What started off promisingly quickly turned ugly for Northwestern as they fell to the Nebraska Cornerhuskers 38-17. The whole team, especially the offense, suffered a complete meltdown in the second half. With the loss Northwestern falls to 3-4 on the season and 2-2 in Big Ten play. NU had fans feeling good after the first half, going into the break leading 17-14. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, the Nebraska Cornhuskers flipped a switch and outscored them 21 to 0 after the break.
It started off extremely positively as the ‘Cats forced Nebraska to punt and then the offense marched the ball down the field against the Huskers. Justin Jackson was slipping and scooting for positive yards every play and it looked like Nebraska would have trouble with him all night.
After that drive, however, the ‘Cats started with the self-inflicted wounds. The defense repeatedly came up with stops and gave the offense a chance to seize the momentum, but the ‘Cats couldn’t take it. On one drive, Kyle Prater negated a first down with an offense pass interference. Then, Trevor Siemian tried to squeeze a ball into triple coverage down-field, which resulted in an easy pick. There were multiple instances where the NU D forced Nebraska to punt and then Northwestern proceeded to give the ball right back after stalling on offense.
When they weren’t making critical mental mistakes, the offense play calling was failing to capitalize on what the Cornhusker D was giving them. The Blackshirts repeatedly sent multiple blitzers, yet NU was running plays that took 4-5 seconds to develop. It took them 3 drives to figure out that they needed to run some quick passing plays and screens to counter this. When they finally adjusted, they were able to open up space for the offense to operate.
Despite those miscues, Justin Jackson’s stellar play at running back and the Wildcat defense came to play, which gave Northwestern the lead going into halftime. Jackson finished the first half with 15 carries for 99 yards with 2 touchdowns. He was simply too good to be stopped by Nebraska. After taking a 14-7 lead on the back of Jackson, the NU defense finally broke a bit, as they allowed Nebraska to march down the field on 3 consecutive plays to tie the game up at 14 a piece. NU was able to sneak a field goal in before the first half, taking the lead and some momentum (we thought) into that halftime break.
The second half was a whole different story for Northwestern. They started off with the ball and proceeded to go 3 and out. This was a theme throughout the half. NU would typically run an outside play with Jackson on 1st down, which would get them 2 or 3 yards. Then they would miss a quick pass and fail to convert the third down. The formula did not change, despite the lack of success. Trevor Siemian had trouble finding open receivers and even when they were open, there would be costly drops. It didn’t look like there were any halftime adjustments made to counter what Nebraska was throwing at them. They finished the game with only 28 net yards of offense in the 2nd half.
On defense, Ameer Abdullah, De’Mornay Pierson-El, and Tommy Armstrong ran all over the ‘Cats, especially on 3rd down. Abdullah rushed for 107 yards and 3 TD’s in the second half alone and Tommy Armstrong added another 109 yards of total offense. The real story was how Northwestern defense could not get Nebraska off the field. They continually had them in 3rd and longs, yet Nebraska found a way to keep the drive alive. While they were 1-6 in the first half, they finished the game going 7 for 9 on third down conversions. As a result of these conversions, Abdullah was able to punch in multiple short yardage touchdowns, putting the game out of reach for the ‘Cats.
Special teams wise, the unit looked lost all day. The punting unit only averaged 37 yards per punt and even though the kickoff unit kept the ball away from the returner, this strategy spotted Nebraska 10 yards every drive. The biggest mistake of the day for this unit was the running into the returner penalty that Marcus McShepherd took late. It’s inexcusable that this team doesn’t have discipline on special teams, a unit that Fitzgerald coaches himself. That’s two weeks in a row that the unit has made colossal mistakes.
Overall, it was an extremely disappointing game for the ‘Cats, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Trevor Siemian still doesn’t look like he’s the answer under center. He took a ton of bad sacks, threw the ball into traffic, and failed to make plays when it mattered most. To be fair though, the receivers weren’t giving him much help with the drops and inability to get open. Special teams continue to be a disappointment and it’s to the point where I’m holding my breath every time Northwestern punts the ball. The defense was very solid in the half and I can’t blame them too much for the lost. Northwestern’s offense couldn’t keep the defense off the field.
Once again, we find ourselves asking who is this Northwestern team? I think the answer is becoming clear that this team is destined for mediocrity this year. With a coaching staff that can’t adjust to the opposing team’s game plans and a QB that doesn’t make plays, it’s tough to win consistently in the Big Ten. This defense is good enough to win, but the offense, with the exception of Justin Jackson, is not good enough to put up the necessary points. I hope the team proves me wrong, like they did against Penn State and Wisconsin, but until something changes, I’m not feeling overly confident going to Iowa in 2 weeks.