by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Main Storyline: Northwestern appeared to still be in nap mode on its first drive, as Kain Colter tried rushing it outside, and was stuffed, which appeared to be a perfect summary of the Wildcats’ first foray.
Nebraska definitely got the early momentum, whether it was its perfect defensive marking on Northwestern’s third-and-five on the opening drive, or whether it was the momentum of stuffing junior quarterback Kain Colter on an outside run or whether it was the Nebraska balloons sent into the sky following the Cornhuskers forcing the Wildcats into a three-and-out on their opening drive.
Main Storyline: Nebraska’s first drive was frightening at first, but Ibraheim Campbell’s big play in the end zone helped hold the Cornhuskers to a field goal.
Rex Burkhead had far too big a role to run through on his first attempt of the game, rushing eight yards up the middle to put Nebraska into Northwestern territory. That set up an easy pass over the middle from Taylor Martinez to Quincy Enunwa, which then set up a rush from Martinez. Martinez nearly had Jamal Turner on a lob into the end zone, but Ibraheim Campbell put his hands in the bread basket and deflected it away. Momentum quickly turned the Wildcats’ way, as they clogged up the middle and brought Burkhead down for a loss. While Nebraska took the early lead, Northwestern gained significant momentum from the fact that it was able to get a red zone stuff after the Cornhuskers had moved down the field so easily.
Main Storyline: Northwestern’s second drive went no better as the Wildcats failed to establish their rushing game.
Kain Colter tried to scramble out of the pocket and was stuffed on first down. Mark had no more success trying to shuffle around the right end. Mark’s difficulties and Colter’s difficulties quickly put pressure on Northwestern to finally open up its downfield passing game. On third down, Trevor Siemian was again brought in, as he was on the first drive, and he found Venric Mark streaking across the field, but again Nebraska’s defense was precise, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste tripped Mark up beautifully before he could break free.
Main Storyline: Taylor Martinez tried three passes in a row and Northwestern held up strong, shifting around the blocker to prevent a run when he rolled right and covering the downfield receivers well.
Rex Burkhead barely got a first down on a plummet up the middle on third-and-two, but Burkhead’s injury on the play took a vital cog out of Nebraska’s offense. Northwestern had excellent coverage downfield on first down, which allowed Damien Proby to get to Martinez for a seven-yard sack. More pressure on third down forced Martinez to get rid of it early. Northwestern got a key break when a personal foul wiped out Venric Mark’s horrendous decision to try to pick up a bouncing punt. Mark’s second return was far better, giving the Wildcats the ball in Cornhuskers’ territory.
Main Storyline: Northwestern had the ball in Nebraska territory, but the Wildcats’ efforts were no more successful, as one Siemian pass was tipped and nearly intercepted and Colter’s third-down run was stopped after just three yards.
Trevor Siemian to Kain Colter continues to fall flat, as Nebraska’s tackling is far too good to allow Colter to make any yards out of it. Finally, Colter got the third-down snap, but his rush didn’t make it very far. Brandon Williams did a fine job pinning Nebraska with a high, soaring punt that gently bounced to the Nebraska one-yard line.
Main Storyline: Northwestern continued to look very good on defense, shutting down the inside run and building pressure on Martinez.
Northwestern played the goal-line defense perfectly, stuffing Nebraska’s two rushes up the middle and then nearly sacking Martinez in the back of the end zone on third down. Their defensive pressure has greatly improved this year. Martinez was actually wrapped up in the end zone, but he just managed to get a weak shovel pass out in the direction of a receiver, allowing Nebraska to punt it back to midfield.
Main Storyline: The way Northwestern was struggling to move the ball, it needed some help. Nebraska gave it some help with a fumbled punt, and Siemian capitalized with a touchdown to Dan Vitale, putting the Wildcats up 7-3.
With Colter unable to make any headway on his runs, Northwestern vastly switched strategies, putting Trevor Siemian behind center with five wide. It nearly worked. His first-down pass to Dan Vitale netted a nice gain, and his second-down pass to Christian Jones should have been caught for a first down. After Nebraska fumbled Northwestern’s punt, Colter had his first successful rush of the game, most critically on a play that wasn’t a designed run, as he evaded two would-be sacks and got an eight-yard gain. Siemian followed shortly thereafter with his first successful pass, finding Dan Vitale over the middle for a touchdown.
Main Storyline: The Wildcats’ pressure helped them get a key stop at midfield, and pinned on top of their own end zone, they were at least able to pick up a few yards to give Williams space to work with.
