Our initial reactions from Northwestern’s 27-24 loss to Nebraska.
1. Uhh... what?
You watched. You know what happened. First off, that's incredibly unlucky. Northwestern should have won this game. This will go down as one of the craziest plays of the season and it's yet another "how on earth did that happen" moment for NU, even worse than the Roy Roundtree catch last year. It was unlucky, bottom line. However, that was pretty terrible coverage on the Hail Mary. NU players did the right thing and tried to bat the ball down, but you have to make sure everyone is manned up, and the Wildcats needed to make sure someone was covering the trailer. That's how Hail Marys work: someone sneaks behind the pile. Pat Fitzgerald mentioned it, too — you can't let that happen. But in any event, what a game and what a finish, and what a perfect symbol for the season.
2. Angry Northwestern Running Back Hating God
Apparently Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God (AIRBHG) got bored of the cornfields in Eastern Iowa and decided it wanted to try out city life with Chicago’s Big Ten Team. The Wildcats headed into this game without three running backs — Venric Mark, Mike Trumpy and Warren Long — and then lost Stephen Buckley, who had shown improvement, to a pretty gruesome-looking knee injury. Then the Wildcats lost Treyvon Green to a leg injury, and although he came back in later, he wasn’t himself.
When Green was out, NU was left with Tim Hanrahan, its sixth-string running back. You might know Hanrahan as the guy who holds up his hands to tell kick returners not to take the ball out of the endzone. So… not really a running back. The number of injuries this year has been incredible, particularly been contrasted with the (very lucky) clean bill of health last year. Oh, and corner Nick VanHoose had to leave the game. It’s been that kind of year.
3. What a game for the defense
The defense’s play the past three weeks has been remarkable. First and foremost, the defensive tackles have improved, and the Wildcats have figured how to shrink the pocket on pass plays and stop the power running back. It’s incredible how fast that transformation has occurred. The defensive ends, even without Dean Lowry, had a stellar game pressuring Tommy Armstrong. Ifeadi Odenigbo, in particular, is quickly turning into a pass-rushing star.
Even without VanHoose in the game, the freshman corners played very well. Matt Harris was excellent in coverage and Dwight White had his best game of the year, making big tackles and picking a pass off. The linebackers had their best game since early in the season, as Chi Chi Ariguzo and Damien Proby, in particular, were all over the field. The defense only loses Proby and Tyler Scott next year — could it reach elite status? Who would’ve thought that was possible?