Photo by Pat Radigan
Jackson 17-yard run
DRIVE: 10 plays | 59 yards | 4:18
Reimers 22-yard rec
DRIVE: 10 plays | 61 yards | 5:21
Larkin 24-yard run
DRIVE: 4 plays | 63 yards | 1:18
Stoll 32-yard rec
DRIVE: 2 plays | 72 yards | 0:40
Kuhbander 24-yd FG
DRIVE: 8 plays | 80 yards | 3:22
Newby 49-yard INT return
Brown 23-yard FG
DRIVE: 18 plays | 79 yards | 9:24
Thorson 7-yard run
DRIVE: 13 plays | 84 yards | 5:03
Thorson 1-yard run
DRIVE: 7 plays | 25 yards | 0:00
Story by Pat Radigan
Northwestern scores the final two touchdowns to hold off Huskers at Memorial Stadium
It’s normal for Husker fans to second guess the play calling, the performance of the offensive line and the overall state of the defense.
What was especially painful in Saturday night’s loss to Northwestern was how it all broke down in unison to allow the Wildcats to sneak out of Memorial Stadium with the win.
A Tanner Lee interception in the fourth quarter kept it a one-score game, and the momentum continued to tip in Northwestern’s favor as the Wildcats methodically worked their way to the tying touchdown. Nebraska never stopped that momentum, and when the Wildcats opened overtime with another score, it was the same issues that got them there, that cost the Huskers any chance of extending the game.
Through the first three quarters, the game followed a path that Husker fans have seen a few times this season. Nebraska found a big play and enough offensive success in the first half to stay close. The defense found a footing after halftime, this time thanks to an interception returned for a touchdown by Marcus Newby, and a field goal had the Huskers up by a touchdown with 15 minutes to hold on.
Unlike other games, though, the issues that have plagued Nebraska seemingly all season made a curtain call in front of the 90,000 fans in Lincoln.
Fittingly, it started as the offensive line quieted a booming cheer from the home fans. The first time it was intentional, as they waved their hands in a downward motion to try and quiet the crowd for first down from Northwestern’s 19-yard-line.
Nebraska was clearly in Drew Brown’s range, and a field goal could have stretched the game to two scores.
But then, a breakdown along the offensive line allowed Joe Gaziano to get to quarterback Tanner Lee, and the hit caused Lee’s pass to knuckle and dive to the turf early. The second time, unintentionally, the Huskers quieted the crowd as Godwin Igwebuike snatched the pass out of the air.
After the game, Mike Riley told reporters that the play called for a max protection plan along the offensive line, but a stunt by Northwestern spoiled that. Some plays might require such an explanation. Gaziano’s free path to the quarterback made it obvious to anyone watching that something went wrong.
That theme continued as Northwestern drove down the field for the equalizing drive.
A 15-yard completion and a personal foul penalty allowed the angst to build at Memorial Stadium with each Wildcat first down. Nebraska forced a 3rd down, but a 20-yard completion continued the gut punches to the home fans. A 10-yard rush on the next play gave Northwestern its third first down on the eighth play of the drive.
The Huskers found a sliver of hope when a handoff for no gain forced a fourth down. Nebraska could not finish the task and get off the field, though, and three plays later the Wildcats found pay dirt. Again, there were questions asked, and some sort of an answer given by the defensive coaches.
It didn’t take a background in coaching to understand what allowed Clayton Thorson to gallop into the endzone untouched.
Nebraska had a drive to try and find an answer. With the ball inside Northwestern territory, the Huskers looked to Stanley Morgan and were unable to complete the first down throw. A completion to the tight end cut down the challenge to convert to 5 yards. That was still too tall of a task, though, and another incompletion forced a punt and sent the game into overtime.
If the Huskers shortcomings were not obvious to the home fans the first time around, they had another chance to see the same script play out.
Northwestern gashed NU for yards on the ground, and had a 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard-line on three plays. Like the drive late in the fourth quarter, Nebraska forced a 4th down with Northwestern inches short of the goal line. For the second time in the matter of minutes, the Wildcats converted to quite the crowd.
Then it was Nebraska’s turn.
An incompletion to Morgan on first down allowed angst to build among home fans. That indifference turned to outward distress when an attempted screen pass turned into a 10-yard loss when Lee was brought down before getting the pass off.
Riley is the type of coach who has a polished way of trying to explain away most adverse happenings. He hardly even tried on this one.
“As of late we’ve hit a couple (screens),” he said. “That obviously was bad timing for that play.”
All that was left was a repeat of a tune familiar to the ears of the Husker fans: A completion to the tight end cut down the task of converting, before an incompletion ended the drive. The difference was that this time, there was no hope for a comeback as the Northwestern defensive players streaked down the sideline in celebration.