88. That is the total number of rushing yards Nebraska had in its past two games combined. The Huskers have not been able to get a consistent rushing attack going all season, and head coach Mike Riley knows it.
When asked about what he sees as the major flaw in the run-game at his weekly Monday press conference, Riley said it comes down to the offensive line.
"Well you know I think that it’s probably pretty simply the whole idea of winning the one-on-one match-ups so much, and then you know from there, being able to do that kind of repeatedly so you have good running stats at the end," Riley said. "I don’t have any other magic formula, you’ve got to block them."
The offensive line has seen its fair share of injuries and position switches and it shows. However, freshman offensive lineman Matt Farniok said he thinks the unit is close to finding success.
"We were just off by a freckle," Farniok said. "For me, I'd get to a linebacker and I'd miss my hands a little bit and he'd be able to break off and make a tackle. We were just a freckle away on a lot of our runs."
Being that close can be very frustrating, especially when the unit feels they have to potential to be great.
"It was frustrating because we saw what we can do, we know what we can do but we're always just this close to it," Farniok said.
Both Farniok and junior offensive lineman Cole Conrad will have expanded roles this week after Riley announced Tanner Farmer and Michael Decker will miss significant time with injuries.
Conrad, a Nebraska native, said he takes it personally to see that the Huskers were only able to put up 40 yards rushing against Purdue last week.
"It definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth," Conrad said. "You've gotta give credit to them too, they did a lot of stuff, loading the box, bringing pressure, but ultimately we've got to do better than that, a lot better than that."
The Huskers offensive line will meet a solid test against a Northwestern rushing defense that is ranked No. 17 in the nation allowing just 118 rushing yards per game.
"They're just a lot of technically sound guys," Conrad said "They're a bunch of grinders, guys that are going to give 100 percent every play...We just have to play with and match their technique and their energy."
Riley said he has had a couple of "long talks" with offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf about how the Huskers can have success on the ground against the Huskies. He noted that finding a couple of runs that work rather than trying to get creative could be a good recipe.
"I don’t think it is wise to have a whole bunch of stuff to try to execute against this defense, Riley said. "I think if we can get some balance going and some counter-type plays going, you know curve-ball plays to what might be a base run or two would be good. But something that is repeatable that we can do, because you got to get a feel for them."
Conrad said he's taking this week as a challenge, knowing that the offensive line has a chance to prove that they can help Nebraska's run game get back on track against one of the conference's top defenses.
"I think when you see (the success of Northwestern's run defense), it definitely sticks out and you take that to notice," Conrad said "It's definitely something that we focus on this week. We have been focusing on that all season, but definitely maybe a little more this coming week."
Nebraska kicks off against Northwestern at home Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.