The Nebraska offense is one of the most inconsistent in the Big Ten, and its success ultimately depends on quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Martinez is a dual-threat quarterback who has always shown the ability to make plays with his feet, but he has struggled passing the ball at times, which makes the offense very one-dimensional.
The most consistent part of the offense is running back Rex Burkhead, whose powerful running style has led to his rushing for 882 yard and 12 touchdowns so far this season. Martinez has rushed for 659 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Northwestern rushing defense must improve, as it gave up big yardage to Indiana's quarterback-running back duo of Tre Roberson and Stephen Houston last week. Martinez and Burkhead are much better.
However, if the Wildcats can fluster Martinez and come away with a turnover or two—not hard to do against the Huskers—then they may be able to stack the box and slow down what would become a run-heavy offense.
However, it's hard to believe Northwestern can stop the strong Nebraska running game given how weak the rush defense has been all season.
When Northwestern Has the Ball
Coming into the season, Nebraska was supposed to have one of the best defenses in the country. However, that unit has underachieved, with particularly bad games against Wisconsin and Ohio State, which both have dual-threat quarterbacks.
The Huskers took a big blow a couple weeks ago as well, with the loss of star defensive tackle Jared Crick.
Northwestern's offense, however, hit its stride last week, scoring 59 points against Indiana and rolling up over 600 yards of total offense. Yes, it was Indiana, but scoring 59 points on anyone is an accomplishment.
For Northwestern to win this game, the offense will need to put together an even better performance than it put together last week, as the defense won't be able to hold the Husker offense.
Expect Northwestern to have a solid offensive game, especially after the momentum built from last week, and look for both Dan Persa and Kain Colter to put up big numbers from the quarterback position, whether that is on the ground or through the air.
Special teams have been an Achilles heel for Northwestern all season, and despite some solid kick returns against Indiana, the woes continued with a muffed punt from Venric Mark.
If Northwestern wants to win close games, it will have to improve on special teams, particularly in the kicking game, where Jeff Budzien is just five-for-eight on field goals this season.
Nebraska's special teams have been outstanding, as kicker Brett Maher is in line for national awards. He is 14-17 on field goals this season with a long of 50.
Fitzgerald is known as a great motivator, and Northwestern will surely be motivated to go to Lincoln to play the Huskers.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is known for being animated on the sidelines, but has cooled down his act this year. However, yelling or not, he's still considered a solid coach.
Both teams are coming off big wins from a momentum standpoint, as Nebraska's win against Michigan State put it in the driver's seat in the Legends Division race and Northwestern came away with its first win since September.
This will be a tough test for Northwestern in front of a raucous crowd in Lincoln.
While the Wildcats will undoubtedly be motivated, having to play in that environment will be tough.
By all accounts, Nebraska should win this game. Taylor Martinez is inconsistent, but the Northwestern defense is really, really bad. The Northwestern offense is good, but the Nebraska defense isn't exactly a pushover.
That's a tough three-game stretch that could be hard to overlook.
Expect Burkhead to have a huge game against the weak Northwestern rush defense, but I also expect Martinez to do the usual—throw an interception, lose confidence and become one-dimensional.
The Northwestern offense has a lot of momentum right now and I expect both quarterbacks to have big games.
Ultimately, this game could end up being a shootout, and despite Nebraska's No. 10 ranking, I have more confidence in the Wildcats' offense to keep up in a shootout and I have more confidence in Persa and Colter than I do in Martinez in the clutch.
Northwestern pulls off a shocker.
Score: Northwestern 42, Nebraska 41