LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska reaches the halfway point of its regular season on Saturday against the Northwest.
Repentance? To say that the Cornhuskers would be there would be some understatement.
Nebraska’s loss to Illinois in the opener is looking all-time worse, yet the Huskers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) pushed the top-five Oklahoma team down the road two weeks ago. Then last week, minutes after ending a 10-year drought against ranked teams on the road, a special teams omission and an interception at Michigan State turned into an overtime loss.
“We are very close,” said coach Scott Frost. “We’ve been a bad team that won some games and a very good team that won some and lost some. Right now we’re a good team that lost a few games. We have to get over that hurdle.”
A night game at home against Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) would seem winnable. According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Wildcats lost their key contributors from the 2020 West Division champion team and the Huskers are the 10.5-point favourites.
But the Northwestern-Nebraska game has been hard-fought since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. The teams are divided into 10 meetings. Eight is decided by one digit, consisting of six to three points or less.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for the Cornhuskers, and I think it’s a two-way street,” said Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald. “And this game feels like it’s always down to the wire. We’ve had some great fights. I don’t think it will be any different.”
Husbands O-line problem
Frost announced earlier in the week that every job was to hold onto the offensive line. According to the NCAA, Adrian Martinez has been sacked 20 times and 18 times by Pro Football Focus’s count.
Tackles Turner Corcoran and Bryce Benhart have allowed a combined 50 quarterback pressure in five matches, according to the PFF.
“There are some guys I know who have the ability to play better than what we’re playing in certain positions, so the competition is open and we’re going to give people a real shot,” Frost said. “If we had a good game there, I think we would be in a completely different place this year. Special teams too.”
About those special teams
According to ESPN, the Huskers are ranked last in the Big Ten and 124th in the efficiency of special teams at the national level.
“It seems like every week a new problem arises,” Frost said. “You fix one and work on one and spend a lot of time on one and something happens you didn’t even anticipate.”
Northwestern is 3-2 at Lincoln, with its losses coming on a Ron Kellogg-to-Jordan Westerkamp Hail Mary in 2013 and a field goal in 2019 as time runs out. His three wins, one decided in overtime, totaled 12 points.
look at adrian
The Wildcats have a new defensive coordinator in Jim O’Neill, and his job is to devise ways to keep Martinez under control. Martinez is the Huskers’ leading rush ever, completing 67% of his passes and has a knack of making something out of nothing when plays break.
“Coach always talks about O’Neill, effort erases mistakes so we have to make sure we’re taking the proper angle, getting the ball and making sure our tackle is right.” It is,” said linebacker Bryce Gallagher.
Northwestern racked up 373 yards in a 35-6 win over Ohio last week, with Evan Hull going for a season-high 216.
It wouldn’t be as easy against Nebraska, which had Michigan state national race leader Kenneth Walker III for 61 yards on 19 carries. The Huskers held the Spartans for a total of 14 yards and did not take any first downs in the second and third quarters.
“He gave everyone in the Big Ten notice on the street last weekend because of the way he played in that second half,” Fitzgerald said. “I mean, it was as impressive a performance as anything I’ve seen.”