This one might sting for awhile.
After battling back to tie Nebraska (4-2, 2-1 B1G) 10-10, Aidan Smith couldn’t lead Northwestern (1-4, 0-3 B1G) to victory as the Huskers kicked a field goal with no time remaining to take a 13-10 win following their beatdown against Ohio State.
Northwestern was down 10-3 against Nebraska after two quarters of poor offensive performance. Smith, who started in place of the injured Hunter Johnson, went 10-17 for 70 passing yards. The Wildcats’ rushing game wasn’t strong either, with merely 50 yards off 20 attempts. Quarterback Smith accounted for six of these, and led the team with 34 rushing yards. Despite an ominous start for both offenses, Nebraska’s rushing game showed up first, as Wan’Dale Robinson scored an explosive 42-yard rushing touchdown mid-way through the first quarter.
Both teams traded field goals before the half ended, with Northwestern’s coming off a 45-yard kick return from Riley Lees that set up a short field for Smith.
Nebraska’s offense appeared to be sluggish ever since, partially due to the defensive performance of the ‘Cats. At the half, the Huskers trailed in all passing aspects of the game, and their rushing game lacked highlights besides the 42-yard touchdown. QB Martinez completed only eight of his 12 passing attempts, leading his team to only seven first downs in the first half. The ‘Cats were once again guilty of anemic play-calling, as the offense fizzled despite multiple trips inside Nebraska territory. The lack of a big-play threat combined with Aidan Smith’s reluctance to throw downfield contributed to a worrying pattern visible all season.
Yet, as fans have seen time and time again, the defense came to play, limiting the Huskers and Martinez to 148 total yards at half. The ‘Cats pass rush consistently pressured Martinez, and solid open-field tackling prevented Nebraska from marching down the field. The Wildcats started off the second half strong, giving fans some hope of victory. The defensive unit continued to perform and successfully prevented Nebraska from major gains.
Following a three-and-out performance by the struggling Nebraska attack, Northwestern took the field and began the best drive of the game. The offensive line began to dominate the trenches against the Nebraska pass rushers, leaving enough space for the running back Drake Anderson and Smith to move the ball down the line smoothly. Smith capped off the six-rush drive nicely with a two-yard rushing touchdown, and tied the game at 10-10.
Despite rising hopes from the Northwestern side, their offense struggled. Luckily, Nebraska’s offense followed suit. After kicker Lane McCullum missed a 29-yard field goal for Nebraska later in the quarter, the game was still tied at the start of the final quarter. When Nebraska back-up quarterback Noah Vedral stepped on the field for Martinez, who seemed to have been forced out of the game by a knee injury, the Northwestern defense did not give him much chance to advance the ball. However, two crucial mistakes cost the Wildcats the game that they could have ended their losing streak and gave them their first conference win of the year. About halfway through the quarter, Kuhbander missed a 34-yard field goal attempt after the careless Nebraska defense helped them move the ball through penalties.
With one minute left on the clock, the Wildcats finally gave the game away. Aidan Smith threw an interception on the potential game winning drive, giving Nebraska an opportunity to move the ball up 51 yards and win the game.
Vedral, who only completed two passes for the entire quarter, produced when it mattered the most. Robinson caught Vedral’s pass for a 32-yard gain, putting Nebraska in field goal range. McCallum atoned for his first miss to sun the ‘Cats and hit the 24-yard kick on the buzzer, despite Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s three attempts to disrupt his rhythm.
Although this Northwestern side looked anything but convincing, to lose a game in this manner, including with a costly missed penalty by the refs on Smith’s interception, stung. Out of Northwestern’s early season slate, this game was potentially the most winnable; it may now be until late November for the ‘Cats to win a conference match.
It'll get worse before it get's better. Northwestern's next takes on the undisputed best team in the conference in unbeaten #5 Ohio State on Friday, Oct. 18.