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3 reasons why Nebraska football will beat Northern Illinois

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Sep 9, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers linebacker Nick Henrich (3) tackles Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders (2) in the first quarter at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska football will host Northern Illinois for its home opener on Saturday and here are three reasons the Huskers will win.

There’s no doubt that the Matt Rhule era at Nebraska football hasn’t exactly started the way we all wanted. But it’s also true that Rhule is just two games in and the head coach isn’t panicking.

Rhule was brought to Nebraska to fix the football program and it’s true that it wasn’t going to happen overnight. It’s also true that without some self-inflicted wounds in Week 1, Nebraska football would be 1-1.

Colorado was a winnable game too, but turnovers can allow any game to get away from you and that’s what happened to the Huskers.

Jeff Sims was the main culprit last week as he had three interceptions, as well as a fumble. He’s questionable this week and as of Thursday, Rhule said the Huskers still didn’t know his status.

It feels like Heinrich Haarberg will get the start on Saturday and with that in mind, here are three reasons why Nebraska will beat Northern Illinois.

Dominance in the running game

Nebraska football should be able to dominate this game on the ground. The Huskers average 201 yards per game and are also getting 5.2 yards per rush attempt.

Northern Illinois’ run defense isn’t bad, but the Huskies are giving up 4.1 yards per carry. They also haven’t faced a rushing attack as good as Nebraska’s. It might look different without Sims, but Haarberg is a good runner and I’d expect plenty of option looks.

However, this is about more than just the offense. Now, it’s true that Nebraska has overwhelmingly won the rushing battle in each of the first two games and it didn’t matter, mostly due to turnovers and really poor third-down defense.

But if the defense gets Rocky Lombardi into unfavorable situations on second and third down, the Huskers should be able to take advantage. The ground game also needs to dominate to take pressure off the quarterback, whoever it is, and I believe it will manhandle the Huskies.

A lift from playing at home

Starting the first two games on the road is never easy, but Nebraska played two teams that are a combined 4-0 right now. Minnesota won nine games last season and Colorado is a legit top-20 team.

When you look at it from that perspective, it’s understandable that the Huskers are 0-2. Fixing mistakes such as penalties and turnovers will make a big difference, but more than anything, the friendly confines of Lincoln Memorial Stadium will help out Nebraska this week.

The crowd will be fired up and the team will play well in front of the home fans. It’s much easier to win at Memorial Stadium for opposing teams than it used to be, but with the way this team desperately needs a win, I expect the place to be rocking and for Nebraska football to respond in kind.

A suffocating defense

I don’t expect the Nebraska offense to suddenly go off for 40 points on Saturday night. There are limitations there especially if Haarberg is playing quarterback.

That puts the onus on the defense and through two games, Nebraska has been pretty effective. The Colorado game got away from them, but of the 46 points the Huskers have surrendered, 27 have come off turnovers.

The third-down defense has been an issue. Nebraska ranks well outside the top 100 and is allowing a 51-percent conversion rate on third downs. Outside of that and only forcing two takeaways, the defense has been lights out.

Nebraska is allowing just 1.9 yards per rush. The Huskers are also tied for the FBS lead with 11 sacks and this defense will suffocate Northern Illinois who struggles to reach double digits on Saturday night.

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Chris has worked in sports journalism since 2005 writing for multiple newspapers and websites such as the Bleacher Report and Fansided before starting Husker Big Red, A fan site for hardcore followers of the #Huskers offering articles, podcasts, videos and more exclusive content on all things Nebraska

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