Time to Panic? Huskers vs Northern Illinois Preview

About 8 months before Tom Osborne won his first championship, a classic episode of The Rugrats aired where the babies prepare for the end of the world because they think the sky is falling. Angelica informs the babies that this isn’t the first time that the sky has fallen, and it looks like it’s about to happen again. After the 2017 Northern Illinois game, the sky was falling for Mike Riley at least. A loss to Northern Illinois is a possibility this weekend. If that happens, I think many would react as though the sky was falling once again in Lincoln and I’m sure the calls to fire Rhule would be loud (but hopefully only few). Despite the 0-2, I am optimistic about the direction of the program and I think strides have been made.

Nebraska QB Jeff Sims is coming off what can best be described as a bad week against Colorado. A handful of plays towards the end of the first half turned a close game into a comfortable Colorado lead. However, that half was not as bad as Tanner Lee’s first half in the 2017 loss to NIU. In the first quarter of that game, Lee threw two pick-sixes including one on a screen pass from the NIU 10-yard line. Whether Sims or Heinrich Haarberg gets the start this week, it’s important to not give away points like the Huskers did in those losses. I don’t expect NIU to be able to beat Nebraska on their own, but the Husker’s offense is plenty capable of giving NIU a hand in beating themselves. Nebraska needs to see if it has a QB on its current roster. If it doesn’t, landing one in the portal this winter will be vital for a second-year jump.

QBs Jeff Sims and Rocky Lombardi are both looking to improve their seasons

NIU’s QB, Rocky Lombardi, comes with a lot of Big Ten experience having played in 17 games for Michigan State including their 2018 trip to Lincoln in the snow which resulted in a 6-9 loss for Sparty. Lombardi is plenty experienced and is currently in his 6th season of college football. However, he’s been a mid-tier QB at best with a career 54.5% completion percentage and a 32-26 TD-to-interception ratio. He’s coming off a three-interception game to the Missouri Valley’s Southern Illinois Salukis. The Blackshirts may have the opportunity to make some plays in this game.

The Husker RBs need to take some pressure off of the QB

Nebraska’s run game has been a strong point this season. The Huskers are rushing for over 200 yards per game. This puts the Huskers in the top third in the country in rushing yards. But I also have concerns about the Husker’s rushing attack. QB Jeff Sims has the most carries on the team and is already hurt. The upside of his game is his explosive rushing ability. A lingering injury could hamper what has been a rough start to the season already for him. The Huskers are 13th in QB run rate at nearly 40% on the season and 6th among P5 schools. With two of the three scholarship QBs already banged up, the RBs need to create some explosive running plays to lessen the hits on the QB.

Northern Illinois is only averaging 2.8 YPC to start this season. The Blackshirt’s front should be hungry for more stats after a strong outing against Colorado. I would expect them to keep NIU from running the ball much this week too. This Huskers defense is on pace currently for more sacks than Adam Carriker’s 2005 team and Ndamukong Suh’s 2009 team. Against a shaky Rocky Lombardi, the Huskers can hopefully add to their turnovers and improve their turnover margin.

The Huskies have struggled to get things going on the ground

That Rugrats episode ends with the adults coming back into the house to clean up the mess. The Huskers program has been a mess for 5 years. I believe that Trev Alberts and Matt Rhule are the adults who can clean up the last eight years of Husker Football. I think the offensive line has looked competent compared to last year. DBs are making tackles in one-on-one in space. The defense is playing with an aggression of getting to the QB that I don’t remember since Bo Pelini was here. Rhule may have already made some mistakes (Chas and Stu spent the entire episode breaking the windows of the DeVille house), but I still believe in the hire and the long-run direction of the program. If the QB position can’t be figured out with the guys currently here, there will almost certainly be a talented one to find in the portal. It’s time to let the local kids loose and inspire the next generation of in-state Huskers.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: