that big. We actually appear to have competent coaching at RB (don’t ask about the recruiting part of the job however). The injury bug has been a much tougher opponent for our running back room. The offensive line was supposed to be better this year, but….sigh.
Losing Armstrong was a bit of a mixed bag. He certainly led Husker fans through some emotional adventures, but damn it was fun to watch him truck linebackers on an option run. I think 2016 changed Riley’s view on his preferred quarterback mold and if he sticks around, we might see more mobility than is currently in the room. The preseason hype on Tanner Lee was ridiculous. He displayed much better throwing mechanics than Husker fans were used to early in the season, but it is no surprise he’s struggled given the amount of time that elapsed since his last live game action. He’s starting to look better and I think the receivers like catching passes that aren’t aimed at their feet most of the time.
Mike: Nebraska has really missed Tommy Armstrong this season, though many fans won’t admit it. Mike Riley still hasn’t found a way to replace his production yet; he freely admits that Armstrong saved his bacon way too much his first two seasons. Tanner Lee has rounded nicely into a OK quarterback in October. In September, Lee might have been the worst quarterback in college football though.
Andy: It sounds meaner than it should, but there wasn’t much special about Newby. Got some yards when Nebraska was pretending they had a run game against weak front end of last year’s schedule, but after that? Crickets.
They miss Armstrong mainly because he managed to make occasional hay by running for his life when the blocking broke down and firing an occasional YOLO ball or scrambling for 15. Tanner and company look like Shawn Bradley trying to run the floor with Allen Iverson.
3. Nebraska is 15th in passing S&P, and yet every time I see Nebraska fans on the Internet, they are complaining about Tanner Lee. Why the disconnect? Why is the offense so dynamic but also so horribly inefficient?
Paul: I suspect it was his likelihood to throw touchdowns to the wrong team early in the season. That seems to have largely corrected itself, and Lee engineered one of the best FBS QB performances all year last week at Purdue. Did I mention our OL?
Jon: The Tanner Lee hype train was full steam during the off-season, with claims that Lee was an “elite NFL talent”.
Lee started the season about as poorly as he could. He threw two pick sixes to Northern Illinois and cost us the game. Fans haven’t forgotten that and there is a certain segment of the fan base that thinks we need to run the ball 95% of the time or we’re not playing “Nebraska football”.
Ranch: The reality is that Husker fans are impossible and entitled and will never be happy. No coach or quarterback will ever satisfy the bloodlust that is the outsized expectations of Husker Nation. Seriously, look at the top name on most Husker fans’ wishlists for the next head coach. That is the same Scott Frost that Husker fans once booed for re-entering the game after his backup QB got a token, pre-determined series early in one game. Frost only lost two games his entire career as a Husker starter and he got booed in his own stadium, basically because he was not Tommie Frazier. Now people expect him to become the next Tom Osborne. You think they are rough on Tanner Lee on some message boards? Grab some popcorn folks.
Andy: Four pick-6’s in four games tend to make Wayne Brady want to choke a bitch. (If you think I’ve just advocated violence against women, please go back and watch Wayne Brady on Chappelle’s Show)
4. Does Nebraska have an offensive/defensive X-Factor that could play a large role in this game?
Paul: NU’s receiving corps is still its best unit. JD Spielman has demonstrated the poise and speed to become an All-American receiver and returner. Stanley Morgan, while still subject to annoying drops, is a clutch deep threat. But, at risk of sounding like a broken record, the OL....
Ranch: I was going to say “no”, but Spielman has been been a real gem. Jaylin Bradley (RB) has shown some wheels in evading backfield defenders, but whiffed on a big pass pro situation last weekend, so I expect we will never see him again as long as Mike Riley coaches at Nebraska.
Defensive X-factors? Most of them are injured right now. The defensive line has been better than expected. It would be nice to see Chris Jones (CB) return to his game-wrecking self. He was injured in fall camp (knee, meniscus), came back in record time, but is clearly not himself yet. He has displayed NFL talent in his career and I hate to see a serious injury and scheme change (one he hasn’t been able to practice in much yet) derail someone with his ability.
Andy: We have shown in the last two games that we can totally shred a team that’s up 42 or goes Prevent with a minute fifty left.
5. Will there be more than 150 Northwestern fans at this game? Media members not included.
Paul: There are a lot more than 150 NwU alums in the Omaha area, so yeah. The visitor section will be full.
Jill: Given the exciting nature of most of the recent ‘Battle for NU’ matchups and the relatively easy Chicago-Omaha flight, I think that would draw plenty of Wildcat fans. Also, most people clad in purple will probably make up the cost of their flight in the free beer they are given by Husker fans.
Andy: If you’ve got a chance to ditch Chicago for beautiful Lincoln, NE, you take that flight, Mister. I can promise you this - there is actually a downtown Lincoln with restaurants, bars, shopping, etc. Some people actually believe that the stadium is right by that decrepit barn and rusty windmill in the wheat field somewhere miles outside of the city that networks are determined to show during the opening music.
6. How do you think the game will go?
Paul: It will (as always) come down to the final minute. Huskers win, 30-28.
Jon: Northwestern will race out to a two score lead and ahead 24-14 at half. Lee will pass us back to victory 31-24 and a segment of the fan base will be happy because we throw the ball 40 times.
Jill: /searches for past NW game predictions and uses copy/paste.
Purple team gets a lead early and holds it for three quarters Furious rally by red team brings hope to the majority of fans in the stands. Defensive collapse or offensive mistake allows easy purple score and all looks lost. Red team suddenly looks non-inept and brings ball to the brink of the needed line to gain.
I can’t pick against the Huskers. Nebraska 31 Northwestern 28. Justin Jackson sets a record of some kind despite not being a Badger running back.
Mike: The road teams usually win this game; I see no reason to think otherwise. Northwestern has played better than Nebraska in recent weeks, and has beaten teams with a pulse. NW 31, NU 24
Andy: (Insert Westerkamp joke here)
Duke. Illinois St. Northern Illinois (remember them?). Northwestern always manages to lose one early that makes everyone think they’re about to sink to Rutgers/Illinois level then they show up and give the Huskers fits. Now, their only conference losses are to Penn St and Wiscy & they’ve quietly strapped together a 3-game win streak.
Also telling is that the Huskers came out as the early favorites and the money quickly flipped the spread in Northwestern’s favor. Northwest of Somewhere 37 NU 29