After an unexpected bye week following the cancellation of its game vs. Wisconsin, Nebraska travels to Northwestern for a Big Ten matchup Saturday afternoon.
Since the Cornhuskers joined the conference in 2011, seven of the nine games between West Division foes Nebraska and Northwestern have been decided by seven points or less.
“Every minute counts when you play them,” Nebraska senior cornerback DiCaprio Bootle said. “Every time I played them here, I’ve been a part of nothing but close games.”
Last season, Lane McCallum made a 24-yard field goal as time expired to give Nebraska a 13-10 victory. The previous two years, the Wildcats claimed overtime wins.
Northwestern (2-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is coming off a 21-20 comeback victory over host Iowa. After giving up 17 unanswered points in the first quarter, the Wildcats scored 21 over the next three quarters and gave up only three points.
While Northwestern was playing in a game described by Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald as “really physical,” Nebraska (0-1, 0-1) was practicing after its hopes for scheduling a replacement game were shot down.
Fitzgerald said he believes the extra rest is a huge advantage for the Cornhuskers.
“They had a week off to rest up; they obviously got a chance to watch us play,” Fitzgerald said. “We were in a four-quarter war.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost disagreed with that sentiment, saying his team is antsy to play.
“Maybe if this was Week 7 or 8, having a week off would be nice. We’ve only played one game,” Frost said. “I don’t know. Pat (Fitzgerald) is one of the smartest guys in the country, probably, but I don’t know if I agree with him on that one.”
The Cornhuskers opened the season against conference favorite Ohio State in Columbus on Oct. 24 and were blown out 52-17.
Nebraska used two quarterbacks in that game: Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey. Martinez was 12 of 15 for 105 yards while also rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown. McCaffrey was 4-for-5 passing for 55 yards and ran nine times for 80 yards.
Northwestern senior linebacker Paddy Fisher says going against both quarterbacks will be a challenge.
“They’re both tremendous athletes and passers, so it’s going to be difficult for us to come up with a game plan to stop both of those two and really limit them,” Fisher said. “They’re both going to come out in tempo. We’ve got to prepare for that, so that adds another wrinkle, too.”
But the Wildcats’ defense has stepped up in its first two games. The team has allowed an average of only 250 yards per game, third best in the country. And notwithstanding the first quarter against Iowa, in which two turnovers gave the Hawkeyes’ offense the ball in Northwestern territory, the defense has allowed only six points all season.
On top of that, the Wildcats have forced seven turnovers, which has led to 24 points.
“They do a good job of having 11 sets of eyes on the football at all times,” Frost said. “They are going to create turnovers, but they capitalize on a lot because of how disciplined they are and how good they are with their eyes, and their effort.”
–Field Level Media