When: Sat., Oct. 24; noon ET
Where: Lincoln, NE; Memorial Stadium
All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 6-2
Last Meeting: Nebraska Win; 38-17 (2014)
Line: Nebraska -7.5
Until last year’s meeting, these two teams had played the most entertaining series of games for Nebraska since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten. Northwestern has only won the first of these meetings in 2011, but the Wildcats always keep it close and make things uncomfortable for whatever Nebraska wants to do on offense. Let’s count to five and see who wins the battle of the NU’s?
1 Burning Question: Can Northwestern’s defense turn things around like Nebraska did last weekend?
Two weeks ago, Northwestern had a defense rivaled only by Michigan in the national rankings for scoring and yardage surrendered. Then that Michigan team blew up for 38 points against the Wildcats, and a banged-up Iowa offense followed that with 40 points of their own against NU this past weekend. With the identity of this team now in crisis, it may not be the best week to take on a dynamic attack led by Tommy Armstrong.
However, that is the task at hand for Northwestern, and even worse, the game is in Lincoln. Northwestern needs a bounce back to avoid having the season start to swirl about the drain like it did two years ago following a high-profile loss to Ohio State. But can this team do it like Nebraska did last week? The competition is better than that Minnesota team Nebraska recovered against (and the Wildcats blew the Gophers out three weeks ago also), but I have a sneaking suspicion Northwestern will play better.
One factor that may help immensely is that the Northwestern offense shouldn’t be leaving the field so quickly against this porous Nebraska defense. Nebraska is giving up only 91 yards rushing per game, but 342 yards per game passing! That means Clayton Thorson should find his senior receivers much easier to find in gaps and openings this week than he has against stronger defenses in Iowa and Michigan. That takes the pressure off the defense to be perfect, and it should help that unit thrive once again.
That is, if the unit can stop Tommy Armstrong, which is easier said than done.
2 Key Stats
— Northwestern has 37.7 penalty yards per game, Nebraska has 74.6 penalty yards per game. Although it is stereotypical and presumptuous to say, the smart kids at Northwestern play with the discipline you would expect at such a program, while Nebraska is racking up about double the penalties and penalty yardage so far this season. In a game that looks to be close, every little advantage like this could make the difference. So if Nebraska does not clean up the unforced errors, Northwestern could pull the upset.
— Worst B1G Pass Offense (Northwestern, 141 yards per game) vs. Worst B1G Pass Defense (Nebraska, 342 yards per game). The Nebraska statistic was provided above to explain why Northwestern could bounce back on defense, e.g., thanks to help from the offense. But this passing offense with freshman QB Clayton Thorson has a long way to go in the learning department. One of these trends has to break on Saturday, but which one will it be?
3 Key Players
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska QB — Armstrong accounts for more total offense per game than every other player except Nate Sudfeld, who has missed a game. His 1761 passing yards leads the conference, while his 244 yards net rushing is also the best mark for a quarterback in the Big Ten. This is a dynamic threat that Northwestern will need to contain, likely using a spy or some similar technique to react directly to Armstrong. That makes him a focal point of the more interesting battle between Nebraska’s solid offense and Northwestern’s maybe strong defense.
Solomon Vault, Northwestern KR — Last season Vault nearly led the league with 26.2 yards per kick return and one touchdown. That earned him the same job this year and his numbers have been similar, with 26.5 yards per return as well as another touchdown. In the series of close games these two teams have played, there’s usually been a couple crazy momentum-grabbing plays, typically by Northwestern whenever Nebraska appears poised to pull away. Vault would love to continue that trend to try and swing the game into the underdog’s favor, preferably with the second touchdown return of the season.
Justin Jackson, Northwestern RB — As impressive as Nebraska has been against the run statistically this year, it’s unclear that the Cornhuskers have played any teams with a running back as good as Jackson. He’s contributed 691 yards in 160 carries, and I expect Northwestern to give him a heavy workload at least until Nebraska cheats up enough to get potentially burned on the long pass. Either Jackson will prove his merit as one of the conference’s best running backs, or Nebraska will legitimize the defensive rushing statistics by the end of this game.
