Well, at least it wasn’t a heartbreaker.
Northwestern and Nebraska have played their fair share of dramatic college football games over the years, but Saturday night in Evanston wasn’t one of those games. The Cornhuskers eased past the Wildcats 38-17 and spoiled homecoming for Northwestern in the process.
It’s really no secret why Nebraska was able to win this football game: their offense came to play in the second half. The ‘Cats actually led 17-14 at the break, but the ‘Huskers were able to rattle off 24 unanswered points in the second half and secure the victory.
There will be plenty of finger-pointing this week after such a disappointing loss, but there’s more than enough blame to go around.
The offense failed to match Nebraska down the stretch, as quarterback Trevor Siemian wasn’t able to establish any sort of rhythm with his receivers. The Northwestern defense had no answer for the ‘Huskers offensive combo of quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. and halfback Ameer Abdullah. And when the ‘Cats needed a big offensive play or a stop on defense, none of their playmakers were there to answer the call.
“Looking back at the game, obviously a tale of two halves,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “It’s a credit to Nebraska. They had great adjustments at halftime and, quite frankly, shut us down offensively.”
The ‘Cats got off to a red-hot start in this one, marching 89 yards down the field and utilizing a balanced offensive attack to put the ‘Husker defense on their heels early. Justin Jackson punched it in from two yards out to give Northwestern a 7-0 lead on their opening drive of the game.
Both teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter and a late Jack Mitchell field goal gave Northwestern a 17-14 lead at halftime. Things were looking good for the ‘Cats, but they wouldn’t stay that way for long.
A steady diet of Ameer Abdullah began to wear Northwestern down defensively as the standout senior gashed the ‘Cats for 146 yards rushing. Abdullah broke a 50-yard run early in the third quarter that set up his second touchdown of the day and gave Nebraska a 21-17 lead.
“He’s a senior right?” Fitzgerald asked the media after the game. “Yeah, that’s great. That’s terrific. I’m going to send him a present for graduation.”
However, the darkest moment of the game occurred soon afterwards, as wide receiver Miles Shuler went down with a serious head injury. Shuler stayed down for almost ten minutes before being stretchered off the field.
“Things were done for precautionary reasons and the information I’ve gotten is that the tests came back clear which is positive,” Fitzgerald said.
Nebraska would tack on two more Abdullah touchdowns to ice the game and send much of the student section home early. The game was effectively over midway through the fourth quarter.
The ‘Cats have a bye coming up this week before heading to a battle with the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
“We’ve had a couple tough losses in a row but we’ve got to find a way to get this team healthy for a stretch run,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve gone through a pretty tough gauntlet.”
It sometimes feels like this guy is playing a video game. Jackson has emerged as a dynamic and punishing runner who gives the ‘Cats an ability to challenge teams on the ground. His 360 spin move in the second quarter was one of the most exciting one-yard touchdown runs I’ve ever seen. And the best part is, he’s only a freshman.
The “Gothic” Uniforms
I’ve never seen so many students freak out over a free T-shirt, but that’s the power of the gothic uniforms. The first 2,000 students at the game on Saturday received free shirts inspired by the ‘Cats black and gold look and those things sold out fast. It will be interesting to see if Northwestern breaks these out again in the future.
The student section
When I first heard that Northwestern was planning a “blackout” for Saturday’s game, I’ll admit I was skeptical that the student section would be able to pull it off. But I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong. They were loud, rowdy and definitely made their presence felt. Nice work guys.
Punter Chris Gradone was not a popular man in the press box on Saturday night. He had a few rough punts that set Nebraska up with unbelievable field position early in this game. While Gradone was eventually able to get it together, the ‘Cats still have virtually no return game and lack the ability to break games open on special teams.
It’s a good thing the ‘Cats have a bye this week, because Trevor Siemian is going to be sore for a while. The ‘Huskers came after him throughout this game and absolutely hammered him on a few massive hits.
I don’t like Nebraska fans. There, I said it.