Nebraska Preview: Cornhuskers Host Northern Illinois
With the start of the Big Ten football schedule a little more than a week away, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are in need of some answers.
The Big Red hosts Northern Illinois in week three, desperately in need of some confidence heading into league play.
Nebraska (1-1) comes in off a seven-point loss at Oregon, in another game where their new 3-4 defense struggled at times.
They'll be going against a Northern Illinois (1-1) team that could easily be undefeated after two games.
The Huskies, out the Mid-American Conference, lost by three against Boston College in week one, after a potential game tying field goal hit the crossbar. They also lost starting quarterback Ryan Graham to an elbow injury in that game.
Last week, NIU thumped Eastern Illinois 38-10, with backup quarterback Daniel Santacaterina hitting 67 percent of his passes (23-of-34) for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
He's got a pair of talented running backs behind him. Jordan Huff gained 700 yards last season, while Marcus Jones ran for nearly 2,000 yards in high school.
Northern Illinois will also be without the services of injured wide receiver Chad Beebe for the game. The son of former NFL receiver Don Beebe is the team's leading receiver after two games.
The defense is young and talented, with sophomore defensive end Sutton Smith already racking up six tackles for loss and sophomore linebacker Kyle Pugh collecting 22 tackles in two games.
The Huskies have been plagued by penalties in 2017. 15 of them for 194 yards last week. 23 total in two games.
The kicking game has also had issues, with two field goal attempts blocked by Eastern Illinois last week.
Nebraska is banged up coming into this game. Starting running back Tre Bryant is questionable with a knee injury. Miakle Wilbon should get the majority of the carries in his absence.
Offensive lineman David Knevel will miss his second straight game with an injury. That means another start for Sioux Falls Washington grad Matt Farniok.
Defensively, safety Joshua Kalu is doubtful with a hamstring injury.
Three big areas Nebraska is looking for instant improvement in this one:
- Third down conversion rate for the offense (just 32% so far)
- Third down conversion rate against the defense (a whopping 59% in two games)
- A 21-yard per return average against the punt coverage team, resulting in unfavorable field position
Kickoff is 11:00 AM, Saturday in Lincoln. You can catch all of the action on ESPN 99-1.
In the 42-35 loss at Oregon, the Cornhuskers dug themselves a hole early.
Nebraska gave up a 75-yard touchdown drive and then turned the ball over at their own 20, setting up another Ducks score to make it 14-0 less than four minutes into the game.
Later in the first half, the Big Red offense responded with back-to-back touchdown drives to pull to within 21-14.
But the rest of the first half was all Oregon.
In the final ten minutes of the second quarter, the Ducks scored 21 unanswered points, including touchdown drives of 73 and 70 yards, to stretch the lead to 42-14.
Oregon finished the first half with 409 yards of total offense.
The Nebraska offense managed just 18 yards on 12 plays the remainder of the half.
But all of that changed in the second half.
The Husker offense got touchdown passes from Tanner Lee to Stanley Morgan Jr. on consecutive drives to cut the lead to 42-28, while defense buckled down to shutout Oregon in the second half.
The Big Red got within seven points after a Wilbon touchdown run with 2:47 to play in the fourth quarter, but that came sandwiched between two of Lee's four interceptions on the day. Both fourth quarter picks coming in Oregon territory.
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers', Greg Sharpe, about the Oregon loss and the match-up with Northern Illinois: