Nebraska leads its series against Northwestern with a 7-5 record. That really doesn’t tell the story of what this series has been all about.
Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, the Huskers are 4-4 against the Wildcats. That includes the Hail Mary from Ron Kellogg to Jordan Westerkamp on the last play of the game for a 27-24 Nebraska win in 2013.
Five of the eight games have been decided by three points or less, including last year’s 34-31 Northwestern win in overtime. It was the second straight overtime win for Northwestern over the Huskers.
“I think there is a history of a lot of good games being played and kind of crazy finishes,” Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “Again, Northwestern is a very solid football team and they are not going to make a lot of mistakes, not going to have a lot of penalties, things like that. I think they have a history of that.”
Things haven’t gone well for the Wildcats this year. They bring a 1-3 record into Saturday’s game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.
The offense has struggled, gaining just 292 total yards a game to stand 126th in the nation in that category.
But the statistics won’t mean much on Saturday.
“This is a Northwestern team that has always been a team that has a lot of fight in them,” cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said. “They’ll never lay down, no matter what the score is. We just have to go in there with that mindset knowing that the previous games have been close between us and this team. They’re not going to come here and just lay down.”
Last year was one of those close games.
Nebraska held a 10-point lead late in the game, but Northwestern rallied to tie the game at 31 and send it into overtime before winning with a field goal.
Martinez said the players remember what happened last season.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call it payback, but I am definitely aware of what occurred last year and I think that was last year’s team’s problem,” Martinez said. “Northwestern is a good football team. They are disciplined just like they were last year. We are looking forward for another opportunity to get back on the field this week.”
Nebraska defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt remembers last year too. The sting of Nigel Flynn’s 12 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns maybe hasn’t completely worn off yet.
Time after time, Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson found Flynn to convert on third down situations.
“One of their guys had (12) catches on two of our DBs last year,” Taylor-Britt said. “That can’t happen. We can’t let one guy beat our team. We have to come out and push it, and this year it can’t be like that. For us to win, we have to play as a team.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost wasn’t around for the first seven matchups against Northwestern in Big Ten Conference play, but he knows the history of the rivalry.
“I’ve only been a part of one of them but I am astute of what’s happened around here and seeing all the close games that have happened between,” Frost said. “Northwestern and Nebraska, including last year. Hail Mary’s and overtime games.
“They’re just such a well-coached team year-in and year-out. They’re disciplined and they’re smart. They’re not going to beat themselves. Those kinds of teams end up in a lot of close games. If we’re in one, we need our guys to respond well.”
It’s a game the Huskers feel like they can win, maybe even have to win. It’s always important to win, but Frost wants to see his team continue to improve.
“This game is the most important. Once we finish this one, the next one will be the most important,” Frost said. “This is the time of year you start to get a little tired and beat up, and every team in the country is that way. We’re no exception.”
The Huskers face Minnesota next weekend before the first of two bye weeks .
“ We’ve got two weeks here before we can get to a bye week and get recovered a little bit,” Frost said early this week. “We need to practice this week like it’s our first game, last game, most important game. Then we’ll flip the script and do the same thing next week. Then we’ll get a chance to rest the guys a little bit.”
Vegas has the Huskers listed as seven-point favorites over the Wildcats. But if history is any indication, it will likely be much closer.
“We’re not looking at any of the odds or anything like that at the end of the day,” Bootle said. “No matter what the odds say, we have to go out there and put our best foot forward against any team regardless of who it is.