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Northwestern 28 … at Nebraska 25
Posted Nov 5, 2011

CFN Week 10 Previews & Predictions - Northwestern at Nebraska

2011 Prediction & Game Story

Week 10, NW at Nebraska

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Nov. 5 Northwestern 28 … at Nebraska 25
CFN Analysis: COMING

(AP) LINCOLN, Neb. -- Starting quarterback Dan Persa was on the sideline in the second half because of a bum shoulder, and Northwestern's maligned defense was doing all it could to hold off Nebraska.

Surely, most fans wearing scarlet and cream at Memorial Stadium were thinking it was just a matter of time before the Cornhuskers (No. 10 BCS, No. 9 AP) took control of this game.

The Wildcats wouldn't let it happen, hanging on to upset Nebraska 28-25 for their first win over a top-10 opponent in two years.

"A great program win for us," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "To come on the road and put together our most complete game of the year. ... Not perfect. Not a work of art. There are some things we can correct."

The critiques can wait, though. There was much to celebrate after this one.

Second-string quarterback Kain Colter ran for two touchdowns and passed for another as Persa cheered him on from the sideline.

Just as important, a defense that had been allowing 32 points and 432 yards a game held up its end.

"We got beat. It's that plain and simple," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "They outplayed us, they outcoached us. What are you going to say? They won the football game. They deserve it. I give Northwestern a lot of credit. We didn't respond."

The loss to the 17-point underdog Wildcats (4-5, 2-4) dropped Nebraska (7-2, 3-2) into a second-place tie with Iowa and Michigan in the Big Ten's Legends Division. Michigan State moved into sole possession of first place with its win over Minnesota.

The win was Northwestern's first over a top-10 team since a 17-10 road victory over then-No. 8 Iowa on Nov. 7, 2009.

Persa injured his left shoulder in the second quarter when he was slammed to the ground by defensive end Eric Martin. Persa tried to play a couple more series, but he was on the sideline with his left arm in a sling after halftime.

Colter, who typically shares playing time with Persa at quarterback, took all but four snaps in the second half. He ran for 58 yards and completed four of six passes for 115 yards. Third-string quarterback Trevor Siemian came in and went 3 of 4 for 67 yards.

"I feel like we could really go into this game and make a statement," Colter said. "We had a great week of practice, came into the game with a great game plan and a lot of focus. We just went out there and executed. We really wanted this game."

Jeremy Ebert caught six passes for a career-high 147 yards and went over the 2,000-yard mark for his career on an 81-yard touchdown play that put the Wildcats up 21-10 early in the fourth quarter.

After the Huskers had pulled to 21-18, Colter scored from the 1 with 1:34 left to finish a 13-play, 66-yard drive that chewed more than 7 minutes off the clock.

"I give it up to our O-line," Ebert said. "We dominated the line of scrimmage. That final drive, for us to score, that was all them."

Nebraska, missing Jared Crick and two other defensive linemen because of injury, couldn't stop the running of Colter, Jacob Schmidt and Treyvon Green on Northwestern's last touchdown drive.

"We're thin up front," Pelini said. "They were just getting the push. It looked like we'd have them stopped for no gain and it'd leak for 3 or 4 yards."

Colter converted a fourth-and-1 with a 4-yard run around right end to the Nebraska 14, and five plays later the Wildcats were in the end zone.

Persa, who was 9 of 14 for 79 yards in the first half, slapped Christian Jones on the helmet, high-fived Drake Dunsmore and gave a quick hug to Colter as they came off the field.

Taylor Martinez, who passed for 289 yards and two scores, hurriedly moved Nebraska down the field. He hit Kenny Bell for a 14-yard touchdown with 18 seconds to play, but Charles Brown recovered the onside kick and Northwestern ran out the clock.

Nebraska finished with a season-low 122 yards on 35 carries, the third time this season it did not rush for at least 200 yards.

The Wildcats bottled up Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and forced two costly turnovers in the first half.

Burkhead, who had 100-yard outings in five of his last six games, was limited to 69 yards on 22 carries.

Burkhead fumbled for the first time this season after the Huskers had driven to the Northwestern 5. Jack DiNardo reached in and stripped the ball, and Tyler Scott recovered.

Northwestern went nowhere after the turnover and punted into the wind, setting Nebraska up just inside the 50. But Quincy Enunwa got hit hard by Jeravin Matthews after catching a 25-yard pass, and Ibraheim Campbell recovered for the Wildcats.

"We had a lot of passion in practice and that really got spread around," defensive end Quentin Williams said. "Really, the defense and the whole team collectively really put our foot down and said enough is enough. We really needed to come out here and play a complete game, defense especially."

Northwestern kept alive its hopes of being bowl eligible for a fifth straight year. The Wildcats have no more road games and finish with Rice, Minnesota and Michigan State. "I said it after last week, that if we wanted to make this season special we had to make it a November to remember," Fitzgerald said. "We're two steps up the mountain. But this one will go for naught if we're not humble."

Northwestern (3-5) at Nebraska (7-1) Nov. 5, 3:30, BTN

Here’s The Deal … Both Nebraska and Northwestern needed last week.

