Saturday's clash between Northwestern and Nebraska featured two entirely different halves. The stats expose how Northwestern led at the break and collapsed in the final 30 minutes.
Northwestern's average drive in the second half travelled just five yards. Five yards. On four of their six second half drives, NU went three-and-out, and twice they actually lost yardage. It was perplexing to watch the offense shift from competent and efficient to an absolute disaster. The 'Cats outgained the Huskers 262 to 227 in the first 30 minutes, and they had put up 17 points against one of the best defenses in the conference while averaging nearly 40 yards per drive. There weren't any signs at halftime that Northwestern would collapse they way they did in the end.
Trevor Siemian found himself in a groove early again. He completed five of seven passes and converted two 3rd-and-mediums on the way to a touchdown on his first drive. But, it was generally downhilll from there, as Siemian finished 18 of 39 for just 173 yards. That correlates to 4.4 yards per attempt and a 26.7 QBR. The numbers are ugly, but Siemian didn't get much help from his receivers, who had a fair amount of drops Saturday. Pass protection was just decent, and Siemian was under pressure at times. The offense has issues just about everywhere on the field. However, Siemian isn't playing up to the expectations of the experienced veteran quarterback that he could have become.
Northwestern's defense deserves more credit than the scoreboard might suggest. Nebraska's average starting field position was their own 41.7 yard line. And somehow the Huskers entered the 4th quarter with just 21 points. The Wildcat defense is elite in the Big Ten. The secondary usually made the open field plays they hadn't made previously. Godwin Igwebuike and Traveon Henry combined for 21 tackles, and Ameer Abdullah only rushed for 39 yards in the first half. The dismal and disastrous 15 minutes that was the 4th quarter stuck in my mind right after the game. Looking back, the defense was outstanding, at least for most of the game.
Pat Fitzgerald said a week ago that he would take 3rd-and-6 all day. Well, in the second half, his team converted just one of four third downs within six yards. They also failed to convert all four of their other second half third downs. Now, this is a small sample size. It's not a good representation of their season-long production on third down, where they have converted 40 percent of the time. However, Northwestern cannot always rely on getting to third-and-short and converting. They went 4 of 8 on third down in the first half, and three of those conversions were 3rd-and-6 or longer. The 'Cats should focus on generating some big plays rather than grinding yards out. Northwestern has only completed one pass longer than 23 yards in the month of October, and that's the offense's biggest issue.