1. Can a Rose bloom in November?
It's the first week of November and Nebraska is turning to a different quarterback on both sides of the ball. Tommy Armstrong will get more fanfare, but just as important will be the man who is now quarterbacking the Husker defense — redshirt freshman Michael Rose. Still trying to figure out your middle linebacker in Week 8 is cause for concern. But you can see why Husker coaches like Rose. He's a talker, a guy who seems a few years older than he actually is, someone who wants to lead. He needs to be a master of communication out there. He'll need to be a motivator. He'll need to be a playmaker. A lot to ask of a freshman? Sure. But as Rose himself says, he isn't a freshman at this point in the season. Can Rose or Josh Banderas step up and lock up the middle linebacker spot? It's as big as any position question facing this team. It's also a question that can't linger any longer. Someone needs to take hold of the job and not let go.
2. Tommy, take 2
Since Taylor Martinez is still ailing – a hip-pointer now to go with two bad toes and a bum shoulder – the car keys are back in the hands of Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg. We’re about to learn a little bit more about the freshman Armstrong, who when last seen, threw three interceptions against Purdue. Road bumps are part of the journey for quarterbacks. But this is the first time to see how Armstrong responds to his first home game. He'll have to do it against the best team he's faced. And can Nebraska begin to find a proper identity on offense with Armstrong/Kellogg that it can take through November? The traditional option game that Husker fans so love might be one answer. Armstrong runs it smoothly enough, the offensive line loves it, and it gets the ball in the hands of Ameer Abdullah. Speaking of Abdullah, don’t look now, but he’s on pace for one of the top three rushing seasons in Husker history. He’s averaging an incredible 7.3 yards per carry. He needs just 19 yards Saturday to get to 1,000. And he should have plenty of gas left in the tank since he hasn't carried the ball more than 23 times in a game this season. The Huskers are going to need Abdullah to keep the hot hand. Whether it’s Armstrong or Kellogg at quarterback, their best friend is No. 8.
3. Reunion with Kain
Round 1 went to Kain Colter. Round 2 to the Husker D. Time for the rubber match. Two years ago, the versatile Northwestern star had 229 yards of offense, earning the respect of Husker fans for his cool demeanor and clutch play in the fourth quarter. A year ago, Nebraska held the quarterback/wide receiver to just 35 rushing yards on 14 attempts, and basically eliminated him from the passing game as a receiver. Colter isn't 100 percent right now (ankle), but still threw for 104 yards and rushed for 60 against Iowa last week. The Wildcats literally limp into this game, with three running backs out, including star Venric Mark. And a year ago, Nebraska did a number on Northwestern’s offense, holding it to just 301 yards. But that was a Husker defense with a different cast of characters. The current edition is going to have to communicate, tackle and bring much more fight than it did a week ago against Minnesota. And it's going to have to hold down Colter. He may be hurting, but he's still a threat.
4. When wounded animals gather
Just five weeks ago, NU v. NU was considered a potential deciding game in the Legends Division. Now, it's about survival. What happens when two wounded animals face off in a cage? Predict at your own peril. We're about to see how much fight there is in this Nebraska team. Typically, Bo Pelini's teams have responded well when put in a corner and everyone is restless. But this challenge seems something more than all that have come before in the Pelini era. The criticism is louder. The speculation about coaching futures has greater volume. The team is younger at critical positions. It's one of those dangerous weeks in a season where the wrong result carries enough weight to make the entire table collapse. Still, Husker veterans have held steadfast this week. They've been here before, just last year, and ran off a bunch of wins while skeptics watched. If it can be done once, they feel it can be done again. Maybe. It's said to beware of wounded animals. But the claws better come out now.