Nebraska returns home for Matt Rhule’s first game at Memorial Stadium after getting ran over by the Buffaloes last Saturday. The Huskers take on the Northern Illinois Huskies, who is 1-1 to start the season.
The Huskies are coming off a 14-11 loss to the Southern Illinois Salukis last Saturday only a week off of upsetting Boston College on the road.
It will be interesting to see what Saturday will look like for both sides, but more with the Huskies. Despite their loss to the Salukis, they aren’t a team to overlook.
Here’s a preview of the 2023 Huskies and a preview of the matchup.
Know The Foe: Nebraska vs Northern Illinois Huskies
What Was 2022 Like
2022 was a tough season for Northern Illinois, finishing 3-9. The Huskies suffered many injuries, especially to starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi. In fact, last season was the worst finish in a non-COVID-impacted season since 2007.
It was out of the ordinary for the Huskies. From 2008 to 2019, Northern Illinois made at least a bowl game in 10 out of 12 seasons, making eight MAC championships.
How Has 2023 Gone So Far
The 2023 season started off with a bang for the Huskies. They went on the road and took on the Boston College Eagles from the ACC on the road. It was a dog fight but Northern Illinois came out on top, winning 27-24 in OT on a walk-off one-yard touchdown by Lombardi.
The Huskies would follow up with a matchup with Southern Illinois of the FCS. Lombardi would throw for nearly 300 yards but his three interceptions would end up being costly in the three-point loss to the Salukis.
Looking forward, Northern Illinois should be better than they were in 2022, as long as they stay healthy.
Players to Watch
Obviously, a player for the Nebraska defense to watch is Lombardi. The senior quarterback has a lot of experience. In fact, he has played against Nebraska before. Back before Lombardi transferred to the Huskies, he played for Michigan State. In 2018, Nebraska took down Lombardi and the Spartans in a 9-6 snow game.
A player on the receiving end to watch is senior wide receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz, who has 11 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown on the season. Rutkiewcz seems to be Lombardi’s favorite target and should be a player for Nebraska to watch.
Defensively, the Huskies have sophomore defensive ends Roy Williams and George Gumbs, who both are tied for the most sacks with 1.5. Senior safety CJ Brown leads the team in total tackles with nine, seven solo tackles, and two assisted.
What Does Week 3 Entail
With a good performance and a bad performance already this season, it begs the question. What Northern Illinois’ team will the Huskers get on Saturday? Regardless, Nebraska can’t be caught sleeping. Nebraska has a lot to prove, especially after starting 0-2.
Nebraska could have a new face at quarterback on Saturday. Coach Rhule announced on Monday that starting quarterback Jeff Sims suffered a high ankle sprain against Colorado. He also said that it isn’t as severe as a typically high ankle sprain which lasts 4-5 weeks.
It’s not been determined who will be starting on Saturday. It could be either sophomore Chubba Purdy, younger brother of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, or Heinrich Haarberg, out of Kearney Catholic in Nebraska.
Purdy has been dealing with a groin injury but has been cleared back up to 100% according to Coach Rhule. Haarberg got playing time last week when Sims went down, throwing a four-yard touchdown to tight end Thomas Fidone.
If healthy and cleared, Sims is still slated to start on Saturday.
Defensively, Nebraska has been strong in many aspects. The Huskers lead the country in sacks with 11, which senior linebacker Luke Reimer leads the Big Ten with 2.5 sacks. Freshman defensive end Cameron Lenhardt has had a great start to his time in Lincoln, with getting two sacks against the Buffaloes last week.
What Does Nebraska Need To Do
From a matchup standpoint, Nebraska should have the edge defensively as they have performed well the past two weeks. The key thing will be, can the Blackshirts force turnovers?
The Huskers need to continue to pressure the quarterback. They showed that last week, sacking Shedeur Sanders a whopping eight times, the most since 2009. On the back end, the defensive backs need to keep that same vision going, Bend but don’t brake. It works as long as the offense can get things going and stop putting the defense in bad situations.
Nebraska needs to improve all around offensively regardless of who is starting at quarterback. The defense has done its part in both games but the offense has struggled in both. The biggest struggle has been on turnovers. Nebraska has had eight turnovers in eight quarters of play. That needs to be fixed if the offense even wants to be competitive.
Where: Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Nebraska)
When: Saturday, Sep. 16, 6:00 p.m. FS1
History Between The Two
Nebraska and Northern Illinois have faced off a total of four times. The first time these two teams faced off was in 1989 in Lincoln when Nebraska won 48-17.
Nebraska holds the all-time series lead 3-1, where the only Northern Illinois win was in 2017. In 2017, Northern Illinois shocked Nebraska in Lincoln 21-17 with two pick-sixes that would lead them to the victory. The most recent matchup was in 2019, when Nebraska took down the Huskies 44-8, led by Adrian Martinez.
That 2017 matchup is the reason why Nebraska can not overlook this weekend. I can’t imagine a situation where Nebraska would since the Huskers have had a rough start to the season.
It will be important to win this game, to get Coach Rhule’s first season in Lincoln back on track to possibly get a berth into bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016.
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