LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska received a rude awakening last weekend in terms of the progress it must make in order to once again rise to national prominence, while Northwestern's odds of making a second straight Big Ten championship game are already looking bleak. The Cornhuskers attempt to bounce back from a disheartening loss and keep the Wildcats winless in conference play Saturday when the schools meet in Lincoln.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Nebraska -7.5.
Although Nebraska wasn't expected to beat No. 5 Ohio State, the Cornhuskers gave themselves virtually no chance to do so, throwing three interceptions and going three-and-out on their other four first-half possessions en route to a 38-point deficit at intermission and a 48-7 loss at home to the Buckeyes. "We keep preaching turnovers and we can't turn it over three times in the first half, again, especially against a team like that. … I thought we had a puncher's chance if we came out and played a really good game, and we didn't, so that's the result," Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost said. Turnovers were also a theme for the Wildcats in their last game, yielding touchdowns on a fumble recovery in their own end zone and a 68-yard interception return in last weekend's 24-15 loss at No. 9 Wisconsin. Northwestern's 128th-ranked scoring offense (conference-worst 15.5 points) is unlikely to execute much better this weekend as it could be without quarterback Hunter Johnson (lower-body injury) and top receiver Bennett Skowronek (undisclosed).
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (1-3, 0-2 Big Ten)
Johnson's injury is not considered serious, but he has managed to complete only 48.3 percent of his passes for 367 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions; Aidan Smith, who came on in relief of Johnson last week, has been even worse (38.7 completion percentage, one TD, three interceptions). JJ Jefferson (six receptions, 107 yards) is responsible for both of the Wildcats' receiving touchdowns, while Riley Lees (91 yards receiving) is tied with Skowronek for the team lead in catches (12). Junior safety Travis Whillock ranks seventh in the conference with 37 tackles - most among Big Ten defensive backs - while fellow junior JR Pace recorded his seventh career interception - tied for the most among active Big Ten players since 2017.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (3-2, 1-1)
Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez was limited to a season-low 128 total yards - after registering at least 301 in each of his previous three contests - as the Cornhuskers did not reach 100 total yards until late in the third quarter before finishing with 231 against Ohio State. In an effort to spark the offense in the first half, Nebraska enjoyed some success when it turned back the clock almost 20 years by running a multitude of plays out of the I formation, leading Frost to say "we'll see" when asked if he would build on that package. Dedrick Mills, who ranks third in Big Ten with six rushing scores, was responsible for Nebraska's only touchdown versus the Buckeyes.
1. Six of the eight meetings have been decided by three or fewer points or in overtime, with the teams needing overtime the past two seasons.
2. Northwestern has passed for no more than 165 yards in any game this season and has been held to 265 total yards or fewer in all three of its losses.
3. The Cornhuskers (14 turnovers, 128th in FBS) and Wildcats (11, 118th) rank first and second, respectively, in the Big Ten in turnovers.
PREDICTION: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 17