GAME 8: NEBRASKA vs. NORTHWESTERN
NOV. 2, 2013 | MEMORIAL STADIUM
LINCOLN, NEB. | 2:30 p.m. (CT)
Record: 5-2, 2-1
Rankings: Coaches-NR; AP-NR
Last Game: lost to Minnesota, 34-23
Coach: Bo Pelini
Career/NU Record: 54-22/6th year
vs. Northwestern: 1-1
Record: 4-4, 0-4
Rankings: Coaches-NR; AP-NR
Last Game: lost to Iowa, 17-10 (OT)
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald
Career/NW Record: 54-43/8th year
vs. NU: 1-1
Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium for the first time in four weeks on Saturday afternoon as the Huskers play host to Northwestern in a Big Ten Legends division matchup. The game is set for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff with television coverage provided by the Big Ten Network.
The Huskers will be looking to bounce back after a 34-23 road loss at Minnesota last Saturday. The loss dropped Nebraska to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten Conference play. The setback also dropped Nebraska out of both national polls this week.
Nebraska continues to field one of the nation’s top rushing offenses, averaging better than 270 yards per game on the ground. The rushing attack is led by junior Ameer Abdullah, who comes into Saturday’s contest needing just 19 yards to post his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing campaign.
Northwestern comes to Lincoln with a 4-4 record, including an 0-4 mark in Big Ten action. After starting the season with four straight wins, the Wildcats have dropped their past four games in conference play, with three of those losses by 10 or fewer points.
The Nebraska-Northwestern matchup has been full of drama the past two seasons with the two games decided by a total of four points, and the road team winning each game.
Saturday’s game will be the seventh matchup all-time between the schools and the third as Big Ten Conference foes. Nebraska holds a 4-2 edge in the series, including a 2-1 advantage in games played in Lincoln. The schools met just once in the regular season between 1931 and 2011 when Nebraska joined the Big Ten.
Nebraska: Bo Pelini (Ohio State, ‘90) owns a 54-22 record (.711) in his sixth season. Pelini has guided NU to nine or more wins in each of his first five seasons as head coach, joining Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne in accomplishing that feat at Nebraska. With Nebraska’s win over Wyoming in the season opener, Pelini became the fifth coach in NU history to win 50 games on the NU sideline, joining Dana Bible, Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne and Frank Solich.
Northwetsern:Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern, ‘97) is in his eighth season as the head coach at his alma mater. Fitzgerald has guided the Wildcats to a 54-43 record in his tenure. Fitzgerald has taken Northwestern to bowl games in each of the last five seasons.
Nebraska is 861-355-40 all-time, one of just eight schools with 800 all-time victories
- Nebraska has won five national championships (1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, 1997).
- The Cornhuskers have won 43 conference championships.
- NU’s 49 all-time bowl appearances rank third nationally.
- Since 1970, NU has 427 wins, 24 more than any other school.
- Nebraska’s 106 football Academic All-Americans lead the nation.
- The Huskers have 110 All-Americans in school history.
Scouting the Northwestern Wildcats
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 Saturday’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 fourthquarter 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 66-17 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.
Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini
Bo Pelini is his sixth season as Nebraska’s head coach and owns a 54-22 record with the Huskers. Pelini added a Big Ten Legends Division title in 2012 to three straight Big 12 North Division crowns from 2008 to 2010, when Pelini was the the first coach in the history of the Big 12 to win at least a share of a division title in each of his first three years.
He has guided Nebraska to at least nine wins each of his first five seasons in Lincoln, and three 10-win seasons. With the win over Wyoming in the opener, Pelini reached 50 career wins at Nebraska, making him just the fifth Husker coach to reach that milestone, joining Tom Osborne, Bob Devaney, Frank Solich and Dana X. Bible.
Pelini took charge of the Huskers after a highly successful five-year run as a collegiate defensive coordinator, including orchestrating NU’s defensive efforts in 2003. Pelini picked up his first college head coaching victory as NU’s interim coach in the 2003 Alamo Bowl against Michigan State.
Following his one season at Nebraska, Pelini served as the co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 2004, helping the Sooners to the Big 12 title and BCS title game. He then followed with three seasons as the defensive coordinator at LSU. With the Tigers, Pelini led three consecutive defenses to No. 3 national rankings in total defense. He culminated his time in Baton Rouge by helping the Tigers to the 2007 national championship.
