Early Analysis: Nebraska-Northwestern

Nebraska vs. Northwestern
Saturday, 2:30 PM ESPN2/ABC
Line: Nebraska – 4.5

“The Battle for NU” officially began last year when Pat Fitzgerald and his crew of smart kids waltzed into Lincoln and knocked off a team of Cornhuskers who thought the Wildcats would be pushovers. With veteran quarterback Dan Persa out, Kain Colter –ironically a Nebraska recruit who chose Northwestern – frustrated a sleepwalking Blackshirt defense. Taylor Martinez had arguably his best game of the season, but he couldn’t win the shootout alone.

This year, the Big Ten Spoiler could deal the Cornhuskers a critical blow, specifically in regards to Bo Pelini’s future. Nebraska sits at 4-2 overall, 1-1 in conference play. He has publicly stated that his team needs to “win out.” With a new athletic director coming in, that’s a great goal, but Northwestern could send Nebraska spiraling if they can put a dent in the Huskers’ record for a second straight season.

For Nebraska to Win: On offense, it’s mandatory for the Cornhuskers to establish a consistent passing attack. Expect the Wildcats to load the box to stop Nebraska’s running back stable and take advantage of an average offensive line. While the Cornhuskers will use the run, expect plenty of play action and misdirection to buy Martinez time. Wide receivers Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and a returning Tim Marlowe will be crucial to winning a likely shootout.

On defense, look for Nebraska to use formations in an attempt to minimize big plays by Northwestern that will even the score and/or change momentum. That said, large chunks of yardage are likely to be given up by what has shown to be a sub-par Husker defense. Nebraska needs to force the Wildcats into passing situations as often as possible.

For Northwestern to Win: On offense, it’s no secret that Bo Pelini cannot defend against a shifty quarterback effectively this season, so Northwestern must – and will – exploit the holes Nebraska will give them. A rushing attack is vital and the Wildcats are ranked No. 18 in the country putting up over 228 yards per game. Force the Husker defense to commit to man coverage and Northwestern has a recipe for success.

On defense, do what worked for UCLA and Ohio State. Sell out to get in Taylor Martinez’s head. Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah are going to be tough to corral, but if Martinez is forced into making snap decisions, he’s regressing to staring down his targets again.

Key Player, Nebraska: Taylor Martinez – Seems like a broken record, but it’s true. Will Northwestern provide the opportunity for Martinez to have his best game of the season again? There’s a fair amount of pressure on him to do well this game. If Tim Beck can roll Martinez out on passes and utilize his speed on the ground, Husker fans could be talking “T-Magic” instead of “T-ragic.”

Key Player, Northwestern: Venric Mark/Kain Colter –Colter did most of the damage in 2011, but if the Wildcats are to have success on the ground, he and Mark are going to be equally important. If they can get into the second level and allow for quarterback Trevor Sieman to convert on third and short situations, frustration and confusion may build on Nebraska’s side to the point where the Wildcats can rip off some huge plays.

Key Stat: 749 – The amount of yardage both teams combine to give up on average every game. As of this writing, the over’s currently sitting at 62 points. Got any kids that want to go to college?

More opinion and snarkery await! Follow Brandon on Twitter: @eightlaces

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.