These losses constitute the worst of Pat Fitzgerald’s coaching tenure.
Tonight, the ‘Cats added one more game to the collection, as Northwestern (2-3, 0-2 B1G) fell 56-7 to Nebraska (3-3, 1-2 B1G) in arguably the ugliest contest of Fitzgerald’s head coaching career.
The primary difference between tonight’s game and Fitz’s other nightmare losses is the fact that Nebraska’s 2021 football team lost to Illinois just over a month ago. Tonight, NU made the Cornhuskers look like ‘Bama.
The Wildcats passing attack actually moved the ball through the air with decent success. Ryan Hilinski completed 25-of-39 passing attempts for 238 yards and one touchdown. Stephon Robinson Jr. led the wide receivers with eight receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown while Malik Washington added three receptions for 46 yards. On the ground, Evan Hull scampered for 31 yards on seven carries.
Defensively, though, the Wildcats delivered their worst game in terms of yards allowed under Fitz. Jim O’Neil’s unit allowed 230 yards through the air and 434 yards on the ground on the game. Adrian Martinez threw for 202 yards and a touchdown on 17 attempts while rushing for 57 yards and three touchdowns himself. He was one of four Nebraska players to rush for over 50 yards.
The game kicked off with Samori Toure hauling in a 70-yard heave from Adrian Martinez, marking the third consecutive time against a Power Five opponent that Jim O’Neil’s defense has allowed the opposing offense to generate an opening play of 50 yards or longer. The Cornhuskers cashed in for a touchdown two plays later.
Just one Nebraska offensive possession later, Jacquez Yant rushed for 64 yards on one play, and the Cornhuskers opened the game with a two-possession lead six minutes into the contest. Following another Northwestern three-and-out, Nebraska led an 11-play, 64-yard drive that Taylor Martinez capped off with a 25-yard rushing touchdown on 3rd down and long to secure a 21-0 Husker lead.
Finally, on the third possession of the game, Northwestern’s offense found a strategy that worked: feeding Stephon Robinson Jr. in single coverage on vertical routes. Hilinski and Robinson Jr. connected on back-to-back 32-yard and 28-yard completions to cut Nebraska’s lead to 21-7.
Despite Northwestern’s score, the Cornhuskers moved the ball with ease on the next possession via a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The touchdown represented Nebraska’s fourth in as many drives to begin the game.
Still, Northwestern’s offense showed some resiliency by leading an eight play, 74-yard drive. On the ninth play of the possession, however, Mike Bajakian abandoned the QB sneak at Nebraska’s one-yard line after being stuffed with the sneak on the previous play. Hilinski botched a handoff out of the shotgun and Nebraska recovered the ball at its own nine-yard line.
Northwestern’s defense finally secured a stop on the following possession with a turnover on downs, yet Northwestern’s offensive coaches opted to go for it on fourth-and-nine from the Nebraska 45-yard line on the drive that proceeded. The ‘Cats turned the ball over on downs back to Big Red with 1:52 left in the half. Adrian Martinez and his offense converted on the short field with a touchdown just 70 seconds later, cementing a 35-7 UNL lead over NU at halftime.
The Cornhuskers averaged 9.2 yards per play and Martinez finished with a quarterback rating of 148.6 in the first half. Hilinski, meanwhile, completed 16 of his 21 pass attempts for 189 yards and one touchdown with a 167.5 quarterback rating after the first 30 minutes.
Northwestern’s offense opened the second half with a three-and-out and Nebraska immediately responded with an 83-yard rushing touchdown on a left-end pitch, all but putting the finishing touches on an abysmal showing for Jim O’Neil and the Wildcat defense.
The ‘Cats never made it competitive in the second half. The defense finally forced Nebraska’s first punt of the game approximately 10 minutes into the third quarter. Unfortunately, Northwestern even struggled in that area. Bryce Kirtz opted not to field the punt resulting in Nebraska’s punter, William Pryzstup, booting the ball 84 yards to Northwestern’s six-yard line. On Northwestern’s proceeding offensive possession, Jake Genyk, son of special teams coach Jeff, launched the first punt of his career 28 yards!
The ‘Cats now have a bye week and will attempt to regroup before returning to the field on Oct. 16 against Rutgers for homecoming.