Nebraska vs. Oregon, 9/9/17

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye (left) closes in on Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee during the first half on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

FRANCIS GARDLER, JOURNAL STAR

Nebraska is expecting a good test from a Northern Illinois defense that ranks 21st in the nation in total defense and 38th in the country against the pass.

The Huskies’ 4-3 alignment has been on the field a lot — a whopping 92 plays against Boston College in the season opener and 77 plays last week against Eastern Illinois, but the unit has held strong.

NIU allowed 339 yards and 3.7 yards per play in a 23-20 loss to Boston College, and just 187 yards and 2.4 yards per play in a 38-10 win over Eastern Illinois.

“They’re athletic and fast, they’ll play really hard,” NU coach Mike Riley said Monday. “They have a very good defensive end that we have to account for at all times, No. 15 (Sutton Smith). Good WILL linebacker that will spread out with our receivers or come into the box and play, No. 7 (Jawaun Johnson); they have No. 19 that’s been an All-American that’s going to come in at corner, (Shawun) Lurry; and a middle linebacker No. 57 (Kyle Pugh) that made 17 tackles, I think, against Boston College; good player.”

Husker quarterback Tanner Lee also expected a good test.

"Immediately what jumps off is that they're a good, sound defense. They mix up their coverages a lot. I think it will be another good challenge for us," Lee said. "We had a good practice today and focused on some third downs and stuff like that, so the past few practices have been good since coming off that (Oregon) game."

NIU quarterback Graham out: The Huskies will be without starting quarterback Ryan Graham for a second straight week, according to coach Rod Carey. 

Graham reportedly sprained his elbow in NIU's season-opening loss to Boston College. Daniel Santacaterina, who started against Eastern Illinois and threw for 252 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in a 38-10 win, will start for the Huskies. 

Farniok fares well in debut: Jerald Foster deferred to Nick Gates.

"Let a tackle talk first," Nebraska's starting left guard said.

The question was how the Husker offensive line thought Matt Farniok handled his first career start at right tackle.

"He graded out what, third-highest?" Gates asked Foster and center Cole Conrad, which was met with affirmations. "For a redshirt freshman, his first start, especially at Oregon, a place that loud, I think he did a really good job and handled it really well.

"He didn't false start, he blocked No. 3 (Jonah Moi), which is a pretty good player. I was happy and I was proud of how he played."

Foster expounded on Farniok understanding the need for him to step in and step up.

"All the guys that are our 'twos'," Foster said with air quotes on the twos, "they're all ones, at least in my head. I believe that if we need somebody they're able to step in, they'll be able to come in, do the job right. Just as well as, I feel, like the ones.

"We've got a good group of guys. Depth is there right now and it's really working for us."

Added Conrad: "All it takes is one play, and you're the next guy in."

Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh also thought Farniok passed his first full-game test.

“One time on one of our play-action protections he overstepped a guy and gave up a pressure, but I thought he fought, battled and did a nice job,” Cavanaugh said.

Running backs galore in Big Ten: Through two weeks, seven of the top 20 running backs in the country (ranked by rushing yards) hail from the Big Ten, including Nebraska sophomore Tre Bryant.

Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor currently paces the group (310 yards, No. 7 nationally). After that comes Bryant (299, ninth), Penn State junior Saquon Barkley (260, 14th), Maryland junior Ty Johnson (256, tied for 15th), Ohio State freshman J.K. Dobbins (253, 17th), Michigan senior Ty Isaac (247, No. 18th) and Iowa senior Akrum Wadley (247, 20th).

Riley should have an update on Bryant’s availability for Saturday’s game after practice Thursday when he meets with reporters. Bryant is dealing with an ongoing knee issue, but running backs coach Reggie Davis expressed confidence Tuesday that his starter will be ready to play.

— Chris Basnett, Clint Robus and Parker Gabriel

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Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

Clint Robus is the digital and assistant sports editor at the Journal Star.

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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