Nebraska travels to Evanston, Illinois as the Huskers face the Northwestern Wildcats in a Big Ten Conference game Saturday. The game which is set for an 11:00 a.m. kickoff will be televised by ABC.
The Huskers are undefeated all time at Ryan Field, the home stadium of Northwestern. The Wildcats, coached by former Wildcat All-American linebacker Pat Fitzgerald are 2-3 on the season. Northwestern is winless at home, including losses to Duke, Akron, and Michigan. Nebraska has typically filled the stands in Evanston making the game a friendly environment for the Huskers.
Northwestern offensively is paced by quarterback Clayton Thorson (6-foot-4, 226 pounds, Senior). Thorson has had success against the Big Red leading the Wildcats to wins at Memorial Stadium in 2015 and 2017. Thorson completes 62.1 percent of his passes (118 of 190) with six touchdowns and five interceptions. As a team the Wildcats average over 316 yards per game through the air. Thorson is a capable runner for a team that has a limited ground game. His rushing stats have been offset by sacks and the team averages just over 77 yards per game on the ground. The best back was Jeremy Larkin who was forced to retire from football permanently two weeks ago. This will mean that the Wildcats will throw the ball a great deal, especially if Nebraska stuffs the ground attack early in the game.
Flynn Nagel (5-11, 195, Sr.) is the top receiver for Northwestern. He has 36 catches for 402 yards to pace the Wildcats. Cameron Green (6-3, 237, Jr.) adds 26 receptions for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Green plays what is called the super back which is a hybrid fullback and tight end . Along the offensive line Northwestern averages nearly 6-4 and just over 301 pounds per man from tackle to tackle. Left tackle Blake Hance (6-5, 310, Sr.) is the leader up front for Northwestern. The offense is not the catalyst for the Wildcats, but if Thorson gets hot and does not turn the ball over it may be a long afternoon for Nebraska.
Defense is where the Wildcats show their strength. The defense is stingy against the run allowing only 133 yards per game on the ground. The unquestioned leader of the defense is middle linebacker Paddy Fisher (6-4, 241, So.). Fisher has been a star starting last year as a true freshman. Fisher likely will be playing in the National Football League in a few years. The top tackler is weakside linebacker Blake Gallagher (6-1, 227, So.) with 49 total tackles on the season. On the defensive line end Joe Gaziano (6-4, 275, Jr.) is an impact player. Gaziano has 6.5 tackles for loss including 3.5 sacks this season for Northwestern. In the secondary the Wildcats give up over 255 yards passing per game. Freshman cornerback Greg Newsome (6-1, 182) may be a target for the Husker passing game to take advantage of by isolating Stanley Morgan or J. D. Spielman on Newsome.
Special teams are similar for both squads. The Wildcats have been ineffective on kickoff and punt returns. Kicker Charlie Kuhbander (6-1, 188, So.) is only 2 of 5 (40 percent) on field goals in 2018. Punter Jake Collins (6-1, 201, Sr.) averages just over 39 yards on 28 punts this season.
Northwestern is the weakest opponent Nebraska has played in 2018. The Wildcats have a good win over Michigan State and lost a close game with Michigan, but are limited offensively. Nebraska may be able to control the game with the passing game. The Huskers need to play disciplined football to defeat any opponent. The Wildcats commit very few penalties. If Nebraska cuts down mental mistakes and turnovers I believe they are the better team. Behind a friendly crowd away from home and a big passing game from Adrian Martinez I like the Huskers by a score of 35 to 21 Saturday over Northwestern.