Posted by Adam Jacobi
NORTHWESTERN WILL WIN IF: The Wildcat defense shuts down Rex Burkhead. Seriously, if Rex Burkhead can't rush for more than 2-3 yards a pop, Nebraska's probably in trouble, because Burkhead is the unquestioned workhorse of this vaunted rushing attack; he's averaging over 25 carries per game in Big Ten play, and logged 35 rushes last week and three total TDs in the Huskers' 24-3 win over Michigan State. The one small, tiny, insignificant detail: keeping Burkhead bottled up for four quarters is basically impossible, even for a good defense. Northwestern's defense? Not so good. The Wildcats give up about 200 yards per game on the ground alone, and 31.5 points per game. That's going to have to change this week, or Burkhead and Nebraska are going to run up the score.
NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: They don't make Dan Persa look like Superman. One thing that's become evident over the course of the season is that Dan Persa is not at his 2010, pre-injury level of play. That's to be somewhat expected, considering it's an Achilles injury we're talking about here, but it's to the point that Pat Fitzgerald isn't even using Persa's rushing ability anymore; that role falls to Kain Colter, who's certainly dangerous as a rusher (and receiver, when need be) in his own right -- but Colter's so harmless as a passer that one look at who's under center is usually all it takes to figure out whether Northwestern's going run or pass. Now, Persa's still a talented thrower, and he's got a stable of capable receivers, so if Northwestern's going to keep this game at all close, it'll be by passing the ball -- if Nebraska keeps Persa's passing numbers out of the stratosphere, this should be a relatively easy Husker win.
X-FACTOR: Bad Taylor Martinez. At his best, Taylor Martinez is a dual threat with the ability to make big plays with his arm or his feet, and defenses usually have to account for both possibilities. Of course, Taylor Martinez is rarely at his best, and he's usually good for one or two horrifying interceptions per game. He certainly has the ability to keep Northwestern in this game when the Wildcats shouldn't be; at the same time, if he takes care of the football, this one'll probably be over by the time the fourth quarter starts.