In addition to his five seasons as an assistant at the collegiate level, Pelini coached in the NFL for nine seasons, serving three years each with the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. Pelini was a team captain and four-year letterman as a safety at Ohio State from 1987 to 1990.
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.
Huskers-Cats Have History of Close Calls
The first two matchups between Nebraska and Northwestern as Big Ten foes have been memorable contests. Northwestern upended No. 9 Nebraska in Lincoln in 2011, escaping with a three-point win by a score of 28-25. Last season, Nebraska rallied from 12 points down in the fourth quarter to win 29-28 in Evanston.
- The three and one-point margins the past two seasons have been Nebraska’s closest games in each of those years.
Nebraska and Northwestern are meeting for the third straight season and will continue to match up each year in the future. The schools have both been in the Legends Division from 2011 to 2013 and will compete in the West Division beginning in 2014.
NU Shoots for Sixth Straight Year With Nine or More Wins
Nebraska posted a 10-4 record in 2012, giving the Huskers nine or more victories in each of Bo Pelini’s first five seasons as head coach. The streak of five straight nine-win seasons puts Nebraska in an elite class nationally.
- Nebraska is one of four schools that has won at least nine games each of the past five seasons. The others in that group include Alabama, Boise State and Oregon.
- Pelini has guided Nebraska to 10-win seasons in three of the last four years.
- The five straight years of at least nine wins marks the first time NU has accomplished that since its NCAA record streak of 33 straight nine-win seasons from 1969 to 2001.
- Nebraska has 47 nine-win seasons in school history, including 39 since 1969.
Huskers Look to Secure Bowl Eligibility
Nebraska will look to push its record to 6-2 in 2013 with a win Saturday over Northwestern. A sixth win would make Nebraska bowl eligible and continue the Huskers’ long postseason tradition.
- A bowl trip this fall would mark Nebraska’s sixth straight bowl appearance under Bo Pelini, and give Nebraska 43 bowl appearances in the past 45 seasons dating back to 1969.
- Nebraska is 24-25 all-time in bowl games, and would make its 50th bowl appearance this fall. Only Alabama (59) and Texas (51) have reached 50 bowl appearances, while Tennessee could also reach that milestone this season.
Abdullah Running at Impressive Pace in 2013
Junior I-back Ameer Abdullah has been the leading figure in Nebraska’s running game this fall. The Homewood, Ala., native has six 100-yard rushing games, including a career-high 225 rushing yards against Illinois, and 165 yards last week at Minnesota.
Abdullah has rushed for 981 yards and six touchdowns in 2013, while averaging an impressive 7.4 yards per carry. Abdullah’s average of 140.1 rushing yards per game ranks second in the Big Ten and sixth nationally, and his 981 rushing yards are also among the nation’s leaders.
- With 981 rushing yards through seven games this season, Abdullah’s rushing total also stacks up well in recent Husker history. His seven-game rushing total is the sixth-best for Nebraska players since World War II.
- If Abdullah were to crack the 1,000-yard barrier this week against Northwestern, he would be the first Nebraska player to reach 1,000 rushing yards in eight or fewer games since Ahman Green had 1,098 rushing yards through eight games in 1997.
Abdullah Looking for Back-to-Back 1,000-Yard Seasons
Abdullah first emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top running backs in 2012, as he posted a 1,000-yard rushing season. Abdullah carried a heavy load in the rushing game, teaming with quarterback Taylor Martinez to give Nebraska a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Abdullah is poised to duplicate his 1,000-yard rushing season this week.
Abdullah has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of seven games this season, while falling just short with 98 rushing yards against UCLA. Abdullah ran for 114 yards in the opener against Wyoming, including a career-long 62-yard run. Abdullah closed out non-conference play by rushing for 139 yards on 15 carries against South Dakota State. Abdullah carried the ball just once after halftime in the win over the Jackrabbits.
The non-conference season set the stage for a career day for Abdullah in the Big Ten opener against Illinois. Abdullah rushed 20 times for a career-high 225 yards and two touchdowns. He
had three runs of better than 30 yards in the game, including a highlight-reel 43-yard TD run in the third quarter.
