So, here we are fans. The Huskers have suffered their first loss of the season to the then No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, getting ready to face their ninth opponent. Could you think of any bigger challenge, except having to play the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes the next week? Yet, the Huskers rose to the occasion. Nebraska Head Coach Mike Riley and several of the players have indicated they are mad because of the 23-17 OT loss to Wisconsin. Though, there might not be as many folks who will say it, I hope the Big Ten gives a thorough scrubbing review of the officiating that night.
Even with the biased lens of a fan that I hold up to the game, I still believe fair is fair.
Riley, quoted by the Land of 10, issued a challenge to his players: “You either rise up and compete or get left in the dust.” I agree: leave no doubt even if the calls don’t always go your way. Last week the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes struggled against a resurgent Northwestern Wildcats team, 24-20, sealing the victory on its final drive. Coach Urban Meyer told ESPN that “It was a pretty good chess match back and forth, and I just loved the way we finished it off.” He couldn’t say that about the loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions in the previous week, though Meyer makes a good point. After Penn State, the Buckeyes most likely have kept that at the forefront of their minds, as have the Huskers, which may be setting the stage for a major clash and an ESPN Instant Classic.
This week, both Northwestern and No. 9 Nebraska flop opponents. You’ve got to believe the Wildcats think they can overcome the Badgers, though they are not in as favorable position as the Huskers, who remain at the top of the West Division. In looking ahead, despite the outcome against Ohio State, which has a 7-1 identical record, the remainder of Nebraska’s opponents will have a steep challenge in stopping the Huskers on their road to destiny. Two of the teams, the Minnesota Gold Gophers and the Iowa Hawkeyes are West Division foes, and have given the Huskers fits in the past. Both are currently 3-2 teams in conference, and looking to finish strong, especially Head Coach Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes, who started the season with a No. 17 Associated Press ranking. Who said the East Division had the better teams?
However, take into account Wisconsin’s remaining schedule. Aside from Northwestern, it may only contend with two losses to Michigan and Ohio State, the better team being the Wolverines, who remain the only unbeaten Big Ten team so far. If the Badgers win out, there’s a chance they could end up at the top of the West and most likely in a rematch with the Wolverines. But in the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast.” No prognosticator or true fan in his right mind should dismiss the Huskers. Anyone who’s been watching the topsy-turvy season would believe, as I do, that an angry Nebraska, proving they belong with the big boys, have a far better than a 6 percent chance of taking the Buckeyes down on Saturday, November 5.
Against Penn State, the Buckeyes struggled with their passing game. Because of it, Ohio State became the highest ranked team to lose to an unranked team this season. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was 28-for-43 for 245 yards through the air, while he was sacked six times against the Lions. Barrett encountered the same problems against Northwestern. His offensive line is failing to protect him during critical downs, especially along the left side. Against the Wildcats, he was 21-for-32 for 223 yards, not much better. Though if stats tell one story, Barrett tells another. According to ESPN, he said, “I’m comfortable where we’re at. I know things we can absolutely be better at as far as our offense. We’re executing.”
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s offense is fueled by the stalwart efforts of QB Tommy Armstrong, who threw for 12-of-31 for 153 yards against Wisconsin. He also ran 39 yards off 13 totes, including a two-yard score in the fourth bringing the Huskers within a field goal shy of tying the game. Kicker Drew Brown did that with 3:43 left. And, back in the lineup after being out several weeks with a back injury, senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp let his presence be known. He had three catches for 62 yards, his longest of the day for 36 yards set up Nebraska’s first TD. Expect him to be more involved against Ohio State, given that his game against the Badgers was just a warm up.
In the end, the difference was Wisconsin running back Dare Ogunbowale, who tore off large chucks for 120 yards on just 11 carries, while Nebraska focused on backfield mate Corey Clement. Ogunbowale scored on an 11-yard run in OT to decide the game. There should be no surprises in preparing for the Buckeyes. Nebraska I’m sure has monitored the progress made by rushers Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel. In Meyer’s words, according to Eleven Warriors, “… we have the same run plays, the same pass pro as they run in the league; we have a West Coast passing game and a pro-style defense.”
Enough said? If Nebraska wins the one-on-one matchups, expect the Buckeyes to have a long night.
The Huskers defense made a statement as well. Linebackers Michael Rose-Ivey and Josh Banderas, and free safety Nate Gerry led the defense in tackles in that order, with six, four and seven solo tackles, respectively. Gerry, who also had two interceptions, was among defensive players named to the watch list for the Bednarik Award, which has been presented to the College Defensive Player of the Year since 1995. And, Armstrong was named to the watch list for the 80th annual Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s College Player of the Year since 1937.
It’s apparent Nebraska has the tools, and the fight. Now, as Big Ten ranked teams have done this season, Nebraska is in a position to do the same. The Huskers know they’ll be tested against Ohio State, but it’s all a matter of how they finish.
Odds makers have the Buckeyes as a 15-plus-points favorite at home in the Horseshoe. Watch for yourself on ABC at 6 p.m.