Nebraska and Northwestern square off this afternoon at Ryan Field in Evanston, IL., looking to move up in the Legends Division standings. NU started the season ranked in the Top-25, but after road losses to UCLA on Sept. 8, 36-30, and the latest, Ohio State on Oct. 6, 63-38, the Huskers are on the outside looking in.
Northwestern became the first Big Ten school to become bowl eligible after a 21-13 road win at Minnesota. The Wildcats were ranked 24th a couple of weeks ago, but lost on Oct. 6 at Penn State, 39-28, and quickly fell out of the rankings. While the Huskers faced a hostile crowd at the horseshoe in Columbus with over 100,000 fans on the Buckeyes homecoming, Ryan Field will be a little less intimidating, but none easier to pull off a win. They expect a sellout crowd of just over 47,000 fans, but N’Western is unbeaten at home, and have won six of their last seven in Evanston dating back to last season. The Cornhuskers lead the all-time series, 3-2. Northwestern won last year’s inaugural Legends Division matchup in Lincoln, 28-25. Nebraska hasn’t played in Evanston since the season opener of 1931.
Nebraska has the top offense in the Big Ten, scoring 30 or more points in all six games. Taylor Martinez has been better at throwing the ball, completing 66.4 % of his passes for 1,273 yards and 12 touchdowns, while rushing for another 338 yards and five scores. He only has four interceptions on the season, but three of those came at Ohio State.
Rex Burkhead, while not completely 100%, is good enough to go. Burkhead is the team’s leading rusher and has started four of the team’s six games. He missed most of the second half in the loss at Ohio State. Five Huskers have at least 200 rushing yards. Kenny Ball, (childhood friends with N’Western’s Cain Kolter) has 20 receptions for 463 yards and four TDs.
Running the ball has always been a strong suit for Nebraska, but it’s one of Northwestern’s strengths on defense. They are 22nd in the nation in run defense and last year held the Huskers to 113 yards on the ground in the Wildcats win in Lincoln.
Northwestern’s offense (31.1 ppg) has also been clicking in the first half of the season and much like Nebraska’s, it leans on the run with 228.4 of its 407.9 ypg coming on the ground. Venric Mark is an electrifying back who has 134 carries for 792 yards and eight touchdowns, and he is coming off a career-high 182 yards last week against Minnesota.
All week on our Big Red Reports, we’ve told you about quarterback/wide receiver Kain Colter. He’s thrown for 55-of-78, 432 yards, two TDs, INT, but most of his damage comes in the rushing game where he’s piled up 421 yards and eight scores. Perhaps, he’s a bigger threat when he lines up wide. Trevor Siemian is their other QB. He’s 80-of-127, 811 yards, but only has two touchdown passes.