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Corn Nation’s Got Questions: Northwestern Part “Q”

Q is for question. Every week we ask questions about the upcoming opponent. A few days after the game, we check back to see if we got answers. This week, the Northwestern Wildcats have our attention. That, and alternate uniforms.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Life is better here in Huskerland after watching our offense show its hydra-headed attack against a pretty decent Minnesota defense. The Husker defensive backs picked off a couple of passes to seal the game - which had to be a big confidence booster to a group that needs all the confidence it can get. DPE is only getting healthier and more game-ready (Muhahahaha!) and we are watching Alonzo Moore turn into a consistent receiver right before our very eyes. We seem to have developed more than depth than expected at LB and DE and are getting closer to Freedom!! every day. Is this season close to what we expected? No, but we can only move forward, not back, and Husker football is in a better place than it was two weeks ago.

Two side notes: Senior tight end David Sutton is expected to be available to play in his first game since that cheap shot he took in the BYU game. Welcome back David! Also - we break out the "Husker Bold" alternate uni's this weekend!

Without further ado, here are my big questions for this weekend.

Will this be the week the pass defense crawls out of the basement?

It is now or never for the beleaguered pass defense. The Northwestern pass offense is ranked 119th in the country and is averaging 141 yards, 27 attempts, and 14 completions per game. The Wildcats have relied on their talented running back, Justin Jackson, for most of the offense. Most of us expect the Wildcat's freshman QB, Clayton Thorson to have a career day. For reference, he racked up 256 passing yards and three touchdowns against Ball State (the #116 pass defense). Ball State also has a pretty crappy rush defense, FWIW.

The NW rush offense is ranked #44 in the country and averaging 190 yards per game (5 less than the Huskers) and 48 rushes. Where the Huskers are averaging a healthy 5.35 yards per carry, the Wildcats are averaging 3.97 (lower than all but one of the top 50 rush offenses). [I think] this tells me that the NW O-line is not very good. If the Husker D-line can contain Jackson and still manage to get a little pressure on Thorson, the Huskers win this going away. Of course, we all know the ‘pressure' part is a big if. (Good news!! As soon as I typed this, Riley's press conference update indicated that we will have Freedom and Rose-Ivey back!!)

Will the rush offense reach the magic 200 yard mark again?

Nebraska has rushed for 200+ yards in each of their three wins this year and been under 200 yards in each of the losses. Against, Wisconsin, they came in at 196 -- ARGHHHH! We were thaaaaaaaaat close). Under Pelini, 200 yards/game on the ground was also important. The Huskers were 5-0 in 2013 when rushing for over 200 and 6-0 in 2014 at the same mark. This number is pretty much a rule of thumb throughout college football (not just here at Nebraska) but it does emphasize how important it is to be able to establish the run.

The NW rush defense is ranked #54 in the country and allowing 155 yards per game and 4.2 per carry). There should be room to run, especially with one of the starting DT's for NW just having been ruled out due to injury. Nebraska certainly has enough backs to throw at the Wildcats, although recent history says carries will be hard to come by for anyone not named Newby, Armstrong, or Janovich. If the big guys up front for Nebraska can do their jobs against a good Wildcat d-line, the NW linebackers can be gouged for big yardage.

Another reason the Huskers may have to run?  Northwestern has a pretty stout pass defense (#7 in FBS allowing only 146 yards per game). They are also holding teams to a really stingy 4.9 yards per attempt (and an even stingier 8.9 per completion). Both numbers are among the lowest in the top 50 pass defenses (for reference Nebraska is giving up 7.7 per attempt and 13.4 per completion).The Husker wideouts are the most talented unit on the team, and it is no stretch to think that the Wildcat pass defense has not had to cover this many good receivers at once. But the Husker receivers are probably going to have to make tough, contested catches to get their stats.

Bonus question - Are you ready for a DPE jet sweep?!?

The Nebraska - Northwestern series has a history of close, crazy finishes. Will the Huskers' season return to a roller coaster ride this game?

The Huskers' first game against NW as a member of the Big Ten was a disappointing 28-25 loss with the Husker comeback coming up short. In 2012, the comeback worked as Nebraska pulled out the 29-28 victory in their home-away-from-home stadium in Evanston. Of course, I probably need to remind no one of the insane 2013 finish for the 27-24 victory. So far, 2014 was the most ‘boring' game of the series in which the Huskers dominated the second half on their way to a 38-17 win. These are not your 2014 Wildcats (or Huskers for that matter).

Predictions - Tell me your predictions in the comments!

Thorson's career best is 256 yards passing - How far over that will he go on Saturday?

Tommy has only been sacked once in the past two games but NW is averaging 2 sacks per game. Times TA2 sacked Saturday (over/under): 2

DPE's longest punt return (over/under) - (the Wildcats are holding opponents to -1.6 yards per return average; yes that was a negative number):  20

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being "Get off my lawn so I can bury those abominations now!" and 10 being "These are awesome and the 'croots love it!', where do you fall on the alternate uniform spectrum?


What are your questions? Did I miss something? Let me know below!