Nebraska football: 3 things the Huskers need to do to beat Northwestern
With Nebraska’s game against Wisconsin canceled, the Huskers’ attention turns toward the Northwestern Wildcats, who are 2-0 after taking down Iowa in comeback fashion on Saturday and are suddenly looking like a real Big Ten West contender.
Just like Wisconsin would’ve been, next week’s contest against Northwestern is a measuring-stick game for Nebraska. If the Huskers want to be considered one of the top teams in their own division, they need to start beating their fellow West members consistently.
Nebraska missed out on the opportunity to end a seven-game losing streak to the Badgers. Northwestern hasn’t owned the Huskers like Wisconsin has recently, but Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats haven’t exactly been an easy out. The Huskers are 5-4 against Northwestern since 2011 and just 1-2 in the past three matchups.
Progress was shown at Ohio State, but a loss was expected against the Buckeyes, an elite team. Northwestern is a winnable game — the Huskers need this one.
How can Nebraska get out of Evanston with a win? Here are three things the Huskers need to do to achieve that:
Stop the run
Although it’s early, it’s safe to say that new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian and Indiana transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey are a massive upgrade over what Northwestern’s offense had last year. The Wildcats can actually move the ball, and they want to come right at you on the ground.
In a 43-3 win over Maryland, Northwestern controlled the ball for more than 37 minutes. Yes, the Terps offense, led by first-time starter Taulia Tagovailoa, was a big part of that because it couldn’t stay on the field, but the Wildcats’ run game did work. Northwestern had a whopping 53 carries in the game for 325 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Against Iowa, it was tougher sledding on the ground. But Northwestern still stuck with it and grinded out 60 carries for 143 yards and 3 scores — that’s a measly 2.4 yards per carry. But, they kept coming.
Northwestern looks to be going with the running back-by-committee approach, as Isaiah Bowser, Drake Anderson and Jesse Brown share the carries, with the athletic Ramsey chipping in.
Limit Northwestern’s rushing attack like Iowa did, and it’s on Ramsey and his receivers to win the game with his arm.
Huskers fans should remember Ramsey well. After all, he’s the one who led Indiana to a 38-31 win in Lincoln last year.
The transfer quarterback had a heck of a debut against Maryland, passing for 212 yards and 1 touchdown while rushing for 47 yards and a score. But against Iowa, Ramsey didn’t have anyone to throw to because the Hawkeyes defense was doing a great job against the pass. He finished his day with 130 yards on 11-of-18 passing.
Iowa sacked Ramsey 3 times and forced him to throw an ill-advised pass on the run in the fourth quarter that was picked off. Nebraska hasn’t done the greatest job of pressuring the quarterback in recent years, but considering there’s not a Wildcats receiver who should scare the Huskers, maybe send a few more hats Ramsey’s way and see what happens.
Contain McGowan and Raine
If Northwestern needs to pass, Kyric McGowan and John Raine are Ramsey’s top options.
McGowan, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior athlete, is a guy who can do a lot of different things in the Wildcats offense. Against Iowa, Ramsey often looked to him in third-down situations, too.
McGowan hasn’t had the most productive career — in three seasons he has 31 catches for 397 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 31 carries for 211 rushing yards and 1 score — but he has taken on a larger role this season and had 5 catches for 63 yards and 3 carries for 15 against Iowa, including a jet sweep handoff for a touchdown.
Raine, a 6-2, 230-pound transfer tight end from Florida Atlantic, caught 5 passes for 53 yards against Maryland. There’s not a “super back” position at Northwestern anymore, as Bajakian got rid of it. Now it’s just tight ends, and Raine is a good one.