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Why Northwestern Will/Won’t Beat Nebraska

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It’s the battle for the right to be called NU.

Nebraska v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Why Northwestern will beat Nebraska

Nebraska’s run defense is subpar

The unit is coming off a strong showing against Michigan State last week, where it contained Kenneth Walker III to 61 yards on 19 attempts, but prior to that, the blackshirts had been scorched by Oklahoma for 194 yards and Illinois for 167 yards on the ground in the opening week. Oklahoma is consistently a perennial powerhouse, but Illinois is just the opposite. The Fighting Illini, since dropping 30 points on the Huskers, have gone winless and had notable losses against UTSA and most recently Purdue, where they earned just 275 total yards.

All this to say, Nebraska’s defense looks vulnerable to the run game. Lucky for the ‘Cats, running back Evan Hull has been one of the lone bright points for the offense, and he’s coming into Lincoln fresh off of a 216-yard rushing performance against Ohio. Running back is also one of the deepest positions on the team with Andrew Clair and Anthony Tyus III waiting in the wings, and if Northwestern can get any of those three going, it could lead to points on the board and a win.

Northwestern’s record against Scott Frost

Frost has not had tremendous success as the head coach of Big Red, and that is reflected in his all-time record against Northwestern. The ‘Cats are 3-1 in the four career matchups between Fitz and Frost. Last season, the Wildcat defense was able to come up with timely stop after timely stop, with two interceptions and a turnover on downs in its own territory.

If time proves itself right once again, Northwestern has a good chance of edging out UNL.

Nebraska gonna Nebraska

Remember, they lost to Illinois.

Why Northwestern will not beat Nebraska

Northwestern has looked unimpressive against Power Five teams

Sure, Northwestern played well against Ohio. That was a lower-tier MAC team, though, and when the ‘Cats have played teams in Power Five conferences, it has not gone well. It may appear that the previous week’s loss against Duke was anyone’s game, but Northwestern was curb stomped in the first half, falling behind 27-0 before halftime. The second half comeback was fun, but the ‘Cats showed their true colors in falling behind that far in the first place.

Of course, there was also the opening night 17-point blowout loss against Michigan State that left Evanston in a panic. If Northwestern was not able to show up against Sparty or Duke, a side that was projected to be amongst the bottom of the ACC, then it may be tough to pull off a road win against the Huskers.

Nebraska is playing well against top teams

The Cornhuskers don’t have a Power Five win yet, but, in the past two weeks, they have put up a strong fight against ranked teams. Nebraska fell 23-16 to Oklahoma — who, at the time, were ranked third in the nation and were CFP contenders — despite coming into the game as 22.5-point underdogs.

The next week, the Huskers went into East Lansing to play undefeated Michigan State and once again, it was a dog fight until the end. Nebraska fell 23-20 in overtime, but gave the Spartans their biggest scare of the season and, as previously mentioned, was able to hold down one on the top running backs in the nation in Walker.

Based on their performances of late, Nebraska is coming into this game with as much momentum as two straight losses can give you. It’s clear they are playing hungry, and that could pose a serious problem for the ‘Cats.

Northwestern has the worst rush defense in the Big Ten

It’s been an adjustment period for Jim O’Neil’s unit, to say the least. The defense has not been half as dominant as the 2020 side was, a statement backed up by the numbers. The Wildcats are surrendering 237 rushing yards per game against FBS opponents and were, most notably, scorched for 326 yards on the ground by Michigan State.

Nebraska does not rank as a strong rushing team, but their top rusher, QB Adrian Martinez, will test the Wildcats with his athleticism and dual-threat ability.