10 things we learned from Nebraska's win over Northwestern
Here are 10 of our biggest takeaways following Nebraska's 56-7 blowout win over Northwestern on Saturday night...
1. This was what it was supposed to look like
From the day Scott Frost took over at Nebraska back in 2018, he’s insisted that “I know there this thing is headed, and it’s going to be a lot of fun when we get there.”
For three and a half years, it seemed like that Frost’s vision might not ever come to fruition.
Saturday night, however, was what the picture was supposed to look like in every sense.
The defense, while not perfect, was as dominant as it needed to be, pressuring the quarterback all night, stuffing the run, and coming up with game-changing big plays.
The special teams did what they were supposed to do and nothing more. Considering how awful that element has been this season, that was a notable improvement.
But the story of the game was Nebraska offense. For the first time of the Frost era, Frost’s system clicked as it did at Central Florida and Oregon. Everything the Huskers did worked, and did so at the highest level.
When everything comes together the way it did against Northwestern, it’s hard not to think about what the Huskers’ offense could become.
We’ll see if this is the start of an offensive awakening for NU or just a flash in the pan, but if nothing else, it gave a reason to believe that Frost’s plan could work.
2. Nebraska’s offense couldn’t have been much better
As mentioned, Nebraska’s offense was firing on all cylinders from the opening kickoff.
But when you look at the final numbers from Saturday night, it puts the performance into an even more impressive context.
The 56 points were the most of the Frost era and NU’s most in any Big Ten game. They were also the Huskers’ most against a Power Five opponent since 2007 (73 vs. Kansas State) and their highest total in any game since 2013 (59 vs. South Dakota State).
The 664 total yards were the most Northwestern had allowed since a 2005 game against Arizona State. The most points the Wildcats allowed last season were 29 against Michigan State.
3. The offensive line changes did the trick
As promised, Frost shook up Nebraska’s offensive line this week after the original starting unit struggled most of the year.
True freshman Teddy Prochazka made his first-career start at left tackle, while Turner Corcoran moved from left to right tackle. Nouredin Nouili got the nod as new No. 1 left guard.
The new combination paid instant dividends as the Huskers marched up and down the field at will.
The starting offense was on the field for 47 snaps on Saturday night. In that time, the Huskers scored 49 points, gained 530 yards, had 19 first downs averaged 11.3 yards per play, didn’t commit a penalty or a turnover, and never punted.
The first offensive penalty didn’t come until the second-team o-line checked into the game midway through the third quarter, and Bryce Benhart committed a false start.
It’s probably safe to assume that NU will stick with that new look up front for at least another week.
4. Nebraska played a clean game, and look what happened
It’s funny: when you don’t turn the football over, commit costly penalties, or have game-changing special teams blunders, good things generally happen.
Such was the case for Nebraska on Saturday night, and it was a long time coming.
The Huskers were only penalized four times for 19 yards, and none of those came in the first half. The first flag against NU didn’t come until a defensive pass interference on linebacker Nick Henrich with13:43 left in the third quarter.
Benhart’s false start came well after Nebraska’s offensive starters checked out of the game for the night.
Nebraska did put the ball on the ground once on an ill-advised option pitch by Adrian Martinez that went out of bounds for a seven-yard loss.
But the three quarterbacks who saw action - Martinez, Logan Smothers, and Matt Masker - combined to complete an efficient 15-of-21 passes (71 percent) for 230 yards, a touchdown, and no picks.
That us as big of a reason as any for why the Huskers were able to flip such a dramatic switch against Northwestern.
5. No news was excellent news for NU’s special teams
For the first time this season, Nebraska’s special teams didn’t commit a single potentially game-changing blunder.
In fact, outside of William Przystup’s eye-popping 84-yard punt, the special teams didn’t factor into the game much at all for the Huskers. Considering how the first few weeks went, that’s exactly what needed to happen.
Oliver Martin was back after missing the past month with a knee injury. He cleanly fielded all six of his punts as the No. 1 return man, including running up to catch a ball in traffic that likely saved some of the hidden yardage that’s plagued NU recently.
