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2019 Week 3 MAC Preview: Northern Illinois Huskies at Nebraska Cornhuskers

Can the Huskies make it two straight over the Cornhuskers?

Northern Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The Northern Illinois Huskies hung tough with the Utah Utes last Saturday before the game slipped away in the second half and the Huskies fell 35-17 to the #13 team in the country. This week’s test isn’t much easier as the Huskies head to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on another very solid team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Nebraska was ranked to open the season but, after struggling against South Alabama in their opener and giving up 31 second half points to Colorado leading to a 34-31 overtime loss, the Huskers have dropped out of the rankings this week.


Game Info

When: Saturday, September 14th at 7 p.m. (CST)
Where: Memorial Stadium - Lincoln, NE (85,458 capacity)
Watch: FS1
Odds: Nebraska is favored by 14 points and has a 82.8% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI


Series History

This marks the fourth time the Huskers and Huskies will meet. Every game has taken place in Lincoln and the Cornhuskers have a slim 2-1 advantage so far.

The Huskies are no stranger to teams in the B1G, as they have played 46 games against schools from the conference. However, NIU has struggled some, earning a 7-38-1 record against the B1G.

Nebraska, however, is only playing in it’s fifth game against a MAC squad. They are 3-1 against current MAC teams, with their lone loss coming against NIU.

(Note: The first two meeting between the schools were not B1G-MAC match ups but, rather, Nebraska represented the Big 8, soon to be the Big 12, while the Huskies were an Independent.)

They first met on September 9th, 1989, with #4 Nebraska winning 48-17. The next meeting was just 364 days later, on September 8th, 1990 in which the Huskies were slaughtered by the 10th-ranked Cornhuskers 60-14.

As most of us remember, the most recent match up took place just two seasons ago, on September 16th, 2017. The Huskie defense force two pick-sixes, including an 87-yarder by Shawun Lurry on the opening drive, and NIU was able to escape with a 21-17 win.

Northern and Nebraska will become familiar foes as the teams have two more games scheduled in the future. The teams are slated to face off at Memorial Stadium in 2021 (9/4) and 2023 (9/16).


The Cornhuskers

Quick Facts:
Record: 1-1 (2018: 4-8)
Last week: 34-31 OT loss to Colorado
Coach: Scott Frost (4th season, 2nd at Nebraska), 24-16 overall (5-9 at Nebraska)
Consecutive home sellouts: 368 (every game since 11/3/1962)

Offensively the Cornhuskers are led by quarterback Adrian Martinez, who can burn you with is legs and his arm. The sophomore QB has completed 60.42% of his passes this season for 468 yards and two scores. He has thrown a pair of interceptions. On the ground, he has 32 carries for 76 yards (which include the eight sacks for -50 yards he’s taken) and added two more touchdowns.

In addition to Martinez, the Huskers have a duo of running backs that can hurt you on the ground - Maurice Washington and Dedrick Mills. Washington leads the team with 116 yards on his 21 carries while Mills has gained 68 yards and two scores on his 23 attempts.

When Martinez throws the ball, his main targets have been junior wide out JD Spielman and Washington. They’re they only Nebraska players with 100+ yards receiving, as Spielman has 148 yards and a score on seven receptions while the running back has five catches for 131 yards and TD. Look for tight end Jack Stoll and WR Wan’Dale Robinson to get some targets as well, as the two have combined for 11 catches and 138 yards.

On defense it has been a bit of feast-or-famine for Nebraska. They have already amassed seven sacks, forced four fumbles, snagged four interceptions, and scored two defensive touchdowns (a 38-yard pick six and a fumble recovery in the endzone after a sack). But they have also been susceptible to long drives and have let teams come back in the second half. Of the 55 points they’ve given up, 48 have been in the final 30 minutes of play.

Cam Taylor-Britt, who started the season as a cornerback but is now listed as a safety, has been playing amazing football so far. The sophomore already has 10 tackles, three forced fumbles, two TFL, a sack, and an interception.

