The ‘Cats find themselves sitting atop the Big Ten West standings after two weeks following a nail-biter win against Iowa. They now come back to Evanston and open as three-and-a-half point favorites against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers return to the field after a blowout loss to Ohio State and a Week Two cancelation due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Badgers team. Here are three matchups to keep an eye on as the ‘Cats hope to keep the perfect season alive.
Northwestern linebackers vs. Adrian Martinez/Luke McCaffrey
In their lone game against the Buckeyes this season, the Cornhuskers rushed for 210 yards, a bright spot in an overall dismal display. The running duo of quarterbacks Martinez and McCaffrey kept fans intrigued through the first quarter about a potential upset. Both rushed for over 80 yards in that contest, and the 47 yard breakaway from McCaffrey early on showcased the Redshirt freshman’s speed.
Much of Nebraska’s offense operates on the ground, so in order to contain the two scrambling quarterbacks, the Northwestern linebacker trio of Chris Bergin, Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher must stay on their toes and prevent penetration into the second level. The ‘Cats have been one of the best run defenses in the nation, allowing 70.5 rushing yards a game. If anyone can stop Nebraska’s run options, it’s these three tackling machines.
Northwestern offensive tackles vs. JoJo Domann and Will Honas
True freshman Peter Skoronski has been a pleasant surprise for the ‘Cats thus far after coming in with tremendous shoes to fill left by Rashawn Slater. The offensive line as a whole has become a strong point for the offense and has allowed just three sacks early on.
Skoronski and fellow offensive tackle Gunnar Vogel could have their hands full with senior linebackers Domann and Honas on Saturday. Domann, a defensive back turned linebacker last year, recorded two-and-a-half sacks last season and is the lone senior outside linebacker for the Cornhuskers.
Honas recorded 72 total tackles in 2019 and steps in as the team’s top returning tackler. The inside linebacker put on a strong showing in his first career start Week One, finishing with seven total tackles and two sacks. It’s easy to sleep on the front seven for Nebraska, but if the ‘Cats aren’t careful, this linebacker duo can cause trouble for them all game long.
Greg Newsome II vs. Wan’Dale Robinson
If the ‘Cats front seven is able to remain stout against a run-first Nebraska side, the Cornhuskers will surely look to Robinson in the pass attack. The sophomore hauled in six catches against OSU Week One, by far the most of any receiver on the squad. As a true freshman, Robinson was second on the team in receptions (40) and receiving yards (453).
After missing the Maryland matchup with an injury, Newsome dressed for the first time this season against Iowa, but did not see the field out of precaution. However, he could likely make his 2020 debut against Nebraska. Without their best corner, the ‘Cats secondary has still been one of the best units in the nation with with six interceptions already and allowing just 179.5 passing yards per game. The junior will surely be on Robinson all-game Saturday, if he truly is healthy, and could cause Nebraska to have trouble getting anything started through the air.