Nebraska, looking to turn close games into wins, starts 2022 against Big Ten West Rival Northwestern in Ireland

Aviva Stadium 2010 photo. By Tarafuku10 – Own work, Public Domain, https commons.wikimedia.org

Nebraska kicks off its 133rd football season on Saturday when the Huskers take on the Northwestern Wildcats at the Aer Lingus Classic at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. Saturday’s season opener will be the 1,358th game in Nebraska football history but only the second played on foreign soil. 

The only other international game in Husker history was Nebraska’s victory over Kansas State at the 1992 Coca-Cola Classic in Tokyo, Japan. One year later, Wisconsin defeated Michigan State at the 1993 Coca-Cola Classic in Tokyo, which to date is the only Big Ten Conference game played outside of the United States. Saturday’s game marks the earliest date of a conference matchup in Big Ten history.

Head Coach Scott Frost begins his fifth season at his alma mater in 2022, while Saturday’s contest will mark Pat Fitzgerald’s 200th game as Northwestern’s head coach. Nebraska won last year’s matchup in Lincoln 56-7, scoring its most points ever in a Big Ten Conference game and posting its largest margin of victory (49 points) in a Big Ten game and in any conference game since 2001.

Before last year’s Husker win, each of the previous four meetings between Nebraska and Northwestern had been decided by one score, including back-to-back overtime wins for the Wildcats in 2017 and 2018. Overall, eight of the first 11 Big Ten meetings between the two programs have been one-score games.

Nebraska returns 46 letterwinners from last year’s team, bringing back five full-time defensive starters and four offensive starters plus nine other players (seven on offense and two on defense) who started multiple games in 2021. The Huskers have bolstered their roster with the addition of 44 newcomers, including 22 transfers, 18 of whom have previous playing experience at the FBS or FCS level.

Series History: Nebraska vs. Northwestern
Saturday’s matchup between Nebraska and Northwestern will be the 16th all-time between the two schools, with Nebraska holding a 9-6 series advantage. The Huskers are 6-5 against the Wildcats since Nebraska joined the Big Ten and the series has a history of close games.

  • Nebraska won last year’s meeting 56-7 in Lincoln, posting its highest point total and largest margin of victory in a Big Ten Conference game. Overall, last year’s meeting marked the Huskers’ largest margin of victory in any conference game since a 59-0 win at Baylor during the 2001 Big 12 season.
  • Despite last year’s lopsided score, eight of the 11 meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten have been decided by eight or fewer points, including four of the past five games. Northwestern is 5-3 in those eight one-score games, as each of the Wildcats’ five conference victories over Nebraska have come by eight or fewer points and by an average of 4.6 points, including two overtime wins.
  • The schools met four times prior to Nebraska joining the Big Ten, with the Huskers holding a 3-1 edge in those matchups. Nebraska defeated Northwestern, 66-17, in the 2000 Alamo Bowl, a Husker record for points scored in a bowl game.

Brief Recaps of Close Games in the Series

  • Northwestern 21, Nebraska 13 (Nov. 7, 2020): After Northwestern drove 80 yards for a touchdown on its opening possession, the Huskers shut out the Wildcats the rest of the first half to take a 13-7 lead into the locker room. But Northwestern shut out Nebraska 14-0 in the second half. Trailing by eight, Nebraska drove to the Wildcat 14-yard line on its final drive, but Luke McCaffrey’s fourth-down pass was broken up in the end zone with one second remaining. 
  • Nebraska 13, Northwestern 10 (Oct. 5, 2019): Although Northwestern never led, the Wildcats tied the game at 10-10 with 11:20 to play in the third quarter. Neither team would score again until the final snap of the game. Northwestern drove into Husker territory with just over a minute remaining, but Lamar Jackson intercepted an Aidan Smith pass, and Nebraska drove 42 yards in six plays covering one minute to set up Lane McCallum’s game-winning, walk-off 24-yard field goal.
  • Northwestern 34, Nebraska 31 in OT (Oct. 13, 2018): Nebraska nearly handed Northwestern its only Big Ten West loss of the 2018 season, but the Huskers were unable to hold a 10-point lead with less than three minutes remaining. Trailing 31-21, Northwestern got a field goal to pull within seven with 2:27 remaining in regulation. After Nebraska went 3-and-out and took just 24 seconds off the clock, the Wildcats drove 99 yards in eight plays to score the game-tying touchdown with 12 seconds remaining. Nebraska then threw an interception on its overtime possession, and Northwestern won the game on a walk-off 37-yard field goal from Drew Luckenbaugh.
  • Northwestern 31, Nebraska 24 in OT (Nov. 4, 2017): Northwestern ended the 2017 season with an eight-game winning streak which included an NCAA-record three consecutive overtime wins, the final of which came against Nebraska. The Huskers used a 10-0 third quarter to build a 24-17 lead, but Clayton Thorson tied the game on a touchdown run with 5:32 remaining in regulation. Thorson then gave the Wildcats the lead with a one-yard touchdown run on the first overtime series. Nebraska failed to score on its overtime drive, as a fourth-down pass was broken up.
  • Northwestern 30, Nebraska 28 (Oct. 24, 2015): In a back-and-forth game that featured five lead changes, Northwestern held on during an eventful fourth quarter. The Wildcats led 20-19 entering the final period, but Nebraska took a 22-20 lead just five seconds into the quarter. Northwestern answered with 10 straight points to build a 30-22 lead before a Tommy Armstrong Jr. three-yard touchdown run. Trailing 30-28, Nebraska failed on its two-point conversion attempt, and Northwestern picked up three first downs on its ensuing possession to run out the game’s final 4:18.
  • Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24 (Nov. 2, 2013): Northwestern led 21-7 less than 20 minutes into the game, but the Huskers scored a single touchdown in both the third and fourth quarter to tie the score and set the stage for a dramatic final two minutes. With the game tied at 21, a Northwestern interception gave the Wildcats a 1st-and-goal situation with 2:25 remaining. Northwestern had to settle for a go-ahead field goal, and the Huskers got the ball back trailing 24-21 with 1:14 remaining. Nebraska converted a 4th-and-15 to keep its comeback hopes alive, and then on the game’s final play, Ron Kellogg III found Jordan Westerkamp on a 49-yard Hail Mary as time expired.
  • Nebraska 29, Northwestern 28 (Oct. 20, 2012): Northwestern scored a single touchdown in all four quarters, including a final touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 28-16 lead with 8:31 remaining. But Nebraska drove 80 yards for a touchdown in just 2:36 on its ensuing possession to cut the lead to 28-23. The Blackshirts then held the Wildcats to a 3-and-out, giving Nebraska the ball back with 4:10 to play. The Huskers covered 76 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:08 remaining, but the game was not over. Northwestern began its next drive on its own 25-yard line and drove to the Husker 36-yard line, but the Wildcats’ potential go-ahead 53-yard field goal with 1:10 left missed wide right.

