In front of a packed house, Northwestern couldn’t stop Nebraska’s high-powered offense and lost 24-13 to open Big Ten play.
The Cornhuskers racked up over 500 yards of offense in a game that could’ve been a blowout if not for several breaks that went Northwestern’s way.
On the opening drive of the game, Nebraska literally fumbled away a potential 7-0 lead. Tommy Armstrong handed the ball off to Terrell Newby, who found a huge hole in the middle of the Northwestern run defense and appeared to be gone. However, the Wildcats caught an enormous break when Newby lunged for the goal line and the ball slipped out of his hand, rolling out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Wait... WHAT? Nebraska-Northwestern got off to a bizarre start. Watch what happens on the third play of the game!! https://t.co/lXJjXKDAad— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 25, 2016
Although the mistake kept the game scoreless, the drive was a wake-up call for Northwestern’s defense, which looked a lot better on Nebraska’s next few drives.
On offense, the Wildcats mounted an impressive, 10-play, 53-yard drive late in the opening quarter, led by Justin Jackson and an efficient Clayton Thorson. Unfortunately for Northwestern, the drive stalled out inside the 10-yard line and ended on a Jack Mitchell missed 27-yard field goal. It was Mitchell’s third miss of the season on just four attempts.
On the ensuing possession, Northwestern caught another break when Armstrong overthrew a wide open Jordan Westerkamp in the back of the end zone on third and goal. Unlike Mitchell, Nebraska’s kicker Drew Brown had no problems on a short field goal, converting to cap off a 74-yard drive and give the Huskers a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Two drives later, Northwestern started with the ball at the Nebraska 42 after forcing a three-and-out deep in Husker territory. On first down, Thorson kept the ball on a read option and sprinted into the endzone:
Thorson’s first rushing touchdown of the season put the Wildcats up 7-3.
After trading punts, Armstrong showed that Thorson wasn’t the only fast QB in the game, running 37 yards down to the Northwestern 2. Yet somehow, Nebraska managed to shoot itself in the foot again, as Devine Ozigbo was stripped by Godwin Igwebuike while fighting to cross the plane. Northwestern recovered the fumble for a SECOND touchback to stay on top.
The excitement of the turnover didn’t last long for Wildcat fans. Northwestern went three-and-out and Armstrong came up with another big play, uncorking a perfectly placed 59-yard bomb to Alonzo Moore to set up a 4-yard TD run by Newby.
The Wildcats moved the ball well on their final drive of the half, getting down to the Nebraska 23 with 19 seconds left. Instead of attempting a 40-yard field goal for the tie, Northwestern tried a wacky fake that went nowhere, and Nebraska took a 10-7 lead into the half.
The second half started poorly for Northwestern. Thorson made his biggest mistake of the game, throwing an ill-advised ball into the end zone that was picked off by Nebraska’s Aaron Williams. Nebraska then marched 80 yards down the field and scored on an Armstrong pass to Cethan Carter.
Thorson bounced back well from the interception, though. He went 3-for-4 on the following drive, capped off by a 24-yard TD strike to Carr.
Mitchell shanked the extra point off the upright, a miss that kept the score 17-13 and may have cost the kicker his job.
The theme of the third quarter was Northwestern’s inability to stop Armstrong and Nebraska’s offense, and that showed up for a second straight drive. The Huskers needed just nine plays to go 79 yards, going up 24-13 on a Westerkamp end-around score.
Neither team scored in the fourth quarter. Northwestern couldn’t get much going offensively and the loss was sealed on Thorson’s second interception.
- Tommy Armstrong Jr. was unstoppable in this game. The senior finished with 246 passing yards and one score and added 132 yards on the ground. He was sharp on his passes and looked as shifty and athletic as ever when running the ball.
- One week after Pat Fitzgerald praised the performance of the young injury replacements in the secondary, Trae Williams and Jared McGee had rough evenings. Williams was burned deep once and spent the rest of the game giving Nebraska receivers huge cushions for underneath completions. McGee gave up a touchdown and looked inexperienced throughout the game.
- Jack Mitchell has hit rock bottom. His performance was so bad that Matt Miccuci allegedly would’ve taken the next kick if Northwestern had attempted one.
- Thorson wasn’t entirely at fault in the loss. His first INT was bad (and his second didn’t matter much) but he moved the ball effectively, completing 24-of-37 passes (65 %). As usual, his top target was Carr, who caught a career-high 8 balls for 109 yards and scored for the third straight game.
- Nebraska ran for 310 yards. Northwestern’s defense was visibly tired in the second half.