Senior safety Eric Lee Jr. is another one to watch out for in the secondary. He has two interceptions, one of their defensive touchdowns, and a pass break up to go along with his nine tackles.

The Huskers have a slew of linebackers that have been all over the field. Mohamed Berry and Will Honas lead the team in tackles, with 18 and 12 respectively, with each adding a sack and TFL. But Collin Miller, Alex Davis, and Caleb Tannor have also made a lot of plays and will look to quiet the Huskie offense.


The Huskies

Quick Facts:
Record: 1-1 (2018: 8-6)
Last week: 35-17 loss to #13 Utah
Coach: Thomas Hammock (1st season), 1-1 overall record
Offense/Defense Scheme: Multiple/4-3

Ross Bowers has solidified himself as the Huskie starting quarterback, much to the approval of every Huskie fan.

The grad-transfer from Cal has been giving the Huskies a huge boost on offense and is averaging 264 passing yards per game. Bowers has connected on 64.5% of his passes for 528 yards and three TDs. He has thrown a TD pass of 65+ yards in each game (a 68-yard TD pass to Tyrice Richie in the opener and a 74-yard TD pass to Spencer Tears last week) but has also thrown a pick in each game.

While he doesn’t look to run initially (unlike *some* Huskie quarterbacks), he is capable of making things happen with the legs and actually has the only Huskie rushing touchdown this season, a 9-yard flip-n-score last week.

NIU’s main ground attack comes from junior Tre Harbison, who has 131 yards on 29 carries. Harbison didn’t actually see much action last week, only carrying the ball six times for 32 yards. Fingers crossed he gets more carries this week as backup Jordan Nettles has struggled so far this season. Against Utah Nettles had 10 carries for 37 yards and against ISU he had two carries for two yards.

Wide receiver Tyrice Richie has been Bowers main target while Spencer Tears and tight ends Daniel Crawford and Mitchell Brinkman have been bright spots as well. Richie leads the team with eight catches, 144 yards, and two touchdowns. Crawford is second on the team with 124 yards on five grabs, while Tears has snagged six passes for 104 yards and a score, and Brinkman has seven catches for 67 yards.

On defense the Huskie will need to find away to get to Martinez early and often, especially since the Husker O-line is averaging four sacks per game. NIU has not be able to manage much pressure on opponents this season, as they have just one sack and one QB Hurry.

However, they’ve still been able to squash the run. Opponents haven’t registered a 100-yard rusher in 17 games and have held two very good rushers, Zack Moss and James Robinson, to below-average numbers.

Defensive ends Quintin Wynne and Matt Lorbeck lead NIU upfront. Lorbeck has seven tackles and a TFL while Wynne has six tackles, two TFL, and the lone Huskie sack.

Linebackers Antonio Jones-Davis and Kyle Pugh patrol the middle of the field and lead the Huskies with 11 and nine tackles, respectively. ADJ has also added 1.5 TFL and a pass break up while Pugh has three TFL.


Prediction

Both the Huskies and Huskers have had second half struggles, so it might come down to which defense is better conditioned and which can make a big play late. Neither team’s offense was able to score in the second half last week and both defenses struggled some, allowing their opponents multiple scores (in Nebraska’s case, 31 points in under 17 minutes).

The Huskies were able to limit Utah’s ground attack and should be able to do that again here. But they did give up a lot of big plays on QB rollouts and scrambles, both of which Martinez is more than capable than doing.

NIU’s defense will need to find a way to get pressure while rushing just four players in order to account for Martinez’s mobility and keep the secondary from being on an island against the Husker receivers.

Bowers and the offense will need to find ways to keep moving the ball all game, as NIU was only able to manage 70 second half yards last week. This Nebraska defense has given up a lot of points and yards in the second half and, if NIU is to have any chance of winning, the Huskies will need to keep that trend going.

I think this should be another close game against another tough opponent but, like last week, the Huskies will start to fade some in the final third of the game. They just don’t seem to have the conditioning to keep up with these big, powerful teams for a full four quarters. Hopefully that changes here but...

NIU - 27
Nebraska - 38