The last time Northwestern played Nebraska was in the 2000 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Nebraska won 66-17, outscored the Wildcats 31-7 in the second quarter and poured on 28 unanswered points in the second half.
Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald, who was a defensive grad assistant at Idaho at the time, quietly remembered the game during his Monday news conference.
“I watched the game. I was at home,” Fitzgerald said. “I flew back from Idaho and had a bunch of people over for a party at our house, and it kinda stunk. The wings were good, the food was good, but the party stunk. But that’s many, many moons ago.”
The 2011 Wildcats are hoping history won’t repeat itself when the teams meet today in Lincoln.
No. 9 Nebraska (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) is without All-America defensive lineman Jared Crick, who tore a pectoral muscle and is out for the season. Still, the Cornhuskers’ defense is impressive with linebacker Lavonte David, the Big Ten’s leader in tackles with 77.
“Their linebackers and pretty much the whole defense [is a concern],” quarterback Dan Persa said. “They know their assignments. They don’t do anything that’s that crazy, but they just do it really well. They don’t make mistakes, so that’s the biggest thing: playing mistake-free football.”
Fitzgerald said Nebraska’s defense was more like “a wave.”
“They just roll guys through on first and second down,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re very aggressive on the perimeter, and they locked down Michigan State [in a 24-3 victory last week] and they couldn’t get open. I’ve got a lot of respect for those receivers in East Lansing and Kirk [Cousins] is one of the best quarterbacks in this league, so what they did was very impressive, to say the least.”
Quarterback Taylor Martinez, has the potential to give the Wildcats’ defense fits. Martinez, who has been compared to Michigan’s Denard Robinson by some, is Nebraska’s second-leading rusher behind Rex Burkhead (882 yards) with 659 yards. Martinez has thrown for 1,256 yards an eight touchdowns on 54.9 percent passing.
The game is expected to be a sellout and an NCAA record 317th in a row. The streak dates to Nov. 3, 1962. The aura of Cornhusker football is not lost on Fitzgerald.
“The best term is love for their program,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s no doubt what’s important in that state, there’s no doubt what’s important to that university. Thank goodness we’re not playing the whole state, just the 11 that are on the field.”