Rutgers' top receiving option, Leonte Carroo, has been upgraded to probable for Saturday's matchup. And that's not good news for an NU defense that's given up big games to the opponent's best wideout all year long.
Carroo's only played 15 quarters of football this season (because of a suspension and a high ankle sprain). Yet he's still recorded 24 receptions for 527 yards — 22 yards per catch! — and nine touchdowns.
He makes all the difference for Rutgers.
That doesn't bode well for the Huskers, given the performances of other top pass-catchers against them this year. It's not entirely surprising that NU's leaky pass defense hasn't been able to limit the production of an opposing No. 1 receiver — but the numbers are still worth noting.
Let's compare the go-to guy's average game (vs. everyone else on his schedule) to his day against Nebraska...
BYU's Mitch Mathews: 4.6 catches for 53.8 yards, 1 TD (vs. non-NU teams) | 3 catches, 69 yards, 2 TD (vs. NU)
South Alabama's Josh Magee: 1.4-39.1, 0.4 TD | 6-147, 1 TD
Miami's Rashawn Scott: 3.8-48.5, 0.5 TD | 9-151
Southern Miss' Casey Martin: 5.8-53.6, 0.5 TD | 8-102, 2 TD
Illinois' Geronimo Allison: 6.0-83.1, 0.3 TD | 8-91, 1 TD
Wisconsin's Alex Erickson: 6.2-79.8, 0.3 TD | 7-113
Minnesota's KJ Maye: 4.8-53.8, 0.5 TD | 11-94
Northwestern's Christian Jones: 2.5-26.9, 0.3 TD | 0-0
Purdue's Danny Anthrop: 4.3-2.9, 0.1 TD | 10-40, 1 TD
Michigan State's Aaron Burbridge: 7.4-118.6, 0.7 TD | 10-164, 1 TD
Carroo's arguably more talented than each one of those receivers. Against Nebraska last season, he caught four passes for 121 yards — in the FIRST QUARTER. Then his starting quarterback got hurt, NU's lead ballooned and the game got out of hand.
Slowing Carroo down won't be easy. But it has to be the priority for Nebraska's defense.
Here's why: Even if the Huskers stuff the Rutgers run game and even if they force a couple incompletions and even if they get a lead — the Scarlet Knights will still approach pressure situations with a level of comfort because they know they can get the ball to Carroo.
The opponent's No. 1 receivers have caught a total of 72 passes against Nebraska this year — 24 of those (33 percent) have come on third or fourth down. And that's not counting Allison's game-winning touchdown, or Erickson's 31-yard sideline grab from Wisconsin's own 9-yard line in the fourth quarter or Burbridge's 29-yard catch to pull Michigan State out of a second-and-24 hole Saturday.
When you need a play, you get the ball in your best players' hands.
Unless the defense does everything it can to take away that option, forcing you to adjust.
Clearly, a guy as skilled as Carroo will get his yards Saturday. But Nebraska's challenge will be to prevent Rutgers from leaning on Carroo during the game's biggest moments.
When it's third-and-10 in crunch time and Rutgers is looking for Carroo to make a play — can the Huskers swallow him up? (Three of Carroo's first four catches against NU last year came on third down, one resulting in a 71-yard score).
This might just be the biggest key to Saturday's game.