Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska and Northwestern have created quite a bit of history. Outside of the Huskers’ 38-17 win in 2014, the games have been decided by no more than three points since 2011. It’s made for an interesting matchup over the last five years. What can the Huskers expect from the Wildcats on Saturday?
To get a better feel for what’s happening between Nebraska and Northwestern, we reached out to Inside NU‘s Zach Pereles. As the Editor-in-Chief of Inside NU, Pereles helps lead the charge of coverage and analysis surrounding the Wildcat program. He shared a bit on what Nebraska can do to beat Northwestern and why quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is such a threat for the Wildcat defense.
Q: How can Nebraska beat Northwestern?
ZP: Nebraska can beat Northwestern if it takes care of the ball and doesn’t allow any big plays, which are the two areas the Huskers struggled with last year in this matchup. Armstrong pick six was simply something he’ll have to avoid this time around. Additionally, Clayton Thorson’s legs beat the Huskers a couple times last year, and his arm helped Northwestern to victory last week. The Huskers will ned to be wary of the big-play threat he poses.
Q: How can Northwestern beat Nebraska?
ZP: The Wildcats have really struggled up front on both sides of the ball this year, so improving there will really boost the host’s chance of pulling the upset. Star running back Justin Jackson needs holes to run through, and Thorson needs time to hit on deep passes, like he did several times vs. Duke. Defensively, the Wildcats need to get pressure on Armstrong but also contain him to the pocket so he doesn’t tear up what is a very young Northwestern secondary.
Q: Pat Fitzgerald said he’s looking forward to Armstrong graduating. What’s his biggest concern about the quarterback versus the Northwestern defense?
ZP: I talked to middle linebacker Anthony Walker earlier this week, and he said the thing that Armstrong Jr. does so well is “everything.” I think Fitzgerald would second that answer. Armstrong will never be the most accurate guy, but his dual-threat ability is impressive. The biggest concern, I think, would have to be not getting enough pressure on Armstrong, allowing him ample time to scan the field deep or tuck the ball in and run.
Q: Northwestern’s defense has given up a lot of yards and not a lot of points. What up with that?
ZP: The red zone defense has been solid, but more importantly the “green zone” defense (between own 20 and 40) has been very, very good. Last week, the Wildcats came up with two big turnovers in this area of the field. It’s been interesting to see how when the field shrinks, the corners get a little closer and generally, it has come with good results. It’s a bend-don’t-break defense that bends more than it did last year but still doesn’t break and allow touchdowns too often.
Q: Source of Northwestern’s run-game struggles (currently last in B1G)?
ZP: It’s absolutely on the offensive line. We wrote a film review about it two weeks ago that will make any Nebraska fan grin in anticipation. The blocking for All-Big Ten running back Justin Jackson has been essentially non-existent. Also, the Wildcats lost key backup running back Warren Long to a broken hand and his replacements haven’t exactly been performing at the level he would have. Still, watch the clips in that film review and you’ll see 95% of the problem right there: up front.
Q: What is it about Ryan Field’s grass that wreaks such havoc on opposing teams?
ZP: I’ve never quite understood this notion, but I think the biggest thing is that perhaps the grass is on the longer side. This year, a lot of the fans have complained that the field just doesn’t look that great. I’d agree that after a relatively dry summer it’s not in the best condition right now, but it looked a lot better last week than the two weeks before.
Q: This is Northwestern students’ first week of school. Does having students on campus make a difference in terms of atmosphere at Ryan Field?
ZP: Fitzgerald and several players complimented the students for showing up to last week’s game—almost all the student population was back and moved in—and they added that they hope there’s a similar showing this week. It certainly makes a difference, but it’ll be hard to cancel out the Nebraska faithful that descend upon Evanston.