HOW THE HUSKERS LIGHT UP THE SCOREBOARD
1. Game of thirds. Nebraska is last in the Big Ten in third-down conversion percentage and has too often found itself in third-and-long. The Huskers have to make life easier on themselves and convert a higher percentage.
2. 8+10+28. As Nebraska’s season progresses, it becomes more clear who the top play-making options are. Expect the Huskers to try to squeeze as much juice as possible out of receivers Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman and running back Maurice Washington.
3. Keep it in forward. Against Wisconsin, the Husker offensive linemen and tight ends were called for seven penalties. Two were offsetting but negated big plays and five more were enforced. This team’s just not good enough to cover that many infractions.
4. See red. Nebraska’s only been in the red zone 14 times in five games. We’ve seen the big play capability at times, but it’s a whole lot easier to score if you get close to the end zone first.
HOW THE BLACKSHIRTS SHUT ’EM DOWN
1. Baby steps. Shutting them down is a bit of a tall task for now, given Nebraska is yielding 39.2 points per game (No. 120 in the nation). Nebraska doesn’t need a full clampdown for a win. A good, solid performance would be a big jump.
2. One dimensional. Northwestern’s gone 58 percent pass the past two weeks and 70 percent pass in a win last week at Michigan State. The Wildcats have a stunning 36 rushing yards on 54 carries in the past two games. The Huskers cannot afford to give up yardage on the ground.
3. Back ’em up. More of a special teams note, but the defense would benefit substantially from an opponent starting deep in its own territory. Maybe new starting punter Isaac Armstrong can help in that department.
4. Message: Intercept. Nebraska has a Big Ten-worst two interceptions on the season. Northwestern and quarterback Clayton Thorson are going to throw the ball all over.
THREE NUMBERS TO KNOW
2: Number of players in Nebraska history with two or more 400-plus-yard games. That list now includes Adrian Martinez, who has played in four career games
15: Number of opponent first downs by penalty yielded by Nebraska through five games.
50.8: Points allowed per game in Nebraska’s last six Big Ten games, dating to last year. In each of those six, the Huskers have surrendered at least 41. The last team to fail to get there: Northwestern (31 in an overtime win) on Nov. 4, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.
UNDER THE RADAR
WR, No. 88,, jr.: The junior started the season slowly but has come on as of late and saw his most extensive action of the year against Wisconsin. The results haven’t followed yet, but he was clearly third in the pecking order. Let’s see if he can make his presence felt.
ILB, No. 31, so: He won’t be under the radar for long. Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said this week that Miller is in line for more playing time. The sophomore moved inside at the outset of fall camp after spending the first part of his career on the edge.
Northwestern senior CB Montre Hartage against Nebraska sophomore WR JD Spielman
It’s a bit of a stretch since they won’t line up across from each other all the time, but Hartage is a talented player and Spielman is Nebraska’s top weapon at this point. The Huskers will try to move Spielman all over the place. Teams haven’t matched a corner on him full-time — Stanley Morgan has something to say about that — but somebody might try it at some point.
Northwestern’s penalty situation vs. Nebraska’s penalty situation
The Wildcats are sixth in the country in penalty yards per game (34.2). The Huskers are No. 129, otherwise known as dead last, at 97.4. Nebraska’s committed at least 10 in each of its five games. Northwestern has committed 16 total.
Northwestern 35, Nebraska 31
Like Nebraska’s game against Purdue two weeks ago, this is a tough one to peg. The Huskers seem to match up OK with the Wildcats on paper, given the explosive weapons Nebraska has on offense and Northwestern’s lack of a running game. The visiting team has also dominated this series. One NU is 9-1 in its last 10 Big Ten games and the other is 1-9. Guess who. In a toss-up, that’s enough to roll with the Wildcats. It’s coming for Nebraska, but I’ll believe it when I see it.