Devine Ozigbo and the Huskers look to build on the momentum of last week's victory
Let it never be said that the series between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats wasn’t born due to interesting circumstances. With the former having to cancel a game for the first time ever due to reasons that didn’t involve a world at war, the Nebraska brass scoured the landscape for a team that could provide the Huskers with something simple: a win. It’s a very easy call for Bethune-Cookman, who hails from the MEAC in the FCS ranks. You show up and let the Big Red run roughshod over you, they’ll pay you $800,000.
Head coach Terry Sims sports a 24-16 record in four seasons and led Bethune-Cookman to its fourth consecutive MEAC championship in 2015. It's his winless record (0-5) versus FBS competition that is far more relevant this week. The Wildcats enter this game 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the MEAC, including a 49-28 road loss to Florida Atlantic back on Sept. 15. Bethune-Cookman has arguably one of the best marching bands in the country, but unfortunately it won't be making the trip to Lincoln.
Let’s break down this matchup of SEC out-of-conference proportions (and that’s said without a lick of judgment towards anyone):
Bethune-Cookman at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 12 p.m. ET
Three Things to Watch
1. Laundry on the field (or a lack thereof)
While it’s true that Minnesota wasn’t the first game this year Nebraska didn’t have double-digit penalties assessed against them, the Huskers were close enough against Northwestern with nine. What’s worse is that there were some key fouls that ended up costing Scott Frost's team a potential win in Evanston. However, their effort versus the Gophers was downright crisp in comparison to literally any other performance this year.
Yes, they did tally six penalties, but some were questionable. Did Adrian Martinez really need to be called for intentional grounding after maybe overthrowing Stanley Morgan Jr. to the point where the ball was uncatchable? Perhaps, but when you consider this was a crew of officials that apparently didn’t know how to tell the difference between second and third down, it causes the shoulders to shrug.
Regardless, what we will call an “acceptable effort penalty” on Brenden Jaimes with nine seconds to go before halftime was the Huskers’ first such infraction last Saturday. Bethune-Cookman gives Nebraska the opportunity to practice reinforcing the habits that lead to a clean game.
2. A Blackshirt-worthy performance
The Nebraska defense can now officially be called the Blackshirts with the remaining members of the unit being at least offered the coveted practice jerseys. Defensive end Ben Stille turned his down as he felt he didn’t practice well enough to earn one. Nevertheless, it’s time to look the part against a completely overmatched offense in every sense of the term.
After starting off the season with a performance against Colorado that would see the Blackshirts rack up half their sack total from 2014 with seven, they’ve only brought down the quarterback more than once on two occasions in the six games since. Tackles for a loss have tapered off with the group averaging three per game over the past three contests after having chalked up more than seven every week in the four prior. Nebraska has never finished on the positive side of the turnover battle in 2018 with their best efforts being breaking even versus Wisconsin and Minnesota.
If there was ever a time to let the leashes off and give the lone command of “make a play,” this is the week.
3. Another trio of 100-yard rushers
Minnesota went into last week sporting a top-30 rushing defense. Thanks to Martinez, Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington, they now rank 68th. It’s not remotely out of the realm of possibility to think that the Huskers could feature three 100-yard rushers against Bethune-Cookman as well. Martinez will obviously bust free for his usual sprints to the end zone, Ozigbo installed a new gear to his bulldozing ways and Washington looks anything but a true freshman.
The Golden Gophers were able to hold two top-20 teams under 110 rushing yards (Iowa and Ohio State.) If Minnesota couldn’t keep Nebraska under wraps – and head coach P.J. Fleck called the Huskers’ offense the best he’d seen this year – the Wildcats don’t have much hope.
This game has the feel of Nebraska’s meeting with Idaho State in 2012 which resulted in a 73-7 Cornhusker win. Every fan likes to see their team on the winning end of a track meet, but just about everyone in the stadium was begging for a running clock by about halfway through the third quarter.
While Bethune-Cookman is averaging about 36 points per game, they scored 79 against NCCAA school Virginia-Lynchburg. NCCAA institutions are allowed to award only 24 scholarships, so that skews the numbers quite a bit. This game should be exactly what Nebraska is paying for: a massacre. The Huskers get to build on the momentum they gained in their win versus Minnesota and the Wildcats get a nice fat check with a side of good old-fashioned Husker hospitality.
Prediction: Nebraska 77, Bethune Cookman 13
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces).