While Rutgers is expressing relief after ending an 11-game losing streak, the panic alarm appears to be close to going off in Nebraska following a second straight setback last week. Third-year coach Mike Riley will try to calm the masses beginning Saturday when the Cornhuskers host the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
Nebraska briefly managed to reclaim a late lead after giving up two first-quarter interception returns for touchdowns but ultimately fell 21-17 at home to Northern Illinois, sending the Cornhuskers to their second 1-2 start under Riley, who received a tepid vote of confidence from athletic director Shawn Eichorst afterwards. “I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m disappointed … I want to make sure folks understand we’ve got to get that fixed, and we have to get heading in the right direction, and we have the right coach to do it. But we have to get going,” Eichorst told reporters after the game. Rutgers held its own against No. 6 Washington in the season opener before getting upset at home by Eastern Michigan the following week, but it rebounded in a big way by routing FCS foe Morgan State 65-0 last weekend for their largest margin of victory in a shutout since 1978. However, the Scarlet Knights have lost each of their three all-time meetings with Nebraska and dropped 14 consecutive conference games dating back to a 55-52 win at Indiana on Oct. 17, 2015.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Nebraska -13.
ABOUT RUTGERS (1-2): Although Kyle Bolin (52-of-88, 516 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions) drew his third start in as many games, true freshman Johnathan Lewis stole the show last weekend as his first career pass attempt went for a score, and he later became the first quarterback in program history to rush for four or more touchdowns in a game. Raheem Blackshear amassed 132 total yards and posted his first career 100-yard rushing effort against Morgan State - becoming the first Rutgers true freshman to do so since Josh Hicks and Robert Martin each accomplished the feat in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl. Senior defensive lineman Darnell Davis recorded a career-high 10 tackles while also picking up his second sack and second forced fumble of the season.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (1-2): Leading rusher Tre Bryant (299 yards) was forced to miss last week with a lingering knee injury, and he remains questionable for this weekend; his presence was missed against Northern Illinois, as the Cornhuskers ran for a season-low 85 yards and averaged a season-worst 2.4 yards per carry. Tanner Lee ranks second in the Big Ten with 263 passing yards per game, but he has yet to complete 60 percent of his throws in a game and has tossed an FBS-high seven interceptions - all in the last two games. Stanley Morgan Jr. leads the conference in receptions (18) and receiving yards (299); no Cornhusker has ever had more catches through three games, while only Irving Fryar (315 in 1983) had more receiving yards.
1. Nebraska has won 38 of its last 42 conference openers, with three of those losses coming against top-20 opponents.
2. Rutgers blocked a kick for the second time in as many games against Morgan State and leads the nation with 49 total dating back to 2009.
3. Since giving up 42 points in the first half to Oregon, the Cornhuskers’ defense has yielded only seven over its last six quarters.
PREDICTION: Nebraska 34, Rutgers 10