May 24, 2024

Bowl eligibility up for grabs as Huskers battle Terrapins in Lincoln

Nebraska Cornhuskers Football

Nebraska quarterback Heinrich Haarberg (10), and tight end Nate Boerkircher (87) prepare to line up before a play during the first quarter against Illinois Friday October 6, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

After failing to secure bowl eligibility at Michigan State last week, Nebraska returns home to play Maryland, and there’s a lot at stake.

Both teams are sitting at five wins, and need a victory Saturday afternoon to punch their tickets to postseason glory. The Sea of Red will be rocking for the matchup too, with a sellout crowd on hand for the 395th consecutive game. It’s no mystery that Maryland might be Nebraska’s best chance to notch its’ sixth win, with Wisconsin and Iowa looming.

After all, the Terrapins are reeling, and on a four-game losing streak. Coach Mike Locksley’s squad is crumbling down the stretch after winning their first five games. Meanwhile it’s Matt Rhule’s first season patrolling the sidelines in Lincoln, and he’s trying to lead the Huskers to a bowl for the first time since 2016.

The Terrapins are no pushover though. Locksley has arguably the best gunslinger in the conference in Taulia Tagovailoa. He’s already the school’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown tosses. Tagovailoa has the arm to light the Blackshirts up, and he has weapons that can stretch the field.

Besides Michigan, Maryland will have the best offense Nebraska will face in Big Ten play this fall. The Huskers are currently 16th nationally in total defense, but tied for 51st against the pass. The Blackshirts will likely have their hands full against the Terrapins, so there’ll be a slim margin for error.

In the Huskers’ last three wins, they led at halftime, and grinded their way to the finish line. However, Nebraska was tied with Michigan State at halftime, never led in the second half and came up short on the road. It didn’t help the Huskers’ cause that the offense suffered numerous turnovers. Rhule can’t afford for his team to make the same mistakes against the Terrapins.

Quarterback Heinrich Haarberg has to tuck the ball away when he takes off out of the pocket, and can’t make the risky throws. Nebraska’s aerial attack is somewhat limited, but that doesn’t mean Haarberg can’t spread the ball around on short passes. Regardless, the receivers can’t be dropping catchable balls.

Most importantly, the Huskers absolutely can’t be turning the ball over and setting the Terrapins up in good field position. Everyone from the players, to the coaches and even the fans understand what’s on the line, so the urgency is there.

This battle has become the Huskers’ biggest game of the year, and a victory will do wonders for the program. No doubt this could very well end up being Rhule’s signature win if the Huskers are successful.

Maryland has lost its’ last two road tilts, and Nebraska is 4-1 at home, so something has to give. The Blackshirts will have to set the tone early on, and dictate the flow of the game. The Huskers can’t allow Tagovailoa to get in a rhythm, or time in the pocket. So Nebraska’s pass rush must be on point.

This game will come down to which team wants it more, and Big Red Nation is hungry for their team to accomplish something of significance.