My first post is about why Nebraska has a chance to lose this week versus Northwestern... Not exactly the best way to introduce myself. Well, before you all burn me at the stake, first know that the reasons why Nebraska will win is coming next, and second let me tell you all a little about me.
I'm a Broadcast-Journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln looking to pursue a career in sports broadcasting. The Huskers, Cubs, and my cat are probably the most important things in my life. (Yes, my cat) Now, lets get to the real why you are all here.
Nebraska is coming off of a much needed bye week, and will be taking on the Northwestern Wildcats and their "interesting" alternate uniforms. On paper the Huskers are head and shoulders above the Wildcats, but as we all know, that means almost nothing with recent Nebraska teams. If history is any indicator, Northwestern will have a chance to steal a victory versus Nebraska, and here is why.
History of the game
Northwestern has been a thorn in the side of Nebraska since it joined the Big Ten in 2011. Nebraska came into the game ranked number 9, and looking to send a message to the rest of the Big Ten conference. Then backup, Kain Colter led the Wildcats to a very surprising road victory 28-25. Fast-forward a year and it looked like Nebraska was going to fall to the Wildcats once more. Down 21-10 late in the third quarter, Taylor Martinez led the Huskers to 14 straight points. The Huskers took the lead with two minutes left in the game and managed to hold on to the victory, 29-28.
If I need to remind you all of what happened last year, then I assume it's because you drank yourself into oblivion after needing Ron Kellogg save the day. We all remember the Hail Mary (which may have saved Bo Pelini's job) that gave the Huskers a 27-24 victory.
Of the 180 minutes these teams have played each other the Huskers have outscored the Wildcats by a whopping one point. (81-80) Don't expect the Huskers to go into Ryan Field and walk out with an easy victory and if Northwestern is still around in the fourth quarter, they very well could pull off another upset.
The Rise Of Justin Jackson
With the departure of Venric Mark, Northwestern had been looking for a serviceable replacement. They have certainly found one in true freshman Justin Jackson. Jackson is the first Northwestern back to run for consecutive 100-yard games since 2012 and is the first true freshman back to break the 100 yard mark since Tyrell Sutton did so in 2007. Jackson is averaging 4.5 yards per carry in his first two Big Ten games, which includes a 33 carry, 162 yard performance against Wisconsin. Nebraska's rush defense has been decent, allowing 121.67 yards per game (33rd nationally), but a back like Justin Jackson has the ability to go off on this defense, and if he does so, it could be a long night for this Nebraska team.
Last season Northwestern's defense ranked first in the Big Ten and sixth Nationally in interceptions. That trend has carried over to this season as they are currently tied for first in the Big Ten with nine interceptions. The secondary is led by junior cornerback Nick VanHoose, who has two interceptions, and leads the Big Ten and is tied for fifth nationally with 11 passes defended. Redshirt Freshman Godwin Igwebuike picked off Wisconsin three times, becoming the first Wildcat to have three interceptions in a game since 1973. Last season Northwestern picked Nebraska off four times which helped them stay in the game, and almost upset the Huskers. Their secondary is just as good as last season, and Tommy Armstrong's decision making is the weakest part of his game. If Nebraska gets pass happy don't be surprised if Tommy gives the ball away a time or two, which could lead to an upset in Evanston.
Northwestern's Turnover Margin
We have talked about the Northwestern secondary and their ability to create turnovers. As good as the Wildcats are at getting the ball, they are equally as good at protecting the ball. The Wildcats have only fumbled the ball twice this season, and Siemian has thrown five interceptions. Northwestern is +6 in the turnover margin this season, and is 33-14 all time under Pat Fitzgerald when they win the turnover battle. We all know that Nebraska has struggled to keep the ball on offense in the past, and although it is not as apparent this season, Nebraska is still only even in the turnover battle this year. If the Northwestern secondary can't force any turnovers, their front-seven has the playmakers to do so. Linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo has been a playmaker since he first stepped on the field. In the first start of his career (2012) he recorded a fumble returned for a touchdown and an interception. It Northwestern is going to win this game it is going to start with creating turnovers.
The undoubted leader of the offense is the senior quarterback and team captain Trevor Siemian. Siemian ranks eighth all time at Northwestern with 24 passing touchdowns and ninth in total passing yards with 5,040. Siemian is looked at as a pocket passer, but can move around a little bit. Versus Penn State the he ran for a career high three touchdowns. He also has one reception for a touchdown this season. If Northwestern wants a legitimate chance to win this game, a lot of the weight will be on Siemian's shoulder. If Nebraska can get pressure on the experienced quarterback and make his day a living hell, then look for this game to get ugly... early.
Do I see an upset happening this weekend? No. But that does not mean it wont happen. Northwestern has not only the talent, but also the coaching to beat Nebraska. Don't expect NU to just lie down and get ran all over by Ameer Abdullah and co. it wont be that easy. If Northwestern wants to win this game, they will have to turn it into an ugly, grind it out style of game.