Out with Player Grades and in with Three up, Three down, Inside NU's newest postgame evaluation. Rather than handing out grades to the different contributors, we'll give you three players (or position groups) whose stock went up and three players whose performances were disappointing. After a one-week hiatus, here’s the report from Lincoln.
The senior safety asked to be put on Nebraska speedster JD Spielman, and for the most part he shut down the star wideout, who is widely viewed as the most dangerous part of Nebraska’s offense. Queiro was the clear MVP of this game, adding 3 key pass breakups (including two great plays on potential big gains) to his 2 interceptions and carrying Northwestern’s up-and-down pass defense across the finish line. Without Queiro, the Wildcats almost certainly lose this game in regulation.
The Running Game
Justin Jackson and Jeremy Larkin used a variety of jump cuts and field reversals to carve up Nebraska’s defense en route to 223 yards and 2 touchdowns combined on 41 carries. Neither of them had a run longer than 24 yards, but they continually picked up chunks when Northwestern’s offense needed them to. Both first half touchdowns were phenomenal, and the overtime game-winner was a result of the Wildcats wearing out Nebraska on the ground. The offensive line created good push all game, and that combined with the shiftiness of Jackson and Larkin kept the ground game churning and helped carry Northwestern over the finish line.
Wilson got more consistent separation yesterday than any Northwestern receiver has during the Big Ten slate, running open across the middle of the field on multiple occasions. 5 catches for 107 yards downplays his true performance, as he kept several drives alive with huge catches, including a diving 28-yarder that set up Larkin’s touchdown and a 42-yarder down the sideline that set up a Kuhbander field goal. Wilson is a senior, but if he can put up more performances like this down the stretch, Northwestern’s offense will be in good hands for its last 4 games.
Honorable mentions: Godwin Igwebuike, The Offensive Line, Northwestern’s relationship with overtime
Thorson made some big throws when he needed to, but his two bad interceptions and completion percentage of 54 still aren’t good enough. The junior remains a study in compromise deep into his third year as a starter; he became the winningest quarterback in Northwestern history while scoring the eventual game-winning touchdown but also nearly cost his team the game with crucial mistakes. It’s beginning to sound like a broken record, but Thorson must shore up his consistency for Northwestern to close out the season at their best.
Alonzo Mayo/Jared McGee
The Cornhuskers didn’t do much on offense, but their three biggest plays directly involved these two. They, along with Godwin Igwebuike, were beaten to the edge on Spielman’s 40 yard end-around, and Tanner Lee targeted Mayo on his first touchdown (to tight end Jack Stoll) and McGee on his second (to wide receiver Bryan Reimers, for only the second catch of his career). I’m picking nits from what was a mostly staunch defensive effort, but Mayo especially has been consistently burned over the past few weeks and needs to step up his game down the stretch.
Though they were just 2 for 14 on 3rd or 4th and 5 or longer, Nebraska converted each of their 5 opportunities from 4 yards away or closer. Northwestern was good enough at getting off the field to win, but they struggled defensively both on the ground and through the air in short-yardage situations. This is the first game in which this deficiency has been so clear, but it’s apparent that Northwestern has some work to do this week on stopping 3rd/4th and short.
Honorable Mentions: Time management, Northwestern fans’ health