Nebraska and Northwestern are both hoping to pick up where they left off before a bye week when they meet in a Big Ten Conference matchup Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, Neb.
Nebraska (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) pulled out a 20-7 win at Illinois before taking last weekend off, while Northwestern (3-3, 1-2) edged FCS school Howard 23-20 on Oct. 7 in its latest contest.
The Cornhuskers will continue to start Heinrich Haarberg at quarterback. He has gone 3-1 over the last four games while season-opening starter Jeff Sims has been recovering from an ankle injury.
“We’ll play with Heinrich for now. Jeff is ready to go on a moment’s notice,” Nebraska coach Matt Rhule said. “Heinrich’s played well, Heinrich’s done some good things, so he’ll be the starter.”
Northwestern defensive coordinator and interim coach David Braun emphasized the need to wrap up Haarberg and prevent big plays.
“You’ve got to play with great leverage, and you’ve got to tackle,” Braun said. “He’s got the ability to be extremely explosive. I’ve been really impressed with his ability to operate within the scheme.”
Northwestern enters the second half of a season that began with turmoil, as longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired in the wake of a hazing scandal.
“I feel like I’ve grown exponentially, simply through having no choice,” Braun said. “This is where your greatest growth comes, through situations of adversity and new trials.”
In Northwestern’s win over Howard, Brendan Sullivan filled in at quarterback for Ben Bryant, who sustained an upper-body injury the previous week in a loss to Penn State.
“Ben continues to progress — not sure what his status will be (for this week) — but he’s progressing,” Braun said.
The Cornhuskers will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Memorial Stadium, which has hosted 392 consecutive sellouts. The last game there was not a successful one, though, as Nebraska lost 45-7 to No. 2 Michigan.
Northwestern is 0-2 away from home this season and has lost 13 consecutive true road games dating back to the 2020 season. The Wildcats last won in Lincoln in 2017, but they did knock off the Cornhuskers 31-28 to open the 2022 campaign in Dublin, Ireland.
The winner will be no worse than third in the Big Ten West and within a game in the loss column of first place. Rhule isn’t looking that far ahead, though.
“I’m not worried about the big picture,” he said. “I think that’s the problem with Nebraska football. I think that’s why we have gone 1-5 down the stretch most years, looking at things outside of just going 1-0 this week.”