Here are five thoughts on the matchup of Northern Illinois for the Nebraska football team.
It’s a new week for Nebraska football. The Huskers will be home for the first time this season on Saturday and they are in desperate need of a win.
The entire Nebraska football fanbase. Heck, the entire state needs a win after the heartbreaking loss in Week 1 and the lopsided defeat to Colorado in Week 2.
Both losses were marred by self-inflicted wounds. The Huskers have the worst turnover margin in college football. They also have the most sacks.
Nebraska is an 11-point favorite right now against Northern Illinois and here are five thoughts for the Huskers ahead of their home opener.
Jeff Sims will start if healthy
During his Monday press conference, Matt Rhule made it clear that Jeff Sims will be the starter for Nebraska football going forward, as long as he is healthy.
Sims did miss practice on Sunday due to his high-ankle sprain. Those are tricky injuries and Henrich Haarberg could be starting on Saturday.
We’ve talked about Sims at length. It’s fair to say he hasn’t played well. Even Rhule said, “Jeff has to take care of the ball.”
The running ability is a real asset. It’s up to the coaching staff to get his head right and to allow his talent to come forth. It hasn’t happened during the first two weeks but it will need to if this team is going to start winning this season.
Nebraska is crazy thin at quarterback
This whole Jeff Sims situation shows how thin the Huskers are at quarterback. Whether it was due to injury or ineffectiveness, Rhule should have had a backup plan in place.
Maybe Chubba Purdy is it and just needs to get healthy. He certainly had some good moments during the spring and the fall. Haarberg did too and led a scoring drive on Saturday.
We know Haarberg can run and the offense will need to change if he’s the starter. But my question is that if Sims can’t play and Chubba is too hurt to start, then who is the backup against Northern Illinois?
Haarberg is a running quarterback and those guys tend to get beat up. The hope is probably that Purdy or Sims could play in an emergency, but this is all a reminder of why you need to recruit a QB in every single class.
A familiar face starting QB for NIU
Rocky Lombardi is expected to start for Northern Illinois on Saturday and strangely enough, it will be his second start for a second team in Lincoln.
Lombardi started the 2018 game against Nebraska for Michigan State. The Huskers ended up winning that one and the former MSU starter returns with Northern Illinois.
Rocky is completing just 54 percent of his passes and has one touchdown compared to three interceptions. Last week, NIU scored just 11 points in a loss to FCS opponent Southern Illinois.
Lombardi is averaging over 230 yards per game through the air, but efficiency has been an issue and hopefully, the Huskers can take advantage.
Northern Illinois has beaten Nebraska before
The Huskers are 3-1 against Northern Illinois all time, but Mike Riley lost 21-17 to NIU back during the 2017 season, so it’s possible. Nebraska isn’t a huge favorite and if the Huskers are minus three when it comes to turnover ratio again, another loss is very possible.
NIU is ranked 98th in scoring offense, but 19th in scoring defense. So there are some similarities between the two teams. Just remember, the Huskies have beaten Nebraska football before — meaning this isn’t a game that fans should just assume goes Nebraska’s way.
Matt Rhule needs a win
Nebraska football fans had a meltdown after the 0-2 start. It wasn’t that it wasn’t predictable, the start I mean, but I don’t think people saw it happening the way it did.
Last Saturday was really disheartening. Rhule knows that. He also said that this is what he does. He’s a builder. It’s true that success doesn’t happen overnight. Mike Norvell at Florida State is a good example of that.
However, Rhule can’t afford to start 0-3. The Huskers need to win and they need to look good doing it in an effort to relieve some pressure and build some confidence.
Nebraska Football: Matt Rhule has health update on Jeff Sims
Nebraska football head coach Matt Rhule gave a positive prognosis on quarterback Jeff Sims Thursday afternoon. Rhule indicated that Sims had a good week of practice and that he was moving and throwing the football well.
Sims has had a difficult start to the 2023 season. He has tallied one touchdown and four interceptions, and has 220 passing yards in total. Fumbling has been an issue for him through the first two games as well. He has had difficulty handling snaps.
Quarterback Heinrich Haarberg played on Saturday, as Sims was dealing with an ankle injury. Haarberg threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-24 passes. He also rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown. He brought a dual-threat element to the table, similar to that of Sims.
"Jeff's had a good week of practice," Rhule said Thursday of the QB Sims. "Moved around well. Threw the ball around well. Coming off an injury like that I can't say that he's maybe 100 percent but you don't notice that there's anything wrong with him as he plays."
— Brian Christopherson (@Husker247BC) September 21, 2023
A positive development for Nebraska football
It’s certainly good to hear that Sims is healthy and has practiced well throughout the week. Whatever your opinion is of his play throughout the season, Nebraska football needs him to be healthy. Depth is a problem at the quarterback spot. Experience is lacking there as well.
Although Sims is struggling as a quarterback, there is no doubt he is a solid athlete. His ability to run the football has been his biggest strength so far this season. He has 158 rushing yards so far on the year, and has averaged 5.4 yards per carry. A 57-yard rush has been his longest of the season to this point. Nebraska has certainly made him a focal point of their running attack, as he has 29 carries on the year so far.
Nebraska football is in a welcome predicament with two quarterbacks who have the ability to start. The health of Sims is a positive, as Nebraska begins to enter the meat of their schedule. It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out.
