Nebraska Football: Huskers Can't Look Past the Northwestern Wildcats

Michael HuckstepCorrespondent INovember 3, 2011

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 29: Running back Rex Burkhead #22 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers gets tripped up by linebacker Marcus Rush #44 of the Michigan State Spartans during their game at Memorial Stadium October 29, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

It's a well-worn cliche uttered by every coach in college football:

"We have to take things one game at a time; we can't look past anyone on our schedule."

Bo Pelini, well-versed in this type of coach-speak, has uttered words to that effect many times in the past.

Surely, he must feel the same way as the Huskers prepare for Northwestern's visit to Lincoln this weekend.

Since Nebraska has rebounded from their humiliating defeat against Wisconsin and turned some of their doubters into believers, never have such banal words seemed so apt.

While the Wildcats (alone in the cellar of the Legends Division with a 1-4 conference record) sit directly in Nebraska's path, there are a pair of signposts looming a bit further down the road, signifying more daunting journeys that the Huskers must take.

Those roadside markers obviously point towards "Happy Valley" and the "Big House," where Nebraska will face Penn State and Michigan in consecutive weeks.

Undoubtedly, that pair of games will help shape the overall Big Ten picture, especially with the Huskers currently locked in a three-way tie atop the Legends Division (the Wolverines, of course, being one of the other two teams) and the Nittany Lions unexpectedly perched atop the Leaders Division with a 5-0 conference record.

Now is not the time for a letdown.

As tempting as it might be for some to peer beyond the Wildcats, Nebraska cannot allow themselves to lose the momentum that began in the third quarter of the Ohio State game and was most recently reinforced by a solid 24-3 victory over the Spartans.

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 29: Running back Aaron Green #2 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers tries to avoid cornerback Darqueze Dennard #31 of the Michigan State Spartans during their game at Memorial Stadium October 29, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Fra
Eric Francis/Getty Images

A loss this Saturday would negate the strides the Huskers have made since that meltdown in Madison and possibly allow the Spartans, who appear to have the easiest slate of remaining games, to sail to the Big Ten Championship.

The Wildcats, who suffered a 66-17 drubbing in the 2000 Alamo Bowl the last time these two teams met, would love to play the role of spoiler.

Besides, Northwestern's losing record this season belies some interesting statistics.

Even though Northwestern's defense is ranked 11th in the Big Ten, QB Dan Persa and the Big Ten's second-best passing offense can still rack up their fair share of yardage and points. The Wildcats rank third in the conference in total offense (one spot above the Huskers) and average a respectable 31.6 points per game.

And while it could be a possibility (however remote) for Nebraska's defensive starters to be overconfident after finally earning their coveted Blackshirts, they must be mindful that the Wildcats will walk onto the field in Memorial Stadium with a renewed confidence, buoyed by last Saturday's 59-point offensive outburst on the road (even if it came against 1-8 Indiana).

Northwestern might not have the talent to stand toe-to-toe with Nebraska, but expect the Wildcats to give the Huskers their best shot, driven by a nothing-to-lose mentality. 

Therefore, as Coach Pelini predictably reminds the media that every game is part of the "overall process," Nebraska must focus on the task at hand and not allow themselves to be distracted by the challenges that lie ahead, even if that is where the Huskers ultimate destiny will most likely be decided.

Nov. 12 (and everything thereafter) will come soon enough.