PU17FG70

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee (13) had one of his best games of the season in Saturday's win over Purdue. Lee completed 32 of 50 passes for 431 yards and two TDs.

FRANCIS GARDLER, Lincoln Journal Star

LINCOLN -- Tom Dienhart, veteran writer for BTN.com, noted Northwestern's three-game winning streak in a tweet Saturday before adding, "And you have to like its chances to win out."

The Wildcats' remaining schedule: at Nebraska; Purdue; Minnesota; at Illinois.

Nobody asked me, but I think Northwestern will finish 3-1 down the stretch, with a loss Saturday in Lincoln.

That's right, I'm sticking with the notion Nebraska can — and perhaps should — close the season with a surge of its own. Yes, a 4-1 surge. I genuinely think it will happen. The Huskers are still full of flaws. But the prediction is based in large part on the lackluster nature of the Big Ten West Division.

Let's be real: Nebraska (4-4, 3-2) can beat Northwestern (5-3, 3-2) in a relatively ugly and disjointed game. The Huskers then will play at Minnesota and Penn State — a two-game stretch that could be particularly wearing mentally and physically on a youthful roster.

The Huskers must work to avoid a "let's just get through this" mentality and continue to improve.

Nebraska's regular season wraps up with Iowa coming to Lincoln. Revenge is a motivator. Just ask Urban Meyer. And one would think NU will have revenge on its mind in the wake of last season's 30-point loss in Iowa City — assuming NU is still thinking straight Nov. 24 after getting walloped Nov. 18 in Happy Valley.

So, there you go: A 4-1 finish by Nebraska following those ugly home losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State.

NU's comeback win Saturday night against Purdue indicated Mike Riley and his staff may still have the team's rapt attention. Granted, it was far from a sterling performance. The Huskers managed only 40 rushing yards, and the defense was sub-par much of the game.

But junior transfer quarterback Tanner Lee has settled into a rhythm in the last 4½ games, and his top receivers — Stanley Morgan (39 catches for 652 yards) and JD Spielman (37-545) — are playing at a high level. Might Jaylin Bradley be a late-season spark?

Lee is the key, obviously. What a performance against the Boilermakers.

Any Big Ten road win is notable.

"I think maybe the most important thing is just plain, old-fashioned confidence," Riley said of the win's potential impact.

Riley balked at the notion of simply putting the offense on Lee's shoulders going forward.

"We are not going to let go of the running game," Riley said. "I don't like just giving the ball to the quarterback 50 times and saying, 'OK, go win the game for us.' I think we need to help him."

Nebraska probably will need some balance against Northwestern, which is capable of playing salty defense. What's more, the Wildcats' quarterback, Clayton Thorson, has picked up his game after some uneven passing performances earlier on the schedule.

Pat Fitzgerald's crew is on a nice roll, with wins against Maryland (37-21), Iowa (17-10 in overtime) and Michigan State (39-31 in three OTs).

Meanwhile, Riley retains his optimistic outlook.

"Like I've said, the thing I've admired about both this team and the coaching staff is they just come to work every day and do their job," he said. "The team has not wavered as far as their work ethic, and the coaches haven't, either.

"That allowed us to have this win (at Purdue)."

He said his players always have had it in them to perform as well as they did in the fourth quarter.

"It just hasn't come out like it did," Riley said. "Really, I hope it's something that gives the players confidence."

• If Nebraska does finish 7-5, would it be enough for Riley to retain his job? Speculation about Riley's future persists. It feels both awkward and intense — even more so now because of the situation at Florida.

Might the Gators be eyeing Scott Frost? A lot of Husker fans are watching the goings-on in Gainesville closely. Is Bill Moos watching it closely?

• A loyal reader pointed out a common misconception about Iowa under Kirk Ferentz. Although it's generally believed to be a program that produces strong rushing teams, the Hawkeyes since 2010 have finished no higher than fifth in the Big Ten in average rushing yards per game. The rankings since 2010: eighth, 12th, 12th, sixth, seventh, fifth and eighth.

This season, Iowa ranks 10th at 130.8, just ahead of Northwestern (127.8).

Nebraska is 13th (121.9).

• It was quite a scene in the press box Saturday at Purdue, with folks locked in hard on Penn State-Ohio State. "Can you imagine Nebraska playing in a game like that?" a 20-something reporter asked me.

0
0
0
0
0

Load comments