On a five-game losing streak, Northwestern was one of the Big Ten’s most disappointing teams. Indiana is Indiana, but still the offense blew up on the road in a breathtaking performance on the way to a 59-38 win that could’ve been a lot worse. This is the last road game of the season for the Wildcats, with Rice, Minnesota, and Michigan State to close, but it’ll take three wins in the final four games to go bowling. If one of those wins happens to come at Nebraska to screw up the Huskers’ inaugural Big Ten campaign, it might make the season.

All of a sudden, the 48-17 pasting from Wisconsin is a thing of the distant past for Nebraska, the highest ranked Big Ten team in the BCS. With home wins over Ohio State and Michigan State, the season has done a quick turnaround and now the Big Ten title is back in play. If the Huskers win out, with road games at Penn State and Michigan to come before closing out against Iowa, they’ll win the Legends and will play in the Big Ten championship, but first, putting away a possibly pesky – and somewhat desperate – Northwestern team won’t be a layup.

Nebraska doesn’t have a passing game, but Northwestern doesn’t have a pass defense. Northwestern has one of the Big Ten’s best offenses, and Nebraska’s defense has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few weeks. This might be a more even battle than it seems, and it should be a far more competitive game than what either team dealt with last week.

And it should be far better than the last time the two met.

The two schools are just 500 miles apart, but they’ve only played four times, with the last meeting in 2000 when Eric Crouch and the Husker obliterated the Wildcats 66-17 in the Alamo Bowl. The Huskers won 49-7 in 1974 and lost in Evanston in 1931. The first matchup was a 12-0 Nebraska win in 1902.

Why Northwestern Might Win: Northwestern’s offense is just balanced enough, and efficient enough, to cross up the Husker defense that might come up a little bit flat.

Nebraska beat Michigan State, but that wasn’t really Michigan State. The heart and the focus weren’t there after the Wisconsin win, and the Huskers took advantage. Now, it’s possible that Nebraska doesn’t bring its A effort after the huge win over the Spartans, and that could be dangerous.

Ohio State doesn’t have a passing game, Minnesota doesn’t have much of anything, and Michigan State looked like it forgot to study for the exam. Blowing up Indiana isn’t that big a deal, but Northwestern was able to throw without a problem against Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan, and ran for 317 yards and three scores against the Hoosiers. It’s possible that last week’s win was the moment when everything clicked for the Wildcats, and the offense, led by the ultra-efficient Dan Persa, might have the balance to put Nebraska’s defense on its heels.

Why Nebraska Might Win: The Huskers should be able to run at will. The offense pitched a near-perfect game last week, keeping Michigan State’s aggressive defense guessing, and missing, all game long. While the O only cranked out 190 yards on the ground and 80 yards through the air, it controlled the game throughout, only came up with one mistake on a Taylor Martinez interception. Northwestern’s defensive front was ripped apart by Indiana for 319 yards and four scores - unable to handle mobile quarterback Tre Roberson, who ran for 121 yards and a score, and Stephen Houston ran for 151 yards and two scores. If those two could do that, Martinez and Rex Burkhead should be able to run wild.

Nebraska’s strength should match well against Northwestern’s offensive strength. The Wildcats need to throw well and throw efficiently to have any shot of winning, but that could be a problem against Husker secondary that’s 12th in the nation in passing and 23rd in the country in pass efficiency defense. Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson was flawless, and Washington’s Keith Price threw for 274 yards and four scores against the Nebraska D, but it was swarming and impenetrable last week against MSU’s Kirk Cousins, allowing just 86 yards with a pick on a 11-of-27 day. Persa will get his yards, but he’ll lose his share of battles.

What To Watch Out For: In a combination of tight end and fullback, Northwestern’s Drake Dunsmore has flourished in his role as the Superback. The 6-3, 235-pound senior is a decent blocker who can do a little of everything for the offense, but he’s at his best as a safety valve target. Steady more than spectacular, he was spectacular last week against Indiana catching seven passes for 112 yards and four scores, after catching just two touchdown passes over the first seven games.

It’s a tough year to be an all-star running back in the Big Ten, but Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead has been every bit as good as Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, Penn State’s Silas Redd, and Iowa’s Marcus Coker. The junior isn’t all that big, and he’s not particularly fast or powerful, but he was tremendous against Michigan State running for 130 touchdown and two scores on a battering 35 carries. He has run for 117 yards or more in five of his last six games, with the one game he was under the 100-yard mark a 96-yard day against Wisconsin. While he was banged up against the Spartans, if he’s close to 100%, he’ll come up with his sixth 100-yard day.

What Will Happen: Nebraska will be in for a fight, but in the end, the offensive line will come through. This is a crafty Northwestern offense that knows how to keep things moving, but the defense hasn’t even been close. Denard Robinson ran for 117 yards and two scores against the Wildcats, Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 391 yards, and Taylor Martinez will come up with a mix of the two putting up 300 yards of total offense.

CFN Prediction: Nebraska 41 … Northwestern 24
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