His 225 yards were the most by a Husker since Roy Helu Jr. ran for a school-record 307 yards against Missouri in 2010. For his performance, Abdullah was named Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week. It was the first time Abdullah had earned the offensive player-of-the-week honors, but his fourth Big Ten weekly honor. He previously earned the Special Teams Player of the Week twice, and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week once in 2011.
Abdullah backed up the Illinois performance with two outstanding efforts in Big Ten road games. Abdullah ran for 126 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries at Purdue on Oct. 12. At Minnesota, Abdullah ran for 165 yards on 19 carries, an impressive 8.7 yards per carry.
- Abdullah ranks second in the Big Ten and sixth nationally in rushing yards per game at 140.1 yards per contest. In Big Ten games only, Abdullah averages 172.0 rushing yards per game
to easily lead the conference, and he is averaging 8.7 yards per carry in conference play.
- Abdullah has 12 career 100-yard rushing efforts, including six in 2013. His 12 100-yard rushing games are the 10th-most in Nebraska history.
- Abdullah is just 19 rushing yards from his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. He would be just the eighth player in school history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Abdullah ran for 1,137 yards last season.
- Abdullah has shown big-play rushing ability this season. He has seven rushes of 30 yards or more in 2013, including a career-long 62-yard run against Wyoming. He had three runs of 30 yards or more in his career effort against Illinois.
- Abdullah is the 28th player in Nebraska history to surpass 2,000 career rushing yards, and is nearing the top 20 on the Huskers’ career rushing chart. Abdullah has 2,268 career rushing yards to rank 21st on the list, 125 yards from the top 20.
- Abdullah is just the 12th player to reach the 2,000-yard mark before his senior season.
- In addition to his running skills, Abdullah is a receiving threat out of the backfield, with 17 receptions for 143 yards this season. His 160.6 all-purpose yards per game lead the Big Ten and rank 11th nationally.
- Abdullah was one of the nation’s top kickoff return threats in 2011 and 2012. He has yet to return a kickoff this season, but has been back on the top kickoff return unit the past several weeks.
- Abdullah is one of only three active players in the country with a rushing, receiving, punt return and kickoff return touchdown in their career.
Abdullah finished the 2012 season with 1,137 yards, while averaging 5.0 yards per rushing attempt. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the league’s coaches, while being an honorable-mention pick by the media. Abdullah and Martinez posted the 32nd and 33rd 1,000-yard rushing seasons in NU history, and Abdullah’s 1,000-yard campaign was the eighth in school history by a sophomore. His 1,137 yards ranked as the 19th-best single-season effort at Nebraska.
Abdullah had 1,884 all-purpose yards in 2012 to rank sixth on the NU single-season all-purpose yardage list. It was the most all-purpose yards for a Husker since 1997.
- Abdullah rushed for better than 100 yards in each of his first five career starts in 2012. He was the first Nebraska player to record 100-yard rushing games in each of his first five starts since Lawrence Phillips topped 100 yards in each of his first 11 starts in 1994.
- Abdullah was an explosive all-purpose threat for the Huskers in several areas in 2012. Abdullah averaged 13.1 yards per punt return, including an 81-yard return for a score against Idaho State. He also averaged 21.2 yards per kickoff return and had an 83-yard kickoff return against Wisconsin. Abdullah’s 134.6 all-purpose yards per game were fourth in the Big Ten and 31st nationally.
Martinez Makes Return at Minnesota
Nebraska senior quarterback Taylor Martinez missed three straight games with a foot injury before returning at Minnesota.
When Martinez was not in the starting lineup against South Dakota State on Sept. 21 it ended a streak of 32 consecutive starts for the Husker signal caller. Martinez has been one of the most durable players in Nebraska history, having started all but five games at quarterback since the start of the 2010 season.
Earlier this season, Martinez became the first quarterback in school history to start four consecutive season openers against Wyoming. Only Tommie Frazier (1993-94-95) and Steve Taylor (1986-87-88) had previously started three season openers at quarterback in NU school history. Martinez was one of just seven quarterbacks in the FBS ranks who started their fourth consecutive season opener in 2013, and he is the only player in the group to post a 4-0 record in those games.
Martinez has made 43 career starts, the most ever for an NU quarterback.
Click on the "Game Notes" link in the related links section at the top of this page for more notes on this weekend's game.