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October 19, 2012Having trouble picking the Nebraska-Northwestern game? Not our staff.
We go out on a limb to break down the matchup and make our fearless predictions.
Northwestern wins if Northwestern wins if They establish the run early and often, then use play action to further keep UNL off balance. NU can't let UNL get into a rhythm defensively.
Northwestern loses if They allow UNL to establish a balanced attack. If NU can limit Nebraska to one dimension, they'll be there at the end. If they are beaten by passes down the field for quick scores, it will get ugly.
The bottom line The Huskers are coming in just a little too angry for my liking. It could work against them, but I think they put it together in the end.
Prediction Nebraska 35, Northwestern 31
Northwestern wins if They can force Taylor Martinez into an interception. He is currently the Big Ten's leading passer but has thrown all of his four interceptions in the team's two losses.
Northwestern loses if They handle Nebraska's front four. The Cornhuskers are averaging 3.5 sacks per game, which leads the Big Ten. If the Wildcats can't keep the defensive line out of their backfield, their run game won't get going and Northwestern has no chance.
The bottom line: I think this game could have some similarities to the classic Northwestern-Michigan game from 2000. There are dynamic players on both offenses. The Nebraska defense was awful the last time they played a dual-threat QB (Braxton Miller) and their run defense has struggled in general this season. Northwestern's run defense had been alright until last week when MarQueis Gray tore them up when he was in at quarterback. Both teams should take their turn marching up the field but Northwestern will have last possession and the last word.
Prediction: Northwestern 45 Nebraska 44
Northwestern wins if It comes out and hits the deep ball to open up the running game and the defense can come up with some key turnovers.
Northwestern loses if If the secondary doesn't play its best game of the year and the offense doesn't sustain any drives in order to give its defense some rest.
The bottom line Having a huge chip on its shoulder from last year is one thing, but having two weeks to prepare for the Cats gives the Huskers a big advantage. QB Martinez (66 percent passing, 5.0 ypc) is having his best year running the Nebraska option. RBs Rex Burkhead (9.1 ypc), if healthy, and Ameer Abdullah (6.0 ypc) can really punish a defense. Abdullah is also capable of big returns on special teams while receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner will be big tests for the Cats' secondary.Prediction Nebraska 34, Northwestern 17.
Northwestern wins if The defense doesn't give up big plays in the passing game. Northwestern will be in good shape if its bend-but-don't-break defense is able to make the Huskers run 10 or more plays to score. Do that, and the often butter-fingered Huskers are more likely to turn the ball over or make a mistake to put them behind the chains.
Northwestern loses if The offense plays as inconsistently as it has the last two weeks. Kain Colter & Co. need to convert third downs to sustain drives and keep that high-powered Husker offense off the field.
The bottom line: I think this is going to be a close game -- a game that could be decided by things like special teams and turnovers. With Jeff Budzien (11-for-11 on FGs) and Venric Mark (28.8-yd avg., 2 TDs on punt returns), NU has the edge on special teams; and the Wildcats are plus-5 in turnover margin, while Nebraska is minus-6, worst in the Big Ten. Plus, Northwestern has No. 2 (Colter), who gave the Huskers fits last season, and Nebraska has No. 3 (Martinez), who tends to turn the ball over at critical times. I'll go with the guy in black.
Prediction: Northwestern 33 Nebraska 31
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