Opponent Preview: Northwestern
Nebraska welcomes Northwestern to Memorial Stadium on Saturday for a Big Ten Legends Division matchup.
The Huskers (5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) are looking to rebound from last Saturday's loss at Minnesota, while the Wildcats (4-4, 0-4) are looking to snap a four-game losing streak and pick up their first Big Ten Conference victory.
Despite a current four-game losing streak, Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini says Northwestern is a tough opponent who is only a few plays away from posting a better record. During the four-game losing streak, the Wildcats have suffered a 10-point loss to Ohio State, a three-point setback to Minnesota and an overtime loss at Iowa.
“They’ve lost some tough games," Pelini said. "Other than probably the Wisconsin game where they didn’t play very well, for the most part they’ve been right there. At the end of the day, they’ve had some opportunities to win some games. They’ve been right there and things haven’t gone their way. You look at the Ohio State game. They are right there and fumbled the ball there at the end when they were going in. You see what this football team is capable of.”
Fans can see Saturday's matchup live on BTN. Kick off is set for 2:30 p.m.
After opening the season 4-0 and climbing as high as No. 16 in the national rankings, Northwestern has lost four straight games. The Wildcats bring a 4-4 overall record into today’s game, including an 0-4 Big Ten record.
Northwestern averaged 39.0 points per game over its first five games, but the Wildcats have scored just 33 points in their last three contests combined. But injuries have slowed the Wildcat offense of late. All-Big Ten running back Venric Mark has played in only three games this season, while quarterback Kain Colter was injured in a loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 12 and missed Northwestern’s loss to Minnesota the next weekend. Colter returned last Saturday against Iowa.
Mark and Colter have been a big part of Northwestern’s offense. In 2012, the duo combined for 77 percent of Northwestern’s rushing yards, 61 percent of the Wildcats’ total offense and 51 percent of NU’s all-purpose yards.
Despite the limited availability of Mark and Colter, Northwestern is still averaging 28.5 points per game and 408.5 yards of total offense. Treyvon Green leads Northwestern with 463 rushing yards, while Colter has added 323 yards. Through the air, Colter is completing 81.8 percent of his passes this fall, although he has only attempted 66 passes, completing 54 of those attempts for 500 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Backup Trevor Siemian is completing 58.3 percent of his passes while throwing for a team-high 1,313 yards and seven touchdowns. Siemian has also thrown five interceptions.
Defensively, Northwestern is allowing 25.9 points per game and 411.1 yards of total offense. The Wildcats have forced 18 turnovers this season, including 14 interceptions, a total that ranks sixth nationally.
Nebraska leads the all-time series 4-2, but the teams have split their first two meetings as Big Ten Conference foes. Last fall, Nebraska tied the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history, rallying from a 12-point deficit for a 29-28 win in Evanston. In 2011, Northwestern upset No. 9 Nebraska, 28-25 in Lincoln. Nebraska’s closest game of both the 2011 and 2012 seasons came against Northwestern.
Prior to Nebraska joining the Big Ten, the teams last met in the 2000 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. In that game, the ninth-ranked Huskers dominated in a 66-7 win over the 18th-ranked Wildcats. Nebraska’s 66 points marked the most it has ever scored in a bowl game, while Dan Alexander rushed for a Husker bowl record 240 yards in the win.
Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald
Pat Fitzgerald is in his eighth season as head coach of his alma mater, where he owns a 54-43 record, including a 26-34 mark in Big Ten Conference play. The Wildcats have gone to a bowl game in each of the last five years, winning at least eight games four times during that stretch. Last year, Fitzgerald led Northwestern to a 10-3 record. Northwestern’s 40 victories from 2008 to 2012 marked the program’s most wins in a five-year stretch in school history, while Fitzgerald has won more games than any other coach in Wildcat history.
Fitzgerald spent five years as an assistant coach at Northwestern before being elevated to head coach. He coached defensive backs in 2001 and linebackers from 2002 to 2005, while adding recruiting coordinator duties for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Fitzgerald’s first full-time coaching job came at Idaho in 2000, while he also served as a graduate assistant at Colorado in 1999 and Maryland in 1998.