Leonte Carroo

Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo (4) celebrates scoring a touchdown against Indiana with his teammates during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

They tell me New Jersey is gorgeous this time of year.

OK, you busted me. Nobody told me that.

We'll see for ourselves Saturday, when Nebraska plays Rutgers at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Of course, Husker fans' impressions of the Garden State will be shaped in large part by their team's performance.

In that regard, proud Lincoln High graduate Kevin Kugler, who has done play-by-play for Rutgers' last two games for the Big Ten Network, envisions a day of anxiety for Nebraska fans, particularly if Scarlet Knights senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo has recovered well from an ankle injury that sidelined him the past two games.

Eighteen of Carroo's 24 receptions this season have been for either a first down or touchdown.

"I think Nebraska should win this game," Kugler said. "But I think Leonte Carroo could make it a close game. You're looking at a 35-28 kind of game. Rutgers plays with so much more confidence with Carroo out there that I wouldn't rule anything out if he plays."

Kugler once was a Journal Star delivery boy. That alone gives him credence.

"If Carroo plays — and it sounds like he's going to — then I think this is a game that goes down to the fourth quarter again," Kugler said. "Which is not what Nebraska fans want to hear. But I think that will be the case." 

This is a prove-it game for Nebraska (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten). The Huskers really have proved little this season, especially in the context of preseason expectations. They certainly haven't shown they can sustain success — a trait that separates teams from the pack. NU picked up a nice win Oct. 17 at Minnesota, then laid two straight eggs before a stirring triumph last week against then-No. 7 Michigan State.

Beating the Spartans proved Nebraska had no business losing to Brigham Young or Miami or Illinois or Purdue or perhaps even Wisconsin and Northwestern. NU certainly would have no business losing to Rutgers (3-6, 1-5), which has allowed 198 points in its last four games and plays seven freshmen in its nine-man rotation of defensive backs.

Let's see if Nebraska can indeed sustain success as well as continue to pick up momentum — which seems integral to the program's long-term health. I've said it before: The new Husker coaching staff needs a bowl game with its players. Any bowl game. Any chance for more success. Any chance to continue to change the perception of this season.

The last thing North Stadium needs is a December devoid of players.

To that end, let's see if Nebraska's reconfigured offensive line can keep creating room for the running backs, most notably surging hammer back Imani Cross — although I think Terrell Newby still deserves a prominent place in the offense.

Let's see if Husker offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and quarterback Tommy Armstrong can continue to build chemistry — I think we're seeing that transpire — while making those young Rutgers defensive backs' heads spin.

Let's see if Nebraska defensive backs can cut down the number of uncontested receptions. They haven't been terrible in that regard.

Let's see if Morgan Stanley — er, Stanley Morgan — continues to be someone Nebraska can bank on for prosperous returns.

Mike Riley was his usual calm and upbeat self this week. He obviously has been around the block. He knows that with a loss to reeling Rutgers, the negative energy once again would become pervasive back home.

A New Jersey native, the great Bruce Springsteen, released an album in 1982 titled "Nebraska." The cover showed a view through a car windshield looking out over gray and desolate terrain. Sort of a downer — like it would feel if Rutgers would happen to prevail.

With a Husker victory, well, think of the excitement that would accompany fifth-ranked Iowa's arrival in Lincoln.

So, don't try to tell me Nebraska-Rutgers doesn't matter. On the contrary, the Huskers have plenty to prove. Plenty to play for.

Should be an interesting trip. And a nice trip. Don't snicker.

"The downtown area in New Brunswick is very nice," said Kugler, who worked three Rutgers games last season. The school is in New Brunswick and the stadium is in Piscataway. "There are nice little restaurants to walk to if you're staying in that area.

"I think Nebraska fans will find it pretty easy to get in and out of. The Newark (N.J.) airport is 35-40 minutes away. You have direct flights back to Omaha from there. You can get anywhere from Newark."

Nebraska just wants to get to 5-6. That shouldn't be such a hassle, should it?

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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