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5 predictions for Nebraska football vs. Northern Illinois

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Sep 9, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Matt Ruhle during the fourth quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Looking ahead to Nebraska football vs. Northern Illinois, here are five predictions for the Huskers and a score.

For the first time this season, Nebraska football will play inside Lincoln Memorial Stadium, making the Huskers the final FBS college football team to play a home game.

That shows how tough the schedule has been for Matt Rhule. It also didn’t help that Minnesota was a 9-win team a season ago and Colorado is much, much better than expected.

Of course, when you have a first-round pick at quarterback in Shedeur Sanders and a dude in Travis Hunter who might be a first-round at cornerback or wideout, it’s easy to see why the Buffs are so good.

Northern Illinois is 1-1. The Huskies beat Boston College but dropped a 14-11 game to Southern Illinois last week. Nebraska football is an 11-point favorite heading into Saturday and here are five predictions.

Heinrich Haarberg will start and have a mixed review

It doesn’t feel like Jeff Sims is going to play tomorrow. High ankle sprains are tricky and it feels like Nebraska has been preparing for Heinrich Haarberg to start.

Haarberg attempted six passes a week ago and did throw a touchdown late to Thomas Fidone. But this will be his first test and Northern Illinois will be able to prepare for him too.

I don’t think that he’s going to set the world on fire as a passer. I do see him throwing for 100 yards or so, but mostly Haarberg will do damage as a runner. He’s a great athlete and Nebraska should be able to win the trenches with its offensive line.

Nebraska is averaging 5.2 yards per attempt and my guess is that between the backs, and Haarberg, we’ll only see 15-20 pass attempts. It might not be pretty, but as long as he avoids multiple turnovers, the Huskers should be able to win with him under center this week.

The ground game goes for 300

If there is one really bold prediction I have for this game it’s that the Huskers will run for 300 yards on Saturday. Northern Illinois is allowing 4.1 yards per attempt but Boston College racked up 5.2, which is the season average of the Huskers.

I believe that Gabe Ervin is going to get 20 carries and he’ll hit 100 yards for the first time in his career after 74 yards on 17 carries last week. Anthony Grant and Rahmir Johnson will also be involved, as will Haarberg, who is a really talented runner.

It’s time to put a hat on a hat and play some Nebraska football.

Nebraska gets a break on turnovers

People love to say “If only we didn’t have the turnovers, we could have won” sort of thing, but bad teams turn the ball over. Good teams take it away and protect it.

Nebraska hasn’t been a good team through two weeks. It’s minus six in turnover ratio. That has to change this week and since Northern Illinois has just one takeaway in two games, it seems realistic.

I think with Haarberg, there will be a somewhat conservative gameplan and hopefully, all the other issues have been ironed out in terms of fumbling the ball, which hasn’t just been a problem with Sims.

My bet is that the Huskers try to have Haarberg throw as little as possible in an effort to lower the risk as much as possible.

At least four sacks

The pass rush delivered a week ago with eight sacks and through two weeks, Nebraska football is tied for the FBS lead in sacks with 11. Cameron Lenhardt has really come on as a freshman, while Tony White has done a nice job of creating pressure with stunts and blitzes.

Ty Robinson has also done a nice job of getting after the quarterback, plus Riley Van Poppel and Princewill Umanmielen have given the defensive front some added juice. Luke Reimer, Nich Henrich, and Jimari Butler all had sacks last week and Northern Illinois has allowed five in two games.

Eight seems ambitious but Rocky Lombardi isn’t that active so four sacks seem reasonable.

NIU goes nowhere on the ground

A key to success for the defense has been its ability to stop the run. Nebraska football is allowing just 1.9 yards per rush and has a top-10 run defense, holding Colorado and Minnesota under 60 yards rushing.

Northern Illinois will be held under 100 total yards on Saturday, which will put even more pressure on Lombardi and the pass offense.

White will be able to get creative and if the run defense can be as stingy as the first two weeks, it should allow Nebraska to pressure the quarterback, which usually leads to takeaways.

Score prediction: Nebraska 27, NIU 10 

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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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