Northwestern got a big stop when it once again rushed Martinez out of the pocket and David Nwabuisi was able to deflect his pass along the right sideline. The fact that the Wildcats let Martinez escape wasn’t so good, but they provided enough defense to prevent Martinez from taking off and Nwabuisi was there to break up the sideline pass. A fine punt by Nebraska pinned Northwestern three yards from its own end zone and a third-down rollout pass to Tony Jones at least gave Brandon Williams room to punt. Williams launched another tailing punt that duped the returner and the fumble gave Northwestern the ball near midfield. Williams was lucky the punt was fumbled. It was only 28 yards otherwise.
Main Storyline: The Wildcats got a huge break when a short Brandon Williams punt was fumbled. Siemian tried a couple of passes deep down the right sideline but Tony Jones was unable to make a leaping grab and Northwestern had to punt.
The Wildcats continued to open it up as Siemian launched a beautiful pass down the right sideline to Tony Jones, but the wide receiver only had a step or two, and Siemian’s pass might have been a step short, allowing the Nebraska defensive back time to catch up and contest the pass. On second-and-long, Siemian again tried to find Jones deep down the right sideline, but while Jones was able to get in the air for it, he couldn’t hang on, as Stanley Jean-Baptiste once again defended it well. Still, Jones should have been able to make one of the two grabs. Instead, the Wildcats had to punt. The Cornhuskers’ returner got an enormous bellowing sarcastic hand when he was finally able to make the catch.
Main Storyline: Nebraska’s third fumble disrupted a threatening Cornhuskers’ drive, but Northwestern was unable to take advantage, and Martinez picked up right where he left off, this time finding Kenny Bell right over the middle for an easy touchdown. Nebraska now leads 10-7 with 8:25 to go in the first half.
Nebraska shot itself in the foot again when Taylor Martinez completed a beautiful pass over the middle of the field to Kyler Reed, but Ibraheim Campbell pried the ball out for Nebraska’s third fumble of the afternoon. Martinez is actually playing just fine, avoiding the sack fairly well. His ability to get the shovel pass out saved a safety. And his last-minute option earlier in the drive was beautiful. But his receiver’s drop cost him the drive. Meanwhile, Northwestern once again couldn’t take advantage. Trevor Siemian was horribly imprecise. His short pass to Venric Mark missed terribly, so that it drifted five yards long and was nearly intercepted. His pass up the right sideline would have been intercepted by Jean-Baptiste, if not for a heroic effort by Kyle Prater to bat the ball down in double coverage. Venric Mark’s third-down run didn’t fool anybody and Northwestern had to punt. Martinez immediately went for the same pass that Kyler Reed fumbled, finding his best playmaker across the middle of the field. Kenny Bell called out his own block as he ran from left to right, and the ensuing block allowed him to push into the end zone for a 10-7 Cornhuskers lead.
Main Storyline: Northwestern continued to struggle on offense, but its defense picked up a big stop on third-and-one, with a beautiful hit by Damien Proby forcing Nebraska to punt.
Northwestern was once again unsuccessful. Colter had a nice run, but he has yet to attempt a pass. Meanwhile, all Siemian has done is unleash deep balls, without a single instance of success. His pass deep down the right sideline to Rashad Lawrence was once again perfectly defended, this time by Mohammed Seisay. Lawrence wanted a penalty, but frankly, he was just well covered. It might be time for Northwestern to unleash some variation in its deep game, perhaps some post routes and crossing routes instead of straight Hail Mary runs. On defense, Brian Arnfelt saw Martinez fly right by him for an eight-yard gain. On third-and-one, Northwestern beautifully flushed Martinez out of the pocket and forced him to get rid of it quickly. Meanwhile, Damien Proby was there to lay down the hit, to give Northwestern the ball back with 4:03 remaining in the half.
Main Storyline: Northwestern took the lead behind a huge fourth-down run by Kain Colter and a deep pass, a successful one at long last, from Siemian to Jones.
On fourth-and-one, Kain Colter was able to run it up the gut for Northwestern, helped by a devastating block from Brandon Vitabile, who launched his man backwards. On the ensuing first down, Trevor Siemian’s pass was deflected dangerously for the second time this game. On third-and-five, Venric Mark looked like he had been stopped short but a late push propelled him across the line. Having established the run, Northwestern was finally able to get some separation on the right sideline and Trevor Siemian found Tony Jones for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:25 remaining. Never the sturdiest receiver in the world, Jones still appeared to be bobbling it as he ran through the end zone. Northwestern secured the halftime lead with an enormous sack by Brian Arnfelt, who swallowed up Taylor Martinez with perhaps 25 seconds to go.