The weekly stock report from NU’s 34-31 overtime win over Nebraska:
Nagel had a career day against Nebraska and was the main weapon Clayton Thorson relied on. He caught 12-of-14 targets for 220 yards with 2 touchdowns, including a career-long 61-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game. He also averaged 18.3 yards per catch and had a career high in both yards and touchdowns. Nagel carried the offense, especially down the stretch with a 32-yard reception, which put Northwestern deep in Nebraska territory and ultimately set up the game-tying touchdown.
“That was a feeling I don’t think I’ve ever had playing football. It just felt different,” Nagel said after the game. “The trust when playing was just ecstatic.”
The struggling Northwestern offensive line finally found its rhythm today against Nebraska, only allowing two sacks and giving Clayton Thorson enough time to complete some big plays. Thorson’s successes, for the first time all season, were possible because of the work of the offensive line. While the line was able to protect Thorson, Nebraska only rushed three lineman and dropped back eight, relieving a lot of the pressure and giving the offensive lineman an easier job.
“Tommy and Nick did a great job of moving the pocket. I think that’s huge, especially when you throw it 64 times. You’ve gotta be able to move the pocket and not allow the defense to get a rush on us,” Thorson said. “It is a pleasure working with them.”
Late game composure
Unlike past games this season, Northwestern kept composure down the stretch during its fourth quarter game-tying drive and in overtime. With two minutes remaining, Northwestern started on its own 1-yard line and drove 99 yards to tie the game with JJ Jefferson’s 5-yard touchdown reception. In overtime, Northwestern’s defense came up with a big stop, and a once-struggling Drew Luckenbaugh hit a 37-yard game-winning field goal.
“The guys were resilient and found a way to make some huge plays down the stretch in all three phases,” Fitz said. “Obviously, Clayton’s performance, Flynn’s receptions that’s just absolutely spectacular. A 99 and a half yard drive, no time outs to get us into overtime, you know I think that was a huge accomplishment.”
Honorable Mentions: Clayton Thorson, Trae Williams, Earnest Brown IV, Blake Gallagher, JR Pace, Chris Bergin, Samdup Miller, Drew Luckenbaugh, Chad Hanaoka, lack of penalties.
Northwestern’s defense was good at times, but it was an overall dissappointing performance against Nebraska, especially when defending the run game. NU’s defense had no answer for the combination of Adrian Martinez and Devine Ozigbo. Martinez was 25-of-35 for 251 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a fumble. Ozigbo rushed 22 attempts for 159 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Additionally, he had four receptions for 33 yards. Northwestern had no answer for either player.
“Five of our first six games our defense has been lights out,” Fitz said. “You know we didn’t have our tackling pads on today.”
While overall Northwestern’s run defense has had a good season, the defense struggled against the Cornhuskers.
The run game is barely an option for Northwestern anymore, which has started to completely rely on Thorson’s arm for any offensive production. Northwestern’s 23 rushes for 32 yards were no match for Nebraska’s 231-yard performance. John Moten IV and Solomon Vault split the snaps, but after Moten went down with an apparent thigh injury in the third quarter and was deemed done for the day, Northwestern stopped using the run game altogether. NU’s performance made the 109th-ranked Nebraska run defense look impressive.
“It hasn’t really been our recipe around here,” Fitz said. “You’ve gotta adapt, and that’s where we’re at, and we are not going to stop working our tails off.
Play calling (mostly)
The depleted run game takes away half of the playbook for Northwestern. Since Nebraska only had to rush three to contain NU’s run game, they were better prepared in terms of defending the deep ball. While Northwestern only uses its run game sparingly, its choice to consistently run the ball on 2nd and 10 set up too many third and longs. As a result, NU’s average third down distance was 6.9 yards, and NU converted 44 percent of its third downs. Down the stretch, Fitz and Mick McCall did make a handful of gutsy (and successful) play calls, though.
Honorable mentions: John Moten IV’s leg, preventing the big play, winning easy, Northwestern fans who left early.