How To Watch, Stream & Listen
Rutgers (1-2) At Nebraska (1-2)
Where: Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska (Seating Capacity: 90,000)
Kick-off: Saturday, September 23rd at 3:30 p.m. ET
Note: primary channel in NJ/NY/Philly area; non-local area click here for BTN channel finder
Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, Eric LeGrand, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450-AM, ESPN NY 98.7-FM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM
Current Spread: Nebraska - 12
Series History: Nebraska leads 3-0, winning 42-24 in 2014 and 31-14 in 2015. There was also a 28-0 victory in 1920 played at the Polo Grounds.
NOTE: This is the homecoming game for Nebraska
SB Nation Nebraska Site: Corn Nation
Key Players For Nebraska
QB Tanner Lee: 63 of 120 for 53%, 789 yards passing, 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions
RB Mikale Wilbon: 29 carries for 113 yards, 3.9 yards per carry, 2 touchdowns
WR Stanley Morgan Jr.: 18 catches for 299 yards, 16.6 yards per reception, 3 touchdowns
WR De’Mornay Pierson-El: 14 catches for 188 yards, 134 yards per reception, 2 touchdowns
DB Aaron Williams: 23 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass deflection
LB Luke Gifford: 22 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 pass deflection
LB Chris Weber: 19 tackles, 2 for a loss
LB Dedrick Young: 16 tackles, 1 sack
K Drew Brown: 3 of 4 on field goal attempts with a long of 41 yards, 12 of 12 on extra point attempts
Nebraska Injury Update:
Wow, this team is really banged up entering Saturday’s matchup with Rutgers. On offense, starting running back Tre Bryant, who rushed for 299 yards in the first two games of this season, is out with a knee injury. Top receiver Stanley Morgan has a neck issue and is questionable to play. Starting offensive lineman Matt Farniok is out with a wrist injury. Another starter on the line, David Knevel, is unlikely to play, as head coach Mike Riley said on Thursday he is “at best an emergency type guy”.
On defense, starting outside linebacker Marcus Newby is out with a hamstring issue. Starting safety Joshua Kalu is also out with his own hamstring issue.
Rutgers Injury Update:
On offense, the good news is starting center Jonah Jackson is set to start on Saturday after missing last week’s game with an injury. In regards to concerning news, Janarion Grant is nursing some type of injury after hobbling off the field in the first half against Morgan State. Head coach Chris Ash had this to say on Grant’s status to NJ Advance Media’s Ryan Dunleavy on Thursday:
"We hope so," Ash said after Thursday's practice. "Don't know yet. Time will tell."
On defense, starting lineman Job Bateky has missed the past two games and no word on whether he will play against Nebraska. Backup lineman Jimmy Hogan also missed the past two games and it’s unclear if he will return for Saturday’s game.
Keys To The Game
This is an interesting time to play against Nebraska after all of the turmoil surrounding that program, which was culminated with athletic director Shawn Eichorst being fired on Thursday. Head coach Mike Riley, who is just 16-13 in his third season at Nebraska, is literally coaching for his job on Saturday, on homecoming no less. Expect the Cornhuskers to come out fired up and how Rutgers handles the start of this game will be huge. The leaders of this team need to step up in a big way and keep the inexperienced players focused and prevent them from being overwhelmed by the environment. Rutgers cannot afford to fall behind by two scores early in this game and will likely get blown out if they do. The sooner they can make a big play, the better and the more pressure the Nebraska players will feel. The more nervous and quiet the action on the field makes the Nebraska home faithful, the better. Surviving the first quarter is an absolute must for Rutgers to have any chance of winning this game.
Head coach Chris Ash spoke during training camp about how important it is for Rutgers to improve in this area. Through three games, the Scarlet Knights are even in turnover margin, but were minus 3 combined in losses to Washington and Eastern Michigan. Rutgers must win the turnover margin to be victorious in pretty much any game they play, let alone on the road against Nebraska. QB Tanner Lee, who our David Brown profiled here, leads the country with seven interceptions and threw two pick six’s last weekend. This is a huge game for the secondary to step up and make plays. Whatever takeaways Rutgers does produce, the offense must take advantage and also minimize turnovers on their end. This aspect of the game makes me the most nervous over anything else.
