GAME 7: NEBRASKA at NORTHWESTERN
OCT. 20, 2012 | RYAN FIELD
EVANSTON, Ill. | 2:30 p.m. (CT)
Record: 4-2, 1-1 Big Ten
Rankings: Coaches-NR; AP-NR
Last Game: lost to Ohio State, 63-38
Coach: Bo Pelini
Career/NU Record: 43-18/5th year
vs. Northwestern: 0-1
Record: 6-1, 2-1 Big Ten
Rankings: Coaches-NR; AP-12
Last Game: def. Minnesota, 21-13
Coach: Pat Fitzgerald
Career/NU Record: 46-37/7th year
vs. Nebraska: 1-0
Nebraska heads into the second half of its 2012 schedule with its first Legends Division contest of the year, taking on Northwestern on Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and will be televised on ABC. The game will be available on ESPN2 in markets not carrying the game on their ABC affiliate.
The Huskers are coming off a bye week at the midway point in their season and sit at 4-2 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten Conference play after a loss at Ohio State on Oct. 8. The loss to the Buckeyes dropped Nebraska out of the national rankings. At 1-1 in Big Ten play, Saturday’s matchup with the Wildcats is crucial to the Huskers’ hopes of contending for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game in December.
Northwestern comes into the contest with a 6-1 overall record and a 2-1 mark in Big Ten action, following a hard-fought 21-13 win at Minnesota on Saturday. The Wildcats opened the year with five straight victories, before a narrow loss at Penn State on Oct. 6. Northwestern features a strong rushing attack, averaging better than 225 yards per game to rank among the nation’s top 20 rushing teams.
Neither team is ranked entering the contest, but both schools are among the top teams receiving votes in both major polls. The Nebraska-Northwestern matchup will help begin to shape the Legends Division race. Five of Nebraska’s final six regular-season games are against division opponents, including each of the next three games.
Saturday’s game is the sixth all-time meeting between the two schools and just the second matchup in Evanston. Nebraska’s only other trip to Northwestern came in 1931, when the Wildcats defeated Nebraska, 19-7. Northwestern won the first Big Ten matchup between the schools last year, defeating No. 9 Nebraska in Lincoln, 28-25.
Nebraska: Bo Pelini (Ohio State, ‘90) owns a 43-18 record (.717) in his fifth season. Pelini has guided NU to nine or more wins in each of his first four seasons as head coach, joining Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne and Frank Solich in accomplishing that feat. Pelini is one of only six first-time head coaches in NCAA history to win at least nine games in each of his first four seasons at a BCS conference school.
Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern, 97) owns a 46-37 record in his seventh season at his alma mater. Fitzgerald has guided the Wildcats to bowl appearances in each of the past four seasons and already has Northwestern bowl-eligible in 2012. Fitzgerald was an All-America linebacker at Northwestern in the mid 1990s and also served as an assistant for five seasons with the Wildcats.
Northwestern returns home to host Nebraska on Saturday following a two-game Big Ten Conference road trip. The Wildcats are 6-1 on the season and 2-1 in conference play, with wins over Indiana and at Minnesota and a loss at Penn State.
Northwestern features a balanced offensive attack that is averaging 410.0 yards per game and 31.1 points per contest. The Wildcats rush for an average of 229.9 yards per game, while throwing for 180.1 yards. NU has done the bulk of its scoring on the ground, rushing for 19 touchdowns in seven games, while throwing for four scores.
Running back Venric Mark is a shifty back who is averaging 5.9 yards per carry this season and 113.1 yards per game. He ranks 15th nationally in rushing and has scored eight touchdowns. Quarterback Trevor Siemian is completing 63.0 percent of his passes and has thrown for 811 yards this season, tossing just one interception in 127 attempts.
The Wildcats also feature one of the nation’s most dynamic and versatile players in Kain Colter, who is a good friend of Husker sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell. Colter, whose father Spencer was a teammate of Husker assistant coach Rich Fisher on Colorado’s 1990 national championship team, is Northwestern’s second-leading rusher and passer and sixth-leading receiver. Kolter has recorded 1,005 yards of total offense this season, including 421 yards on the ground and 432 through the air, while catching 13 passes for 152 yards. Kolter enjoyed a big game against Nebraska last season, completing 4-of-6 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown, while rushing 17 times for 57 yards and two scores. In the second half of a tight game, Kolter ran for a pair of scores and threw an 81-yard touchdown pass.
