Following a nail-bitting win in Iowa City last weekend, Northwestern advanced to 2-0 on the season and prepares to take on another tough divisional opponent in the Nebraska Cornhuskers this weekend. After a tough first weekend against Ohio State, Nebraska had a week off due to the cancelation of its matchup with Wisconsin — giving the Cornhuskers plenty of time to prepare for the Wildcats.
To learn more about what Northwestern can expect this Saturday, we chatted with Andy Ketterson of Corn Nation, who broke down Nebraska’s dynamic offense and struggling defense.
INU: How does having a week off due to the Wisconsin game cancelation impact Nebraska heading into the matchup against Northwestern?
CN: Normally, in the middle of a season, any weekend off is a chance to let everyone heal up and recharge for the finishing stretch, but “normal” and “the 2020 season” aren’t going to collide in the same sentence too often. The Huskers have practiced until they’re getting downright sick of it, so with no notable injuries, I think they would have much preferred the live game reps. Hopefully, it’s not a factor.
INU: Can you explain why Nebraska’s athletic department and fans were so set on playing, and what might other fans not understand about their reasoning?
CN: Basically, as stated above, they just want to play some games. With absolutely nothing to back it up, I believe based on the way they finished last season along with an off-season training program with full participation and being COVID-free, the staff thinks they might be sitting on something that will surprise some people this year.
After being shut down for a week despite doing nothing wrong on their end, they didn’t see the harm in trying to fill that week even if it did bruise some B1G office egos by not checking with them first. With Wisconsin now missing a second straight game, the bigwigs might be marching the conference into a scenario where post-season chances might be harmed by not allowing anyone to add games to make required minimums.
INU: After the Ohio State loss, what good did you see out of Nebraska and what concerns do you have moving forward?
CN: The offense showed some nice flashes at times and their yards-per-play was actually second to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten’s first weekend. Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey seem very comfortable with both seeing the field, and the offensive line took another step forward against another talent-loaded Buckeye defense.
The other side of the ball though...yeesh. While getting some nice penetration at times to rush Justin Fields and sack him a few times was nice, it’s going to be a long year if our corners keep playing 10+ yards off the line and allow everyone to complete 90% of their passes. Having two starting safeties out for the first half due to targeting doesn’t help either. Glad you didn’t ask me about that. It’s not nice to cuss as a guest.
INU: What are your impressions of Northwestern after starting their season 2-0, and what aspect of the Wildcats’ play is most threatening to Nebraska?
CN: While I never know what to make of wins/losses against Jekyll & Hyde Maryland, the Iowa win appears for now to be a nice one and set up a contrast of styles. Will Nebraska’s offense, which gained 370 yards on the Buckeyes, be able to improve on that against a defense that kept Iowa under 300? Will Northwestern’s offense, held to 273 by the Hawkeyes, exploit a Husker defense which was gashed as described above?
The Wildcat run defense thus far is what caught my eye — the Huskers ran for 210 yards on OSU and gave up 215 to Ohio State. If that continues, it will be a long day for the Red.
INU: What is a matchup that Nebraska needs to win in order to beat Northwestern?
CN: I’ll continue on the previous point and say our O-Line vs. your D-Line. Starting mid-season last year, two years of S&C under Zach Duval and O-Line coaching under former Husker lineman Greg Austin began to produce dividends on the field. I didn’t see anything in the first game to convince me they’re not still on the right path. Northwestern’s run defense will be one hell of a test.
INU: What is your game prediction?
CN: I think many years, despite tight game after tight game with you guys, many Husker fans still enter this matchup without enough well-deserved respect for your program. I think the Iowa win may have snapped some people out of that.
I do believe, however, our ground game will go both due to the improved line play and three running weapons in Martinez, who appears back at full speed, McCaffrey from whom I expect to see a couple more wrinkles and Dedrick Mills. When those three find room, it opens up the passing game and the play-calling.
On the other side, I expect Northwestern to find plenty of holes themselves. Ramsey’s been completing passes at a 70% clip and based on a week of our secondary, he should be able to keep that up. Huskers win, but it’s a nail-biter per usual 38-36. (We have a kicker this year!)