Nebraska, Northwestern are trending in different directions
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s game against Northwestern is all about mojo. The Cornhuskers are trying to build on theirs. The Wildcats are trying to get theirs back.
The winner Saturday will stay within striking distance of idle Iowa in the Big Ten West while the loser will set sights on bowl eligibility and a best possible postseason destination.
“Our whole objective is just to win as many games as we can,” Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said. “We’ll let that set us up down the road, but as far as right now, we’re taking it one week at a time and making sure that we win each and every week and not put ourselves in situations like we did — you know, 5-10 seconds away from being 5-1. Right now, we’re 3-4 and we’ve just got to keep winning.”
Armstrong turned in a strong performance and the defense shut down Minnesota’s running game in a 48-25 victory last week that, unlike five of Nebraska’s first six games, was decided well before the final minute.
“Now the message is that this should just make you hungry for more,” said Huskers coach Mike Riley, whose team is 1-2 in the Big Ten. “We need another good week of growth.”
Northwestern (5-2, 1-2), ranked No. 13 two weeks ago, has been outscored 78-10 in back-to-back losses to Michigan and Iowa, a continuation of the program’s October struggles under coach Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats are 2-8 in October games the last three years and have had above-.500 Octobers just twice in Fitzgerald’s first nine seasons.
“The stats show we’re not very good in October. That’s also when Big Ten play is starting,” superback Dan Vitale said. “That’s the hard part of the season. That’s why we all come here, to play Big Ten football. No one ever said it’s going to be easy, and that’s when you get your first taste of it. We definitely need to be better in October.”
Some things to know about Northwestern-Nebraska:
’95 CHAMPS CELEBRATION: Nebraska will honor its 1995 national championship team on the field before the game. The ’95 Huskers finished 12-0 and defeated each opponent by at least 14 points while capturing a second straight national title.
STRUGGLING THORSON: Against Michigan and Iowa, Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson combined to complete 48 percent of his passes (30 of 62) for 231 yards, with one TD and two interceptions. Fitzgerald said playing at Michigan Stadium should have helped prepare the redshirt freshman for what awaits, to a point. “Memorial Stadium is a special place, and not that the Big House isn’t, it’s just a different noise level in Lincoln. The fans are great, they’re passionate. It’s one of those great environments that is very, very difficult to play in.”
TOUGH RUNNING: Northwestern RB Justin Jackson averaged 127 yards the first five games but was limited to 55 the last two weeks against Michigan and Iowa defenses ranked among the top four nationally against the run. Nebraska is seventh in rushing defense, allowing 91 yards a game.
A COUPLE DOOZIES: The teams’ last two games in Lincoln have been memorable. In 2011, backup QB Kain Colter led the Wildcats — 17-point underdogs — to a 28-25 win over the ninth-ranked Huskers. In 2013, third-string QB Ron Kellogg III connected with Jordan Westerkamp on a 49-yard Hail Mary to give Nebraska a 27-24 win.
ALL-BLACK UNIFORMS: Nebraska will keep the scarlet and cream in the locker room and wear all-black uniforms. The numbers are red, as is the oversized “N″ that’s integrated into the pant stripe to match the logo on the black matte shell helmet. The Huskers have worn alternate uniforms for one home game a season since 2012 and are 2-1 in those games.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org