GAME NOTES: A pair of Big Ten Conference Legends Division foes attempt to gain ground on the league leaders on Saturday afternoon when the Northwestern Wildcats play host to the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Nebraska started the season ranked in the AP Top-25, but is now on the outside looking in thanks to losses to UCLA on Sept. 8 (36-30) and Ohio State on Oct. 6 (63-38). Both of those defeats came in the Cornhuskers' only two road games to this point.
Northwestern bounced back nicely from its first loss of the season on Oct. 6 at Penn State (39-28) by pulling off an impressive road victory at Minnesota last week, 21-13. The Wildcats are unbeaten at Ryan Field this season, and have won six of their last seven in Evanston dating back to last season. Entering play this week, they are the only Big Ten team to have already become bowl eligible.
The Cornhuskers lead the all-time series, 3-2. Northwestern won last year's inaugural Legends Division matchup in Lincoln, 28-25. Nebraska hasn't played in Evanston since 1931.
Both in terms of points per game (43.7) and yards per game (507.3), Nebraska has the top offense in the Big Ten. It has been consistent as well, scoring 30 or more points in all six games.
Taylor Martinez has been stellar under center, completing 66.4 percent of his passes for 1,273 yards and 12 touchdowns, while rushing for another 338 yards and five scores. He only has four interceptions on the season, but three of those picks came in the team's last loss to Ohio State.
The Cornhuskers have a revolving door of reliable runners, with five players recording at least 200 rushing yards and more than one touchdown. Ameer Abdullah (86 carries, 514 yards, seven TDs) garners most of the backfield work.
Kenny Ball (20 receptions, 463 yards, four TDs) is one of the top receivers in the conference, but no other player averages more than 30 receiving yards per game.
The defensive effort (27.7 ppg, 367 ypg) had been largely impressive up until it's last game when the unit surrendered seven offensive touchdowns in a blowout loss to Ohio State.
Will Compton quarterbacks the defense and has recorded 53 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery. Eric Martin is the team's best pass rusher with eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Northwestern's offense (31.1 ppg) has also been clicking in the first half of the season and much like Nebraska's, it is highly reliant on the run with 228.4 of its 407.9 ypg coming on the ground.
Venric Mark is one of the busiest backs in the country with 134 carries for 792 yards and eight touchdowns, and he is coming off a career-high 182 yards last week against Minnesota.
Quarterback Kain Colter has been very effective with his limited amount of passes (55-of-78, 432 yards, two TDs, INT) but most of his damage comes in the rushing game where he's piled up 421 yards and eight scores. Trevor Siemian is the more conventional quarterback (80-of-127, 811 yards), but he has just two touchdown passes.
No Wildcat receiver ranks in the top 20 in the conference in yards. Tony Jones (18 receptions, 230 yards, TD) and Demetrius Fields (25 receptions, 211 yards, TD) come the closest.
The NU defense (22.1 ppg) is coming off one of its strongest efforts of the season in allowing just 13 points and 327 yards to Minnesota.
Damien Proby (62 tackles) and Chi Chi Ariguzo (59 tackles, 6.5 TFL, sack, INT, two FR) are high-impact linebackers, and Tyler Scott (7.5 TFL, six sacks, three FF) is an outstanding pass rusher.
Both teams have a lot to prove in this matchup and want to show that they belong in the conversation regarding the Big Ten's best. Expect both rushing attacks to be in full force, but with a rowdy sold-out home crowd on its side, Northwestern will prevail in this matchup for the second straight year.