After back-to-back losses have cast a dark shadow over the program, Nebraska is in big need of a win in their Big Ten opener this weekend against Rutgers. Mike Riley is seeing the pressure rise quickly and the Cornhuskers will look to erase the stench from last week’s home loss to NIU, but Rutgers will look to cause some trouble on the road.
Rutgers is still a massive work in progress under second-year head coach Chris Ash, but the Scarlet Knights may be improving on the defensive side of the football and they still have one of the Big Ten’s most electrifying players in Janarion Grant. Will it be enough to pull the upset on the road to light Riley’s hot seat on fire?
Rutgers at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Nebraska -12
Three Things to Watch
1. Well, somebody has to win
True, Rutgers did win their game last week with a blowout against Morgan State, but the Scarlet Knights have not won a game against an FBS opponent since beating New Mexico over a year ago (Sept. 17, 2016). And Rutgers hasn’t won a conference game since beating Indiana 55-52 in Bloomington on Oct. 17, 2015. Nebraska is simply looking for a rebound after suffering back-to-back losses against Oregon and Northern Illinois.
2. Is Tanner Lee going to be the guy at Nebraska?
The leash on starting quarterback Tanner Lee should be tightening a bit in Lincoln. In three games, Lee has been picked off seven times with five touchdowns and a completion percentage of 52.5. Last week, Lee had two interceptions returned for touchdowns, which ultimately led to an upset by Northern Illinois in Memorial Stadium. This week needs to see Lee get on the right track against a Rutgers defense that has actually played some admirable football so far this season. If Lee struggles once again, Mike Riley may have to seriously begin thinking about giving redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien a shot.
3.Rutgers’ Big Ten road woes
As mentioned earlier, Rutgers is looking for their first win in Big Ten play since 2015. Since joining the Big Ten, the road has been unkind to the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014 and has gone 2-10 in road Big Ten games in that span. Rutgers has lost those road games by an average of score of 44-17 and they have allowed at least 31 points to be scored by their opponents in seven straight road games. Rutgers has made one trip to Nebraska since joining the conference, and they returned home with a 42-24 defeat in 2014.
If ever there was a week Nebraska should be able to find a win, this might just be it. Although Chris Ash may be building a foundation built on his defense, the Scarlet Knights still have a gap in overall talent and depth across the board before being able to think about a bowl game. Nebraska is clearly not the Nebraska of old, and mistakes will cost them, but look for the Cornhuskers to keep things simple and work their way past a decent defensive challenge from Rutgers.
Prediction: Nebraska 27, Rutgers 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.