Nebraska is heading outside the Cornhusker State for the first time in 2016 following a wild 35-32 win over Oregon. While the win over the Ducks was huge, the upcoming game against Northwestern will be telling as well. This is a grand opportunity for the Wildcats to take advantage of a team that may be emotionally hungover following a signature win for Mike Riley.
The good news for Husker fans that are getting nervous about the potential for a trap game — as though the nerves from last week weren’t enough — is that Riley did everything he could to start turning the focus towards this contest immediately following Nebraska’s victory over Oregon.
“We’ll enjoy it tonight, start tomorrow, dissecting it and start building because obviously we’re not perfect. We played a good team and did what we had to do to win but we’ve got plenty of work to do,” he said during the postgame press conference.
Mark Banker chimed in with thoughts of his own on Northwestern following Tuesday practice for the Huskers.
“Don’t take anybody for granted,” he said. “Not that I did as an individual but this team that we’re about to play embarrassed us last year. We gave up an early quarterback run with five people chasing him. We looked like [The Three Stooges] plus two.”
Banker also made it clear that the Huskers realize they’re going up against a team that may not look the part of a world-beater, but one that has playmakers.
“I know that this quarterback [Clayton Thorson] can throw the ball. I know that this quarterback can beat you with his feet. I know he’s a big sturdy guy. The receivers are well-schooled in what they’re doing. The offensive line is very solid and they have two quality running backs that’ll beat you. Not only in the run game. I know [Justin Jackson], he’ll get you in the pass game, too.”
Nebraska’s 2-0 when facing Northwestern on the road since joining the Big Ten Conference. That said, “The Battle for NU” has featured games on opposite ends of the spectrum in Evanston.
In 2012, Nebraska had to come back from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to edge the Wildcats 29-28, thanks to a touchdown catch by tight end Ben Cotton. That matched the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.
It’s important to note that the comeback was almost thwarted. Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien’s 53-yard field goal attempt missed wide right with 1:10 left in the game.
In 2014, the then-No. 19 Huskers were down 7-0 after the first quarter. The momentum changed in a hurry and the Big Red rolled to a 38-17 victory, shutting out Northwestern 24-0 in the second half.
Nebraska doesn’t have to pound Northwestern into the dirt to make a statement this season. The Huskers merely need to play disciplined football on both sides with Tommy Armstrong slinging no gifts to the opposition, and the Blackshirts clamping down on Thorson and Jackson.
If Nebraska’s defense simply can do that, the result should be far more palatable for Husker fans than the effort from last year, one that should’ve been accompanied by Yakety Sax.
Yes, there will be plenty of scarlet and cream in the stadium — the surrounding area is close to pockets of Big Red backers. However, the Wildcats will be used to that. Ryan Field has been invaded by the opposition before and it’ll happen again.
As long as Nebraska is on the winning end, whether it’s by one point or 35, the Huskers will have taken the first major step towards a Big Ten West championship.
Just win, baby. Just win.