Defensively, Northwestern is allowing 380.7 yards per game and 22.1 points per game. In Big Ten play, the Wildcats have given up an average of 27.0 points per game.
The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 119-53 in the first half this season, including a 68-31 edge in the second quarter. But in the second half, NU has been outscored 102-99. NU also boasts the nation’s No. 3 punt return unit, led by Mark, who is averaging 28.8 yards per return and has taken two of his eight returns back for touchdowns.
Nebraska leads the all-time series, 3-2. The Huskers had won two straight in the series before an unranked Northwestern squad upset No. 9 Nebraska, 28-25, in Lincoln last season. In the only previous matchup in Evanston, Ill., Northwestern defeated Nebraska 19-7 on Oct. 3, 1931. Before Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference, the teams met in the 2000 Alamo Bowl, when the 18th-ranked Huskers rolled to a 66-17 victory over No. 18 Northwestern. That game marked the highest point total for Nebraska in a bowl game, while Dan Alexander rushed for a Husker bowl game-record 240 yards.
Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald
Pat Fitzgerald is in his seventh season at his alma mater, where he owns a 46-37 record. He is 1-0 against Nebraska as a head coach and 1-1 against the Huskers when he’s on the opposing sideline, as he was a graduate assistant at Colorado in 1999 when the Huskers pulled out a 33-30 overtime victory in Boulder.
Fitzgerald’s 46 coaching victories at Northwestern rank second in school history, three shy of tying the top mark set by Lynn Waldorf, who won 49 games in 12 seasons from 1935 to 1946. Fitzgerald has guided the Wildcats to a winning season in three of the last four years, and he has Northwestern bowl eligible in 2012 for the fifth consecutive season.
Before returning to his alma mater, Fitzgerald was an assistant coach for the 2000 season at Idaho, after stints as a graduate assistant at Colorado (1999) and Maryland (1998). Fitzgerald coached on the Idaho staff with Husker wide receivers coach Rich Fisher.
As a player, Fitzgerald was a standout linebacker at Northwestern from 1993 to 1996. A member of the college football hall of fame, Fitzgerald was a two-time first-team All-American, winning both the Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards in 1995 and 1996.
Four Straight Nine-Win Seasons
Nebraska finished 9-4 in 2011 to secure its fourth straight nine-win season under Head Coach Bo Pelini. The current streak of four straight nine-win seasons puts Nebraska in an elite class nationally.
- The four straight years of 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 is one of eight schools with nine wins or more each season from 2008 to 2011, joining TCU, Oregon, Boise State, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Alabama and West Virginia.
- Nebraska has 46 nine-win seasons in school history, including 39 since 1969.
Nebraska Makes First Trip to Northwestern Since Pre-WWII
Saturday’s matchup between the Huskers and Northwestern in Evanston will mark Nebraska’s first game at Northwestern since 1931, a span of 81 years.
- While Nebraska’s entry into the Big Ten has resulted in traveling to new road destinations for the first time in decades, the 81-year span between trips to Northwestern is the longest for Nebraska among Big Ten destinations.
- Before joining the Big Ten, the Huskers had visited every other Big Ten road site other than Evanston as recently as 1956.
Saturday will mark Nebraska’s first visit to the state of Illinois since winning 59-14 at Illinois in 1986.
Huskers Impressive After Bye Week
Nebraska enters Saturday’s game with Northwestern following an off Saturday. The Huskers have had recent success when coming off a bye, winning on the road each of the past three seasons. In both 2009 and 2010, Nebraska followed a bye week with a Thursday night road game, winning 27-12 at No. 24 Missouri in 2009, and posting a 48-13 victory at Kansas State in 2010. Last season, Nebraska followed a mid-October bye with a 42-14 victory at Minnesota.
Nebraska is 4-1 overall after a bye under Bo Pelini, splitting a pair of games in 2008 following an off week.
Nebraska Looks to Keep Rushing Attack on Track
Nebraska is off to a powerful start in the running game in 2012. The Huskers are averaging 292.0 rushing yards per game to rank first in the Big Ten and fifth nationally. Nebraska has topped 200 yards on the ground in each of its first six games and averages a Big Ten-best 6.2 yards per carry, 0.4 yards per carry better than any other team in the Big Ten. The Huskers have 19 rushing touchdowns on the season, tied for the second-most in the Big Ten.
Northwestern will present the NU run game a strong challenge on Saturday. The Wildcats are allowing 109.9 rushing yards per game to rank second in the Big Ten and 22nd nationally in rushing defense.