Husker History in Season Openers
Nebraska has an impressive history in season openers. The Huskers have won 98 of their 132 season openers, winning their first game more than 76 percent of the time while posting a 98-29-5 record. 

  • Nebraska is 32-4 in its first game of the season dating back to 1986.
  • The Huskers are opening a season away from home for the third straight year, the only three times this century that Nebraska has played its season opener away from Lincoln. NU is beginning a season at a neutral site for the first time since the fourth-ranked Huskers shut out No. 24 West Virginia, 31-0, on Aug. 28, 2004 at the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J., to begin a 13-0 national championship season. 
  • Nebraska is 11-3 when it opens the season against a conference opponent. The Huskers are facing a conference foe in the season opener for just the fifth time since 1950, but Saturday marks the third consecutive year that Nebraska begins the season with a Big Ten Conference game.

Nebraska Nearly Perfect in August
Saturday’s game will mark the 16th August game in the history of Nebraska football. The Huskers have lost just once in the month, bringing a 14-1 record into the contest with Northwestern.

  • Nebraska is not only 14-1 all-time in the month of August, but the average score of those 14 games has been 39-16. The Huskers are 7-1 in August when facing a current Power Five Conference opponent, with the average score of those six contests being 34-12.
  • In the history of Nebraska football, Saturday’s contest will mark the earliest date of a conference game in Husker history. Overall, the Aug. 27 date is the third-earliest date ever for a Nebraska season opener.
  • Saturday’s game is officially dubbed the “Aer Lingus Classic”, marking the first time Nebraska has opened a season by playing in a “Classic” since kicking off the 2002 season at home against Arizona State in the Black Coaches Association Classic.

Saturday’s Matchup a Rarity in Big Ten Conference
Saturday’s season opener between Nebraska and Northwestern in Dublin, Ireland, is a rarity for the Big Ten Conference for two reasons: the date and the location.

  • Saturday’s game marks the earliest date of a conference game in Big Ten history. Including this year, there have been only six conference matchups in August in the history of the Big Ten Conference, and Nebraska has played in two of those six contests. 
  • Saturday’s game also marks only the second Big Ten Conference game played on foreign soil. The only other international conference game in Big Ten history came in 1993, when Wisconsin defeated Michigan State 41-20 at the Coca-Cola Classic in Tokyo, Japan. The previous year, Nebraska picked up a Big Eight Conference victory over Kansas State in the 1992 Coca-Cola Classic in Tokyo.
  • Saturday will also mark just the second time a Big Ten team has played in Europe. Penn State entered this season as the only Big Ten team to play a game in Europe, as the Nittany Lions defeated UCF, 26-24, on Aug. 30, 2014, in Dublin, Ireland. That game was played at Croke Park and not Aviva Stadium, the home of Saturday’s Nebraska-Northwestern matchup.
  • According to available research, Saturday’s game will be just the 14th FBS conference game played on foreign soil in college football history. The Nebraska-Northwestern contest will also mark just the second FBS conference matchup ever played in Europe, along with the 2016 Aer Lingus Classic in Dublin between ACC foes Georgia Tech and Boston College.

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