4 Bold Prognostications
Justin Jackson scores TWO touchdowns: This would be notable only because Jackson has completely struggled to find the end zone this season, with only one touchdown so far. I expect Nebraska to give up some points in this game, and probably by tough running game plays when the field gets compressed in the red zone. That should mean Jackson becomes an MVP of this game, at least if Northwestern were to pull the upset..
Anthony Walker has his best game of the season: Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker ranks highly in the conference with 9.5 tackles-for-loss and 54 tackles on the season. He should up this averages this week, as I expect the middle linebacker to be the spy assigned to figure out what Tommy Armstrong is doing so as to slow him down and perhaps sniff out some plays in the backfield. In that role, it’s easy to put up monster stats if played well, which is precisely what I expect from Walker in this game.
Nebraska gets stopped at least once in the red zone: The Wildcats comes into this game only allowing eight touchdowns in 21 total trips for opponents (with scores on 71.4 percent of red zone drives). Nebraska has been one of the better teams at cashing in, with 19 touchdowns in 30 redone appearances, along with a 90 percent score ratio. Paying inspired by the big loud opposing crowd and the need to turn things around, I expect Northwestern to generate at least one outright stop in the red zone for Nebraska. That could make all the difference if this game turns out to be close.
Nebraska still needs a 4th quarter comeback to win: Despite rolling last week against Minnesota, it’s hard to tell if Nebraska is a legitimate team, or just one with a favorable schedule at the right time. Last week aside, every fourth quarter has been wildly entertaining no matter who has the lead or by how much entering the final stanza during Nebraska’s games in 2015. This is one of those weeks like the Miami game where early struggles don’t get corrected fully until the fourth quarter, which is when Nebraska will take the lead for the first time. The question will be, can the Cornhuskers keep that late lead?
5 Staff Predictions (overall season record; record against the spread)
Andy: Nebraska 34-24 (61-14 overall; 33-41 ATS)
Dave: Nebraska 34-31 (61-14 overall; 40-33 ATS)
Greg: Nebraska 42-20 (55-20 overall; 43-30 ATS)
Matt: Northwestern 28-20 (59-16 overall; 45-28 ATS)
Phil: Nebraska 24-16 (16-6 overall; 8-11 ATS) *joined in Week 5
Huskers defense drives win over MSU
All the talk about Nebraska has been how Scott Frost would transform the Huskers offense. On Saturday, the defense made everyone stand up and take notice in a 9-6 win over Michigan State.
Nebraska managed to kick three field goals in the final quarter to win a game that didn’t see either side score a single touchdown.
“Good teams figure out how to win any kind of game, and that’s a different kind of game that I have been apart of as a coach, winning a game with no touchdowns,” said Nebraska head coach Scott Frost after the game.
“I am so happy for the seniors, so happy for the Blackshirts. Some of these games we’ve won, we’ve been winning on offense, and it was great to see the defense step up today.”
With the Huskers usually high-powered offense bottled up by Michigan State’s quality defense and really bad weather the defensive performance was badly needed.
It was also badly needed after last week’s performance in a shootout win over Illinois
Nebraska’s defense was hit for 35 points and needed to put up 54 points on offense to win. The Huskers defense came in to the game this week having never given up fewer than 34 points to any team in the Big Ten so far this season.
The Huskers defense also stood 12th in the conference, giving up an average of 33.8 points per game through 10 games.
Certainly this group was challenged following that performance against Illinois.
“Every week I’ve been coaching them there’s a little more fight. Today’s the most I’ve seen,” said Frost. “That’s a hard game to win. Even harder to lose. Our guys had to keep grinding, and the defense had to keep coming up with stops.”
Nebraska’s defense didn’t disappoint, holding MSU running back Craig Haward under 90 yards and quarterback Rocky Lombardi to just 145 yards on 15 of 41 passing.
No doubt the fact that MSU came in struggling on offense helped, but this was a huge step forward for the Huskers defense after its struggles earlier this season.
After starting the season 0-6, the Huskers have ripped off wins in 4 of the last 5 games.
