KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 ET
SITE: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
TV: Big 10 Network
SERIES: Nebraska leads 3-1 (last meeting, 2000, Nebraska 66-17)
RECORDS: Northwestern 3-5, 1-4 Big 10; Nebraska 7-1, 3-1 Big 10
POLLS: Nebraska (No. 9 AP, No. 9 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Nebraska 38-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For Northwestern: Come out fast and not get rattled by the big crowd. The Wildcats have played in big venues, but the Big Red crowd is unique and can be intimidating. The Wildcats have to jump on the hosts and score early, while forcing a key turnover is crucial.
-- For Nebraska: Build on the defensive performance from the Michigan State win. Scoring points on Northwestern shouldn't be a problem. If the defense can lock in and communicate as it has since the second half of the Ohio State game, a fourth straight victory is in the making.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
The Northwestern offense might deal with bouts of inconsistency, but the Wildcats continue to put up impressive numbers. Northwestern averages 288.8 passing yards in conference play, more than 50 yards per game better than second-place Michigan. The Wildcats are averaging 456.8 yards in conference action and coming off a 59-point effort at Indiana -- the most since scoring 61 against Illinois in 2000. TE Drake Dunsmore caught four touchdown passes and freshman TB Jacob Schmidt rushed for a career-high 110 yards and added two scores against Indiana.
Senior S Brian Peters raised his career total to 10 interceptions after picking off a pass last week in Northwestern's win over Indiana. His last six interceptions have come in Big Ten action, and Peters has picked off two passes in bowl games. The Wildcats have picked off eight passes this season, with Peters leading the team with three interceptions and S Ibraheim Campbell snaring two picks.
Nebraska ran for 190 yards against the nation's No. 8 rushing defense in Michigan State, and every single yard came with a bruise, it seemed. The Huskers averaged 3.3 yards per carry on 58 rushing attempts. The fact Nebraska didn't do much through the air -- QB Taylor Martinez was 7-of-13 passing for 80 yards -- didn't come as a surprise. He is throwing for only 157 yards a game.
Exactly how good was Nebraska's pass defense against Michigan State? The Huskers held Spartan WR B.J. Cunningham -- the all-time leader in receptions in Michigan State history -- to no receptions. It ended Cunningham's streak of 41 straight games with at least one reception. Nebraska's defensive line is excelling (four sacks against Michigan State) despite the season-ending injury to senior DT Jared Crick and a knee injury to DT Thad Randle that sidelined him against Michigan State. The secondary, burned so often early in the season, is also coming together with a healthy CB Alfonzo Dennard and the resurgence of sophomore CB Andrew Green.
Wildcats: Northwestern won't be beating Nebraska or making any bowl plans if the Wildcats don't improve on defense. The Wildcats are allowing 31.5 points and 431.6 yards per game, but managed to pick off eight passes and allowing opponents to convert 50 percent of their third-down attempts. ... Maybe the start of November will help cure Northwestern's problems. Since 2008, the Wildcats have posted a 7-4 mark in the final month of the regular season, including a 4-2 mark on the road. ... In last week's game at Indiana, Northwestern scored on nine of its first 10 possessions, with the lone exception on a kneel-down to end the first half. ... This will be the final home game for the Wildcats, who wrap up 2011 with home games against Rice, Minnesota, and Michigan State. ... The Wildcats are looking for their first win over a ranked opponent in nearly a year. They beat then-No. 13 Iowa on Nov. 13, 2010.
Cornhuskers: Nebraska has won 10 straight divisional games in conference play, dating to its days in the Big 12. The Huskers haven't lost to a divisional foe since a stunning 9-7 loss to heavy underdog Iowa State in 2009. They have won their first two games against Legends Division foes Minnesota and Michigan State in their first season in the Big Ten. ... The Cornhuskers have split two games with opponents from the Leaders Division, losing to Wisconsin and beating Ohio State ... Northwestern and Nebraska have played only twice since World War II with the Cornhuskers winning both meetings -- 66-17 in the 2000 Alamo Bowl and 49-7 in 1974. ... Where did the Blackshirts on defense come from? The tradition began in 1964, when legendary coach Bob Devaney sent a member of his coaching staff to a local sporting goods store to find some pullover contrast jerseys to distinguish the starting defense from the starting offense. The coach, Mike Corgan, returned with the cheapest, most-available color: black. Soon after, members of the starting defense wore the black jerseys, and it quickly became an honored tradition. ...
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB/WR Kain Colter -- He is becoming a bigger part of the offense with each passing week. Colter's a big-play threat that can turn a game around. Colter is coming off a big two-touchdown passing and 115-yard receiving effort against Indiana. The sophomore made his first collegiate start at quarterback in the opener against Boston College.
TE Drake Dunsmore -- Has showed his worth to the offense with a four-touchdown game at Indiana. Dunsmore is a quality tight end with the ability to run after the catch.
TB Jacob Schmidt -- Schmidt gave the offense a different look with his running last week at Indiana. Schmidt, who had 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Hoosiers, is a young player with a good upside.
CB Alfonzo Dennard -- The preseason All-American is now excelling at the level many expected before his slightly torn quad muscle sidelined him to start the season. Northwestern won't likely have success throwing Dennard's way.
LB Will Compton -- The junior is coming off his best out of the season (seven tackles, one for loss), and perhaps the best game of his career. He'll be key in slowing a Northwestern run offense that's averaging 188 yards per game.
QB Taylor Martinez -- He will have opportunities against a Northwestern defense that ranks 101st nationally in pass efficiency and is allowing 238 passing yards per game. And rest assured, Martinez could use a pick-me-up performance throwing the football after completing only seven passes (on 13 attempts) against Michigan State.
DT Thad Randle (knee, questionable).