Northwestern came into Lincoln last year and stunned the Huskers. Led by dual threat quarterback Kain Colter the Wildcats won 25-28. Nebraska won just two of their next four games ending the season on a very down note.
Nebraska will need to be tougher against Northwestern and there is a lot on the line for the Huskers. Here are my keys to the game:
1. Get back to the basics, run the ball - Nebraska has a sizeable advantage, in my opinion, with their run game. Nebraska should be able to lean on the front four of Northwestern's defensive line on Saturday and have success running the football. Taylor Martinez has been a big part of the rushing success of Nebraska. It has seemed over the past year or so that there has been an emphasis on Martinez not putting himself in a position to get hurt. Lately he's run harder and further, not looking to slide after just 10 yards. There could be a lot of success for Nebraska against Northwestern and the rest of the season in the read option.
2. Get back to the basics, tackle - It may just be me, but I might look for a very short leash on a lot of players in this game following the debacle in Columbus two weeks ago. The only way to try and get better beyond practice and film study is to open up all of the positions and tell everyone that their starting spots are on the line. There is a fear aspect that could work for or against Nebraska here, but if you are playing scared you aren't playing confidently. It's time to look for other players at the position that aren't thinking as much and are just reacting more. Reacting is fast. Thinking is slow. It's time to get back to being fast.
3. Get back to the basics, balanced offense heavy with play-action - Nebraska's offense has looked best this year when they have been successful running the football and heavy with the play-action pass with it. Nebraska has exceptional talent and speed at the skill positions that as a result to a strong dose of the run game and the defense needing to stay tighter to the line of scrimmage to defend the run it should open up things down field particularly through the use of play-action. It will need to be a big part of the game plan to make sure that the Huskers come away with their first road win this season.
This game is scary on a lot of different levels. Northwestern has a truly scary and effective dual threat quarterback. They have a running back that averages nearly six yards per carry running the football. They also have a very good tight end and Nebraska has struggled in their defense of tight ends this season.
What Nebraska has to do to win is what they have failed to do in both of their losses: don't turn over the football. Nebraska had four turnovers against Ohio State and had another two turnovers against UCLA. And it's pick sixes. It's turnovers on their own end of the field. Those have hurt the worst.
Nebraska needs to play some error free football. Through the offensive play-calling Nebraska must limit the types of plays that can lead to turnovers. Simply put, when Nebraska has been put in situations to play drop-back passing football the effectiveness of Nebraska's offense goes away.
I don't expect to see a lot of drop-back passing football against Northwestern. I believe that Nebraska will stick to what they do and that is run the football a lot. The Nebraska offensive line has probably not played as poorly all season as they did against Ohio State. It's time to make amends against Northwestern. Huskers win, 38-28.