In a season of transition, the fact that Nebraska’s defense was able to hold anyone without a touchdown is a massive step in the right direction. That fact wasn’t lost on the coaches or players following the crazy win.
For Chinander and Frost, it’s also a sign that this team is still listening and learning as what seems like a lost season to the outside world is far from it internally.
“I told the guys in the locker room if from a coaching standpoint, or pretty much on everything, I guess, the team could’ve started the season where it is right now, that would’ve been a funny act,” Frost said. “Some of the growing things we had to go through were necessary, and I’m crushed for the seniors we couldn’t get that done quicker.
“This team has been through so much and to be where it is right now and have the second half of the season it’s been having, it makes it really special. And I think the seniors will probably look back on this and think it was a pretty special season after all.”
Nebraska will have an interesting challenge ahead of it next week, as they will face the rival Iowa Hawkeyes after they just went off for a 63-0 victory over the Illinois team that just put up 54 points on Nebraska.
A win in the Heroes Game would be a great way to cap off what many believed was a lost season early on. Doing so with the Huskers defense getting some of its luster back would just be icing on the cake.
Keyshawn Johnson Jr. unsurprisingly transferring from Huskers
Following a summer pot citation and his dad pulling him from school, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. announces his transfer.
Did you know that Keyshawn Johnson Jr. was a member of the Nebraska Cornhuskers program? Chances are, if you blinked you missed his time on campus.
That’s what happens when you get busted for pot possession and your dad brings you home to teach you a lesson or two.
The elder Johnson made sure to make a statement when pulling his kid out of school just days in to his time there. He made it clear that there were higher (no pun intended) expectations of his son.
“One thing you will not do as my son is you will not embarrass Nebraska, you will not embarrass Mike Riley and you will not embarrass this family,” Johnson Sr. told the Omaha World-Herald. “If you mature and you’re ready to resume your football career and academic goals, then Nebraska will be ready to embrace you.”
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the former 4-star recruit with the famous name isn’t going to continue his career at Nebraska.
On Friday, the younger Johnson announced his decision to not return to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Trust the process… pic.twitter.com/xus0UQOmb4
— Keyshawn Jr. (@keyshawnnnn) December 15, 2017
The combination of his citation for marijuana possession and the coaching change likely sealed the deal for this move.
Johnson Jr. enrolled early, coming to Lincoln in January, but suffered an illness that he couldn’t shake for parts of spring practice. He appeared in the spring game, but caught just one pass for 7 yards.
Nebraska could use the depth at wide receiver, but with a new regime in place and his father having no relationship with the new staff this move is not surprising.
Frost turning to Florida to bring speed to Huskers program
Frost is leaning on his Florida ties in hoping to shape his roster in his image quicker than expected.
Scott Frost has technically only been on the job for the Nebraska Cornhuskers for less than a week, but he clearly has had a gameplan in place for a while now.
That much is evident not only by how quickly he’s gotten a staff together, but by the details on the recruiting trail.
Normally it takes time to evaluate what is on a roster in front of you and figure out what is needed. That process didn’t take long (or likely took place last week as he waited to take the job formally), because Frost has attacked the recruiting trail hard in his first week on the job.
So, what is his evaluation of the Huskers program? It is in need of speed, speed and more speed.
Frost has decided that in order to get his team up to speed he needs to do so buy finding that speed right in his old back yard.
It’s a move that makes sense, as Frost has built good relationships in Florida and that is where some of the best high school talent in the country exists today.
Nebraska’s 247Sports site, Huskers Illustrated, had a really good talk on the inner workings of what Frost has done already on the recruiting trail on this week’s Notorious B1G Podcast (because who doesn’t love an all-Big Ten recruiting podcast?)
Mike Riley and Co. spent less time on Florida and more time on the West Coast, which should’ve been expected given Riley’s ties in that direction. But, the crop of pure athletes out West is nothing compared to the depth of speed and athleticism that exists in Florida.
Ironically, Frost’s first offer came from out West as the No. 8-ranked dual-threat quarterback, Adrian Martinez, was offered within hours of Frost getting the job.
