|Despite his size, Northwestern's Venric Mark's 5.9 yard per carry average is the third-best among running backs in the Big Ten. (AP Images)|
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Spread: Nebraska by 6.5
Watchability: Saturday's game will show whether the Wildcats are a legitimate contender for the Legends Division crown. They've beaten five quality opponents thus far but Nebraska represents one of the upper-echelon teams from the Big Ten. Both offenses utilize spread formations that can score quickly. If you like scoring, Saturday's game should be top notch.
Shining stars: Northwestern: One of Kain Colter's best friends growing up in Colorado was Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell. Nothing that Colter's done for the Wildcats offense was a surprise to him. “He wants to get on the field and play and win any way he can. If that's running the ball, he'll run; if that's catching, he'll catch it; if he can throw it, he'll throw it. I'm sure he can kick. The kid's a stud,” Bell said to the Lincoln Journal Star. Colter's versatility –- he's the team's second-leading passer and rusher -- is what makes him such an asset, especially in the spread offense. Nebraska: Part of linebacker Will Compton's duties will almost assuredly be to keep tabs on Colter. He'll also be partially responsible for containing the Wildcats' diminutive running back Venric Mark, whose 5.9 ypc average is third-among starting Big Ten running backs. Coach Bo Pelini has called Compton, who leads the Huskers with 53 tackles and three sacks, the unquestioned captain of the Nebraska defense. Against Ohio State, which runs a comparable offense to the Wildcats, Compton finished with 10 tackles, but the defense was gashed for 498 yards.
Who could steal the show: Northwestern: Don't be fooled by Venric Mark 's 5-8 stature. Mark is one of the fastest players in the Big Ten and his size often permits him to squeeze between tackles and burst out the other side. Mark and Colter, each of whom have eight rushing touchdowns this year (third in the Big Ten), play off one another and benefit from the attention the other absorbs. Nebraska: It's pretty remarkable that Taylor Martinez has been able to increase his passing efficiency from 56 percent last season (seventh in the Big Ten) to 66 percent this season (first in the Big Ten). Until the three interceptions last game against Ohio State, Martinez hadn't thrown a turnover since September 8 against UCLA. Martinez is also a threat with his legs, averaging 15 rushes over the past two games and scoring three touchdowns.
You going? Ranking the road trip: There is a huge Nebraska contingent living in Chicago that fully plans to make Ryan Field a home away from home for Husker nation. Plus, the Huskers still feel like they owe the Wildcats after Northwestern upset the home squad 28-25 last year in Lincoln. It should be one of the better atmospheres all season for Northwestern. Not to mention, proud Northwestern alum and ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon will lead the team onto the field as the honorary captain.
Magic number for Northwestern: 57. As difficult as it is to believe, Kain Colter led the Wildcats in passing (115 yards) and rushing (57) and was second in receiving (57) during last year's Northwestern victory in Lincoln. The 57 receiving yards were the most by an FBS player who threw for 100 yards since Eric Crouch, former Nebraska quarterback, accomplished the feat in 2001.
Magic number for Nebraska: 357. It would be an understatement to say that the Huskers run defense has struggled on the road this season. In two games, one in the Rose Bowl against UCLA and the second in Ohio Stadium against the Buckeyes, the Huskers have allowed 357 yards per game on the ground.
The game comes down to: Which defense can stop which offense. The Wildcats have the second-best rush defense in the Big Ten (109 ypg) but the triple-headed attack of Martinez, Rex Burkhead (who's expected back from a knee injury) and Ameer Abdullah, will be a huge test.
Prediction: Northwestern 31, Nebraska 28
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