3 keys to a victory for Nebraska football vs. Louisiana Tech
Nebraska football will be looking for a second straight win on Saturday and here are three keys against Louisiana Tech.
For the second week in a row, Nebraska football will be at home. It’s the second of three straight home games and the Huskers will be looking to take advantage of their incredible home-field advantage once again.
Before big bad Michigan comes to Lincoln on Sept. 30, Nebraska football will have a final non-conference game against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are 2-2 but have been really up and down in the second season under head coach Sonny Cumbie.
Louisiana Tech runs an air-raid offense but does have a couple of talented running backs. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier is a Boise State transfer but is questionable for the game on Saturday due to a shoulder injury.
The defense ranks 100th in scoring defense. Louisiana Tech is 63rd in scoring offense and while Nebraska football has its own question marks, such as who will start at quarterback? The Huskers are a 19-point favorite and here are three keys to a win on Saturday.
Keep stuffing the run
When you think of Louisiana Tech, you don’t necessarily think of a running team, but the Bulldogs average 5.1 yards per attempt and 181 yards per game on the ground. True freshman Keith Willis has 240 rushing yards and averages 7.3 yards per attempt. Tyre Shelton averages 10.2 yards per attempt and is also over 200 yards for the season.
But if there is one thing Nebraska football has excelled at it is run defense. The Huskers have held each of their opponents to fewer than 60 yards rushing. They also rank among college football’s top five in rushing yards per game (46.3) and rushing yards allowed per attempt (1.7).
If that continues on Saturday, I feel really good about Nebraska’s chances of winning without incident. Yet, if the Bulldogs can find success on the ground, things could get interesting.
Hit the quarterback, whoever it is
Whether it’s Bachmeier or Jack Turner who has thrown for 146 yards and a touchdown this season, as well as an interception, Nebraska football needs to hit the quarterback and it should have an easy time getting home.
Louisiana Tech ranks 110th in the FBS in terms of sacks allowed per game. The Bulldogs have allowed 11 total and that’s an average of 2.75 sacks per game. Nebraska football is in the top five in college football with 14 sacks total and 4.6 per game.
The Huskers have done a great job of getting pressure from different levels. Tony White has done a great job of creating blitzes and the defensive line is also winning one-on-ones.
This feels like a game where the Huskers shouldn’t have a problem getting four or five sacks, especially if Nebraska football is able to build a double-digit lead and pin its ears back.
Run the damn ball
It’s not ideal that Nebraska football lost two of its top three running backs to season-ending injuries, but the Huskers should be licking their chops this week.
Louisiana Tech is allowing 4.9 yards per rushing attempt which doesn’t bode well against a Nebraska ground game that is second in the Big Ten, ranked in the top 25 nationally, and averages 5.1 per rush.
Nebraska is getting 209 yards per game and the quarterbacks have been a big part of it. Whether Jeff Sims gets the start of Heinrich Haarberg, I expect plenty of quarterback runs again.
With Anthony Grant taking over as the bell cow, Nebraska is going to need to lean on its quarterbacks and even if Haarberg isn’t the starter, I want to see both utilized in the running game, because it has been one of the most effective parts of the offense through three games.
Nebraska Football lands athletic playmaker in JD Crisp
Nebraska football continues to recruit for the 2024 class. They picked up a commitment from 2024 wide receiver JD Crisp on Wednesday afternoon. Crisp played both sides of the football in high school, playing both defensive back and wide receiver for Second Baptist High School.
He is not ranked in the 247Sports regular or Composite Rankings. However, he does have a solid offer sheet. Crisp had seven offers in total, including one from Minnesota. He was officially offered by the program on September 16 and quickly made his decision.
It’s also worth noting that his recruitment was active throughout the summer. He attended Texas A&M Aggies camp on June 14. At the very least, he garnered interest from a prominent Texas school. That is notable in of itself.
#Nebraska has picked up commitment No. 25 in the 2024 recruiting class from DB/WR recruit JD Crisp from Cypress (Texas) Second Baptist. Crisp recently visited Nebraska and committed to the #Huskers on Sunday following his visit. pic.twitter.com/IDzfYCw64e
— Bryan Munson (@BryanMunson_) September 20, 2023
What could he bring to Nebraska football?
It’s interesting that he is a two-way player. He played both the receiver and safety positions in high school. As far as Nebraska is concerned, I could certainly see him playing at receiver. He has as a tremendous amount of athleticism, and played mostly on the outside and high school. Crisp was very good at catching in space, and making contested catches and tight windows.
Playing receiver would make sense for him, given Nebraska’s lack of depth at the position moving forward. He has the agility and ability to become a solid piece if developed properly.
Nevertheless, he has overall qualities that could make him a good safety as well. This coaching staff loves the opportunity to work with athletes and molding them as they see fit. His ability to fire off the football and read a play certainly stands out.
The commitment of Crisp adds to a 2024 recruiting class that ranks 24th overall nationally. The class itself is stacked with talent. It currently has 25 commitments in total.
It will be interesting to see what Crisp can do for Nebraska football. He is definitely more of a project player. Nevertheless, his athleticism and speed is intriguing. One of this coaching staff’s strengths is identifying how players fit into the program. They will have to do that with Crisp.
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