That move and all the ones made since his hire show Frost has come in with a clear knowledge of his system, who fits it on the recruiting trail and who fits it currently on the roster. Having that kind of confidence and work-rate are a welcome sight in Lincoln.
But, Frost isn’t just hitting the ground running on the recruiting trail either.
He’s also been taking time to speak to the national media and spread the gospel of what he wants to build at Nebraska. Frost spoke on the Jim Rome Show on Thursday and didn’t buy the notion that recruiting to Lincoln, Neb. is a difficult task.
“There’s absolutely no reason we can’t get kids to Lincoln, Nebraska,” Frost said, via Land of 10. “Kids leave places right now and go everywhere around the country. There’s no reason kids won’t go to Lincoln if they’re going to Columbus, Ann Arbor, and Eugene, Oregon.
“And I think we’re going to create an environment, a football environment in Lincoln that people are going to want to be a part of.”
Success in turning a program around often hinges on the first recruiting class to come in. That’s not to say this class should be put at the feet of Frost and his staff entirely, but if they can put a stamp on an already nice class it could be the one that breaks a mediocre mold for the Huskers program.
No matter what, Frost and his staff aren’t afraid to be aggressive and go after the type of player they need. That alone has to be a refreshing sign of change for the Husker faithful.
Huskers hope Scott Frost hire brings back glory days
Native son returns home to lead program he once was the star quarterback of. Can the glory days return with the Huskers dipping in to their past?
What had become the worst-kept secret in college football’s coaching carousel became official on Saturday afternoon. Just hours after leading his UCF Knights to a crazy 62-55 double overtime win over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game, Frost bolted for a gig back home.
UCF’s 247sports site announced the news, noting that Forst will not coach the team in the upcoming bowl game. However, after the AAC championship game, UCF’s AD noted that Frost and the entire coaching staff would coach through the Peach Bowl.
Nebraska athletics director Bill Moos named Frost the new Huskers head coach, ending a search many thought would start and end with Frost first.
There is no place like home.
There is no place like Nebraska.
— ❄️ Nebraska Football ❄️ (@HuskerFBNation) December 2, 2017
“It is a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to return to Nebraska and to lead the Husker football program,” Frost said in a statement released by the school. “I have been fortunate to be at a wonderful school the last two years, but Nebraska is a special place with a storied tradition and a fan base which is second to none. I am truly humbled to be hereee. The state of Nebraska and the Husker program mean a great deal to me. This is home.
“I am appreciative of the confidence Bill Moos and our University leadership have in me to lead this program. I would not have the opportunity to be in this position without a lot of great people who have helped me throughout my career. Specifically, I would like to thank Coach Osborne who has played such an integral role in my life over the past two decades, both on and off the field. Go Big Red!”
In bringing a native son and former Huskers quarterback in to the fold to lead the program, Nebraska is clearly hoping the magic of the mid 1990’s can rub off on the program once again.
Frost was integral in the Huskers success in the 90’s, where he was a star quarterback for two years after transferring home from Stanford. He led the program to a 24-2 record as the starter and became just the 10th player in major college football history to pass for 1,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards.
He had a cup of coffee in the NFL, but was moved from quarterback to safety and just couldn’t find his way in the league.
While thoughts of Frost leading the Huskers offense are likely to bring smiles back to the Husker faithful, the reality of today’s program won’t.
It’s been a rough go since the calendar turned over to the year 2000, as the Huskers haven’t won a single conference championship since 1999.
Frost faces a big challenge, as the Huskers vaunted defense has fallen on hard times and the program just got done with a 4-8 season under Mike Riley. Luckily for the Husker faithful, Frost isn’t going to be caught off-guard by the challenges of a turnaround.
He took over a UCF program that went winless the year before he came to campus and had them 6-7 and going bowling in his first season. This year his team went undefeated in the regular season, joining the Wisconsin Badgers as the only two undefeated teams in the country after the regular season finished up.
Frost also led the Knights to the AAC championship despite a ton of off-field distraction surrounding his job status and rumors about Florida, Nebraska and Oregon interest in his services.
Now the pressure will be on to get the Huskers back to championship football, and soon.