Fearless prediction: Nebraska and Rutgers battle under the lights in chilly Piscataway
Nebraska at Rutgers isn’t going to grab the nation’s attention, but it’s the only game the B1G has to offer on Friday after Purdue and Indiana’s rivalry game was called off.
It seems that both teams are still alive for a bowl with a win, so that’s something they can look forward to. But that’s if the players want to play in one. It’s been a long season, and the Huskers will have played 7 games in 7 weeks. Here’s what Nebraska’s Scott Frost said about the possibility:
Scott Frost said Nebraska will consider playing in a bowl game "if that's what they want to do."
Says lots of teams have canceled and not just due to COVID.
— Sam McKewon (@swmckewonOWH) December 16, 2020
One of the bigger storylines in this game is Noah Vedral, a Nebraska native who was a backup for the Huskers but now starts for Rutgers. He signed with Scott Frost and UCF out of high school, then followed Frost to Lincoln. When it became clear Vedral wouldn’t play much this past May, he transferred to Rutgers.
Vedral’s status for the game is uncertain, however, as his ankle was twisted against Maryland last week:
SEND #55 ON MARYLAND TO JAIL pic.twitter.com/n6DbhArvBS
— TJ (RUTGERS) (@TJHitchings) December 12, 2020
Nebraska’s offense vs. Rutgers’ defense
In his return to Rutgers, head coach Greg Schiano has turned the Scarlet Knights’ defense into a more competitive bunch. Rutgers is allowing 32.6 points per game, which ranks 12th in the B1G, but it does have playmakers in its front 7.
Olakunle Fatukasi, Christian Izien and Tyshon Fogg are all top 10 in tackles this season in the B1G. Fatukasi actually leads the conference with 99 stops, which is 22 more than Iowa’s Nick Niemann, who’s 2nd.
With Nebraska’s passing game struggling as much as it is, the Huskers’ best bet at moving the ball consistently in this game will be on the ground. But Rutgers has shown it can get in the backfield and create havoc. The Scarlet Knights have the most tackles for loss in the B1G with 60, and they have 3 players in the top 10 in that department, including Fatukasi (11 TFLs), Mike Tverdov (8) and Julius Turner (7).
If Nebraska is forced, or chooses, to throw more than it runs on Friday, the Huskers need to be aware of Rutgers’ pass rush. The Scarlet Knights have 18 sacks, which is tied for 3rd in the B1G — Mohamed Toure is the team leader with 4.5.
Rutgers has allowed the most passing touchdowns in the B1G this season with 20. But as we all know, Nebraska struggles mightily to throw the ball, and has a league-worst 4 scores through the air — Navy has more touchdown passes with 6.
Last week’s game against Minnesota seemed like a great opportunity for the Huskers to establish a run game. But Nebraska still chose to attempt 29 passes. It’s anyone’s guess as to how Frost will handle the plays this Friday.
Nebraska’s defense vs. Rutgers’ offense
One of the bright spots for Rutgers this season has been its offensive coordinator, Sean Gleeson.
Gleeson is responsible for turning an offense that finished dead last in the B1G last year in scoring (13.3) to a respectable group that is currently 6th (27.4). Gleeson’s play calling is pretty good once he gets in the red zone, too, as the Scarlet Knights are scoring a touchdown on 65.38 percent of their trips. Compare that to Nebraska’s offense, which is finding the end zone on just 48.39 percent of its red-zone attempts.
If Vedral can’t play on Friday, Nebraska’s defense will likely see either Art Sitkowski or Johnny Langan. Sitkowski is more of the thrower of the two with 3 touchdowns against zero picks, while Langan is a runner. Langan, a 6-3, 223-pounder, is a physical bruiser, and has rushed for 147 yards and 4 touchdowns this season. He was a key part of Rutgers’ win at Purdue earlier this season. The Boilermakers couldn’t stop him that night.
One area where Nebraska’s defense could excel on Friday is getting after whoever is playing quarterback. Rutgers has allowed 19 sacks this season, which is the 2nd-most in the B1G.
It’s hard to pick Nebraska in this game — especially after last week’s embarrassing performance against an extremely undermanned Minnesota team. Some of the coaching decisions made that day were some serious head-scratchers that had fans wondering what was going on.
According to reports, this game will be played one day after a big snow storm hits the Piscataway area. It’s gonna be cold, really cold:
About a day after a major winter storm where over a foot of snow is expected, Nebraska and Rutgers will play in a very cold game. At least there won't be any wind. Meanwhile in Lincoln, temperatures will be in the lower 30s at that same time. pic.twitter.com/5caEoDR8aE
— Travis Klanecky (@Travis_Klanecky) December 16, 2020
Nebraska hasn’t shown the ability to overcome adversity this season. When something goes wrong, whether it be a fumbled swing pass on the first play of the game or a back-breaking holding penalty that negates a first-down run, the Huskers never seem to recover. Is that a player problem or a coaching problem?
Rutgers may be the more mentally tough team in this contest. That wouldn’t be surprising considering the Scarlet Knights’ head coach and his “Keep Chopping” message.
Prediction: Rutgers 27, Nebraska 24.