Seven of Brendan Franke’s eight kickoffs were either fair caught or went for touchbacks, and the lone return only got out to the 18-yard line.
Connor Culp did not attempt a field goal but went a perfect 8-for-8 on his extra points.
Best of all was Przystup’s only punt of the night, though. His 84-yard bomb tied for the second-longest punt in school history, matching Sam Koch against Pittsburgh in 2005.
The only Husker punter to kick one longer was Mike Stigge, who holds the school record with an 87-yarder against Oklahoma State in 1992.
6. NU’s fast start changed the game
Northwestern has always had a very methodical method for success, especially this season.
When the opponent scores 21 points in the first 15 minutes of the game, that plan is completely thrown out the window.
The Wildcats had to abandon their game plan of ball control and field position basically as soon as the ball kicked off because of how quickly the Huskers took the momentum.
Nebraska’s 21 points in the first quarter were the most it’s had in the opening quarter since also scoring 21 against Illinois in Frost’s first season on Nov. 10, 2018.
The Huskers scored touchdowns while only facing four third downs on their first four drives of the game.
Over just its first 30 snaps of the night, NU produced 28 points and 292 total yards, averaged 9.7 yards per play, went 4-for-4 on third downs, and did not commit a penalty.
7. Yant finally got his chance
One of the stars of the spring, Jaquez Yant, had almost become a complete afterthought in Nebraska’s running game over the first five games.
On Saturday night, the former walk-on finally got his chance to shine. And, boy, did he make the most of the opportunity.
Rahmir Johnson got the start for the third start in a row and finished with a more-than-respectable 12 carries for 72 yards and two touchdowns. But NU called Yant’s name early in the first quarter, and on his second carry of the night, he broke free for a 64-yard scamper.
He never got into the end zone, but Yant still made his mark with a game-high 127 yards on 13 carries (9.8 ypg).
After the game, Frost was careful not to dump too much praise on Yant, saying the former three-star recruit showed up to fall camp 25 pounds overweight after his breakout spring.
It was just one game, but Yant showed exactly what all the talk was about this offseason.
8. This time, it was Northwestern that shot itself in the foot
In the history of the Nebraska and Northwestern series, it’s more often than not been the Huskers who make the most significant mistakes at the worst possible times.
That script got flipped entirely on Saturday night.
While NU played as clean of a game as it has in years, Northwestern shot itself in the foot time and again.
There was a key lost fumble inside the Nebraska 10-yard line when the Wildcats had a first-and-goal from the one.
There were six penalties for 53 yards, including a false start on just their second offensive play, a tripping penalty, and an intentional grounding, all in the first half.
9. Martin made an immediate impact in return
The only other game Martin had played in this season was the Week 0 opener at Illinois, where he set career-highs with six receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown.
After missing the past four games with a knee injury, the junior wide receiver returned to the field against Northwestern and wasted no time making an impact.
Martin only had two catches for 13 yards, but both of his receptions converted first downs. He also had no glaring issues in reclaiming his spot as the top punt returner.
With eight catches for 116 yards in not even two full games with Martinez (NU’s starters were pulled in the third quarter), Martin should prove to be a valuable asset now that he’s healthy.
10. Memorial Stadium was electric
Nebraska was coming off two crushing losses and was once again below .500 before the calendar hit October. Yet Husker fans still filled up Memorial Stadium on Saturday night to create an incredible home-field advantage.
It obviously helped that NU jumped all over the Wildcats right off the bat, but there was a buzz during the game from start to finish that you won’t find many other places in college football - let alone for a team that came in 2-3.
Saturday night was a credit to Nebraska fans and the athletic department, which changed things up with its game-day script to create even more energy.
The best change came between the end of the third and fourth quarters.
The Killigans’ Husker anthem, “The Cornhusker,” was moved from that spot to the end of the first quarter break. In its place, NU went all out with red lighting on all of the stadium screens, AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blaring on the speakers, and four fire torches placed in the corners of the field.
The stadium LED lights and torches lit up along with the song's beat, and cellphone flashlights filled the stands to add to the ambiance.
Winning always makes all of that stuff a lot more fun, but props to everyone in Memorial Stadium for creating yet another memorable night.