Huskers falter again in 30-28 loss to Northwestern
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Nebraska thought it had turned the corner after a breakout win at Minnesota last week, but the Huskers were quickly brought back down to Earth in a 30-28 home loss to Northwestern on Saturday.
In an all-around sloppy game that featured a multitude of missed opportunities by both teams, the Wildcats found ways to make the big plays in the fourth quarter and handed NU its third defeat in the past four games to drop its season record to a dismal 3-5 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play.
The Huskers only rushed 36 times for 64 yards, had at least eight dropped passes and committed six penalties for 64 yards just one week after playing one of their cleanest games of the year vs. the Gophers. Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson led the way with 270 total yards and two combined touchdowns.
Nebraska was able to strike first following a quick three-and-out by Northwestern to open the game, as Drew Brown drilled a 43-yard field goal to give NU an early 3-0 lead.
But the Wildcats didn't waste much time taking the momentum right back when Thorson scrambled 69 yards down to the two-yard line. Three plays later, Thorson barely got the ball past the goal line for the game's first touchdown with 8:45 to go in the first quarter. Thorson's big run was not only Northwestern's longest run of the season, but also the longest rush given up by the Blackshirts so far this year.
The Huskers would get a nice break later in the quarter, however, when the Wildcats fair caught a punt at their own four. On the first play of the ensuing drive, defensive ends Jack Gangwish and Ross Dzuris sacked Thorson in the end zone for a safety, making it 7-5 with 5:19 left in the quarter.
Both offenses would continue to struggle from there, as the teams traded punts on into the midway point of the second quarter. So it was only fitting that Northwestern's defense would be the group to finally come up with the next big play.
On a third down and four just past midfield, quarterback Tommy Armstrong was late on a check-down pass to running back Terrell Newby in the right flat, and cornerback Nick VanHoose jumped the pass and took it 72 yards for a pick six to push the lead to 14-5. The interception was NU's first turnover in 198 plays and 84 pass attempts since a third-quarter pick at Illinois.
Desperately needing to get something going offensively, the Huskers came up with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ate up more than six minutes and was capped off with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to wide out Brandon Reilly with just 1:07 remaining in the half.
That would be more than enough time for Northwestern to get the last laugh before halftime, though. A 49-yard scramble by Thorson quickly moved the ball down to the NU 11, and the Wildcats nearly added another touchdown in the final seconds but receiver Christian Jones dropped a wide-open pass in the end zone. Kicker Jack Mitchell booted in a 28-yard field goal as time expired to send Northwestern into halftime up 17-12.
The Wildcats held the lead despite only passing for 16 yards and having 117 of their 128 total first half yards come on Thorson's two scrambles.
Nebraska got exactly what it needed to open the third quarter, as some key third-down conversions and a huge penalty against Northwestern helped them go 75 yards on 15 plays for another six-minute touchdown drive. After moving the ball down to the Wildcat 33, the Huskers faced a fourth down and were about to attempt a 50-yard field goal into the wind.
But Northwestern ended up being flagged for a sideline infraction personal foul before the play when an official ran into a coach, giving NU a first down at the 17. Armstrong capitalized on the big break by taking an option keeper up the middle for a four-yard touchdown run to give the Huskers the lead at 19-17 with nine minutes to go in the third.
The lead only lasted a few minutes, though it could have been worse had what appeared to be a two-yard touchdown run by Justin Jackson not been over-turned to allow Nebraska to stuff the Wildcats on third down from the one. As a result, Northwestern had to settle for an 18-yard field goal by Mitchell to make it 20-19.
The Huskers answered right back with a 48-yard field goal by Brown to reclaim the lead 22-20 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Once again, the momentum would be short-lived. Thorson quickly put the Wildcats back on top on the following possession with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Dan Vitale that put the Wildcats ahead 27-22 with 9:53 to play.
After a quick three-and-out and a short punt that was returned to the NU 40, Northwestern increased its lead to 30-22 with a 27-yard field goal by Mitchell with 7:27 to go.
Nebraska moved the ball inside Northwestern territory on its next drive, but eventually faced a fourth-and-six from the Wildcat 40. Needing to go for it, Armstrong connected with Reilly on a 37-yard pass down the left sideline to the three-yard line. Armstrong would take it from there, scrambling in for the touchdown two plays later. A two-point conversion pass fell incomplete, leaving the Huskers trailing 30-28 with 4:23 on the clock.
Facing a third-and-three with just over three minutes left, Thorson dumped a pass off to Jackson for what would turn into a 28-yard gain in NU territory, and the Wildcats only needed to burn off the rest of the game clock from there to seal the win.
The Husker return to action next week when they travel to take on Purdue for an 11 a.m. kickoff on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
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