Big Plays on Offense
It’s an obvious one, but to win any football game, your best players have to make big plays. How Kyle Bolin does in this game and whether he can deliver the ball to his best playmakers in Janarion Grant and Jerome Washington will play a huge factor in the outcome. The best deep threats on offense are Jawuan Harris and Bo Melton, can they make an impact? Rutgers has legitimate speed in the receiving core and offensive coordinator Jerry Kill has to find a way to get these guys the ball in open space and an opportunity to pick up big yards after the catch. Intermediate slant routes in the middle of the Nebraska defense seems like a good place to start. In the backfield, Gus Edwards and Robert Martin need to run with authority and put together a few big gains in the ground game. Also, if Rutgers can pick up first downs running on 3rd and short, it will be a major plus in this game. There is no better way to break the will of the opposition’s defense than to run effectively in key spots and wear them down over time.
Pass Rush Must Be Disruptive Early & Often
The offensive line for Nebraska will be without two starters expected to miss this game due to injuries. Last week, Nebraska struggled badly against the pass rush of Northern Illinois and Rutgers needs to be aggressive in their approach in this game. If there is ever a time for Kemoko Turay to put together a 2014 type of performance, it's this game. He has the potential to wreck havoc against the Cornhuskers offensive line and is Rutgers' best hope to bring consistent pressure off of the edge. Sebastian Joseph has shown major improvement this season and needs to be a force in stopping the ground game of Nebraska. Rutgers has shown a lot of progress in defending the run this season and it's vital it continues in this game, so that they force QB Tanner Lee to have to make plays to win this game. After his performance so far this season, doing that will give Rutgers an advantage.
As Cara Sanfilippo pointed out in her special teams review, kicker Justin Davidovicz and punter Ryan Anderson need to continue to boot the football well in this game for Rutgers to have a chance. Davidovicz produced six touchbacks in last week's game, has 8 over in 18 attempts this season and hopefully his booming kickoffs travel well. Anderson is a big key as well and the more he can pin Nebraska in their own end of the field, the better. Rutgers can’t afford to give the Nebraska offense good starting field position and allow them to get going. They need to force them to have to produce 70-80 yard drives if they want to score. On the flip side, the shorter field the Rutgers offense starts with, the better. Kyle Bolin needs to be accurate and move the chains to avoid any three and out drives, which will only put more pressure on the defense.
This is a huge game for Chris Ash and the rest of the coaching staff. While Rutgers is a double digit underdog, this game is for the taking. Nebraska is in disarray, missing several key starters due to injury and head coach Mike Riley’s job is in jeopardy. Of course, the Nebraska players could rally around their coach and the circumstances, which is why Rutgers needs to be ready to play from the opening kickoff.
Personally, I think this is a big game within the blueprint of the Chris Ash era, in terms of building towards the future. A win would mean so much for this program and give real hope that more progress will occur the rest of this season and beyond. Will Rutgers come out loose and will the play calling be aggressive on both sides of the ball? Will Ash’s vision for the defense emerge in this game and dominate a Big Ten offense, one that is turnover prone and with a shaky quarterback? Can this team handle the pressure of playing at a historic venue in hostile conditions?
Rutgers has an opportunity to take fate in their own hands and deliver a crushing blow to a once powerhouse program and end their own 14 game conference losing streak. It would be a tremendous triumph and one that Ash needs badly to help begin to change the narrative for this program on the field. A blowout loss on the other hand would be terribly disappointing and produce more negative takes than most of us can bear at this point. I am predicting a stomach punch loss myself, while the majority of our staff are feeling optimistic. Let’s hope Saturday’s Big Ten opener marks major progress and Rutgers breaks through with a victory!