Northwestern had multiple chances to seize momentum and pull of a thrilling win on the road at Nebraska, but fell just short in a 17-9 loss to the Cornhuskers. Its bowl game chances took a major hit, as did some of its stocks. Read about the highs and lows below:
Northwestern’s secondary has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season with its ability to limit deep passes, but hasn’t made the game-changing plays necessary to really deliver a statement game. That changed on Saturday’s very first play, when Devin Turner recorded his first interception of the season to immediately set the Wildcats up in Nebraska territory. After dropping at least two potential interceptions this year, Turner came up with a gigantic play that set the tone for the day.
That was just the beginning of a solid day for Turner, and for the defensive backs. The sophomore safety recorded multiple physical tackles, as did Coco Azema, who delivered two massive hits on Heinrich Haarberg. Rod Heard II also snagged a pick of his own off Haarberg just two drives after Turner did. Although the NU offense couldn’t capitalize on great field position early, and surrendered a 44-yard touchdown to Malachi Coleman in the fourth quarter, it had a very good day.
Call this a penny stock, because the value on this boomed after staying flat at zero for the first few drives. Mike Bajakian took seven plays to run a rush that didn’t involve Brendan Sullivan, but the run game carried a middling NU offense through the first half. Anthony Tyus III ripped off back-to-back runs of 15 and 39 in the second quarter that put the ‘Cats in position to kick a 37-yard field goal to take a 6-3 lead.
Adjusting for the eight sacks that Northwestern surrendered, the rushing attack totaled 132 yard on 4.3 yards per carry. Cam Porter’s 20 yards on nine carries doesn’t look great at the surface, but he turned multiple negative plays into short gains. Especially given how Northwestern struggled in the pass game (more on that later), it did a great job of generating some good plays on the ground given how one-dimensional it had to look at points.
From kicking to punting to punt coverage, Northwestern’s special teams excelled in Lincoln. After struggling mightily through his first six games, Hunter Renner boomed four of five punts inside the 10. His first was downed at the 1-yard line thanks to some great coverage from Ore Adeyi. Later on, he hit a beautiful boot that fell inside the 10 after rolling sideways. The punt team redeemed itself in a huge way, and constantly kept Northwestern in the game by flipping field position.
In the kicking game, Jack Olsen almost remained perfect. He knocked a 45-yard field goal through the uprights that gave Northwestern its first lead after it worked itself out of much better position with negative plays, and hit a 37-yarder. His one miss came from 54 on a kick that probably should have been a punt attempt. Olsen is now 6-for-7 on the year on field goals, and has converted two of his three attempts from 40 yards or further.
To send this stock soaring even further, Nebraska kicker Tristan Alvano made a 47-yard kick after missing all three of his attempts from 40-plus before today.
Honorable Mentions: Road stop jungle gyms, Nebraska hospitality, World’s Largest Truck Stop, $16.99 all-you-can-eat buffets, Sickos Committee ranking for Northwestern and Nebraska, chaos
Northwestern surrendered eight sacks against the Cornhuskers. Point-blank, it’s almost impossible to win a game with a backup quarterback when he’s constantly getting pressured. This Nebraska defense is very good, especially its defensive line, and it showed why with its dominance. NU failed to generate explosive plays early through the air in large part because of Sullivan’s lack of time in the pocket.
UNL defensive lineman Nash Hutmacher really shined, as he recorded 2.5 sacks and countless pressures. Six other Huskers put up at least a half a sack, and flustered Sullivan throughout the day. A new-look offensive line with Jackson Carsello at center continued to struggle in Big Ten West play, leaving lots of questions for it to answer as the Wildcats will face even better pass-rushes once the calendar turns to November.
A few of those aforementioned sacks were on Sullivan, and he made a few tough reads that could have made the game worse for NU offensively worse than it already was. He ended the game 12-for-23 with 176 yards, many of those coming on a 66-yard catch-and-run to Bryce Kirtz in the late fourth quarter. Sullivan especially struggled with creating plays outside the pocket, and with choosing when to do so. Some of the sacks he took single-handedly took Northwestern out of field goal range, even though he made a few big plays through the air later on.
His worst mistake came after Kirtz’s field-flipping play, when Sullivan and the ‘Cats had an opportunity to cut the 17-6 Nebraska lead to three. He had a wide-open Marshall Lang in the flat, but didn’t see him and fired an incompletion. This team needs Ben Bryant to have a shot at a bowl games or even five wins, and it needs him soon.
Thomas Gordon committed 30 yards’ worth of penalties by himself, which should speak for itself. His block below the waist after A.J. Henning’s jumping catch took at least three points off the board for the Wildcats by moving them back 15 yards, which proved to be a momentum-changer. All in all, Northwestern committed eight penalties for 75 yards, while Nebraska had just three for 30 yards.
The holds on the outside by tight ends, and the circumstances in which some of those false starts and 10 or 15-yard penalties came were disastrous. Northwestern had a shot to seize momentum countless times, and shot itself in the foot with its offensive penalties.
Honorable Mentions: Memorial Stadium elevators, ball security, efficiency of stock reports