EVANSTON, Ill. — Somehow, someway, Northwestern beat Nebraska Saturday.
In a game that Nebraska (0-6, 0-4 Big Ten) appeared to have won several times, a game with kicking miscues, turnovers and big plays on both sides, Northwestern (3-3, 3-1 Big Ten) found a way. With 2:02 to play trailing by seven at its own one-yard-line with no timeouts, Clayton Thorson and Northwestern led a near-perfect drive to tie the game at 31 and send the contest to overtime with 12 seconds to play.
In overtime, Nebraska fumbled a bad snap on fourth down, leading to an Adrian Martinez interception in the end zone. Drew Luckenbaugh won the game for NU on a 37-yard field goal on NU’s first drive of overtime to win the game in his first game as the starting kicker.
Forced to make up for the Wildcats’ non-existent rushing attack, Clayton Thorson threw the ball 64 times, finishing with 455 yards and three touchdowns while also tossing two interceptions. Flynn Nagel was his preferred target throughout the game, catching 12 passes for a season-high 220 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Northwestern allowed 231 yards rushing Saturday, a season-high. The Cornhuskers relied on a combination of chunk gains from running back Devine Ozigbo and quarterback keepers from true-freshman Adrian Martinez. Martinez’s ability to scramble and extend plays burned the NU defense several times.
Accumulating just eight total yards on the ground in last Saturday’s massive road win at No. 20 Michigan State, the Wildcats once again were one-dimensional, rushing for just 32 yards. Northwestern averaged under two yards a carry yet again, marking the third-straight time that’s happened in the three games since the departure of Jeremy Larkin.
After giving up a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, the Wildcats’ defense came back with five consecutive stops. The defense also came up with a score of its own, when Trae Williams burst into the backfield on a blitz and forced an Adrian Martinez fumble, which Earnest Brown IV returned for a touchdown to give NU an 14-7 lead.
Thorson, facing minimal pressure and mainly three- and four-man rushes, tossed Northwestern’s only offensive score of the first half, connecting on a 21-yard pass to Flynn Nagel to tie the game at seven a piece. Thorson looked good at times, but missed several deep throws, a few of which looked like they could’ve been huge gains with receivers open. One of his interceptions was a poor decision, and the other was a poor throw.
Leading at the half for the fifth time this season, Northwestern was once again slow out of the gates to start the second half of play. On the opening drive of the third quarter, Thorson failed to connect with an open Kyric McGowan for a potential score before tossing his first interception of the game two plays later.
Ozigbo and the Nebraska ground attack would punch one home on the following drive to take the lead. After another Cornhusker rushing touchdown, Thorson would connect with Nagel for a 61-yard touchdown to bring the game within a single score.
Down 28-21 with 10 minutes left in the fourth, Thorson threw what looked like to be a back-breaking interception, giving Nebraska the ball back in plus territory. After pinning the Wildcats deep in Northwestern territory with two minutes left and with the game seemingly won, the Cornhuskers allowed Thorson to march 99 yards down the field for the game-tying score.
Electing to defend first in overtime, the Wildcats forced an interception after a low snap eluded the hands of Martinez, leading to a wild throw into the front of the end zone.
Needing just a field goal to keep its Big Ten season alive at 3-1, backup kicker Drew Luckenbaugh redeemed his earlier miss to give Northwestern the win.