Statistical Preview: Northwestern vs. Nebraska

John Paschall, Reporter

With Northwestern’s biggest game of the year so far coming up, let’s look into some of the key offensive players in the Nebraska match-up and see where they could have the biggest impact:

Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez

Let’s start with what Martinez is known for: his scrambling ability. Where Martinez does most of his damage is on second down. This year the junior is averaging 8.88 yards per play on second down with six touchdowns. Although Martinez’s legs have been consistent, his passing has improved tremendously from last year. In 2011, Martinez was completing only 54.4 percent of his passes on first and second down. Now Martinez is a solid 71.1 percent so far this year on those downs. He’s clearly not the same quarterback the Wildcats saw last year. But statistics show there is a way to affect Martinez’s passing: Get a lead. When Nebraska is losing or tied, Martinez’s numbers drop noticeably. He has only a 59.5 percent completion rate when the Cornhuskers are down while he sports a 75.8 percentage when Nebraska is leading. If Northwestern can sustain a lead, stats show they can help slow down this improving passer.

Running backs: sophomore Ameer Abdullah and senior Rex Burkhead

This is a dangerous tandem to deal with now that Burkhead is healthy. The senior has been putting up outstanding numbers on first down, averaging 12.6 yards per carry, essentially a first down every time he gets a handoff on the opening down. Expect to see Burkhead early as 46.5 percent of his carries come in the first quarter while the speedy Abdullah will fill in after Burkhead starts pounding the defense. Burkhead’s strength is between his end zone and the opposing 40-yard line. He averages an absurd 11.1 yards per carry in that range with long runs of 73, 61 and 57 yards. Abdullah, while being the workhorse so far this year for Nebraska, has had a nose for the end zone, scoring all eight of his total touchdowns this year when the Cornhuskers were in the red zone. Abdullah and Burkhead will surely be a handful to contain, to say the least.

Junior quarterback Kain Colter

We all know how exceptionally athletic the do-it-all quarterback is but statistically speaking, he is lethal in the red zone. When he runs in this area, he scores a touchdown 54.5 percent of the time. More impressively, Colter is an incredibly efficient passer in the second half. He has Dan Persa-type numbers for completion percentage (83.3 percent) and still runs incredibly well (6.5 yards per carry). Meanwhile, his passing counterpart, redshirt sophomore quarterback Trevor Siemian, only has a 67.3 completion percentage.

Junior running back Venric Mark

While he has been an electrifying player on the field, stats show that Mark wears down as the game reaches the fourth quarter. In those final 15 minutes, Mark only averages 3.5 yards per carry compared to 6.47 yards per carry in the first three quarters. But Mark, like his backfield buddy Colter, is incredibly dangerous near the goal line. On down and goal situations, Mark has scored 57.1 percent of the time.

Quick hits:

  • In both of Nebraska’s losses this year, Martinez has thrown at least one interception. In their wins, Martinez has thrown zero picks.
  • In the coach Pat Fitzgerald era, NU has never won consecutive games against FBS teams with winning records heading into the game.
  • Nebraska has only lost one game coming off a bye in coach Bo Pelini’s tenure (against Virginia Tech in 2008). Their average margin of victory in the other three wins is 25.7 points.
  • NU has not won consecutive games in October since 2009 when the Wildcats defeated Purdue and Miami (Ohio). For those keeping track, Purdue and Miami (Ohio) were a combined 1-8 heading into their matchup with the Cats.

— John Paschall