Huskers regroup for 38-17 win over Northwestern
EVANSTON, Ill. - The night started with Nebraska seemingly stuck in neutral, but it ended with the Huskers cruising full steam ahead to pick up an important Big Ten road victory over Northwestern, 38-17.
After trailing by three at halftime, the Huskers regrouped and outscored the Wildcats 21-0 in the second half and holding Northwestern to less than 50 yards in the third and fourth quarters. Running back Ameer Abdullah finally got back to his old self, finished the game with 23 carries for 143 yards and a career-high four rushing touchdowns.
"We were honestly just killing ourselves first half," quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. "We just didn't put any points on the board, and I wasn't delivering balls the right way. Guys were miscommunicating on certain routes, and guys weren't doing the right things. But we came in [at halftime] after the first half, fixed those mistakes. We went out there and just played and did the same thing we were doing, just had to make sure we were executing the right way."
Nebraska got off to a fairly slow start to open the game, as the Huskers quickly fell into an early hole when Northwestern marched right down the field for a touchdown on its opening possession. The Wildcats went 89 yards on 15 plays and picked up six first downs before Justin Jackson took it on from two yards out.
Drew Brown missed a 29-yard field goal a few drives later, and it looked as if Northwestern was on its way for another touchdown early in the second quarter before NU safety Nathan Gerry picked off a questionable Trevor Siemian in the end zone.
The Huskers were able to capitalize on the turnover with a 23-yard pass from Armstrong to Jordan Westerkamp and a 17-yard run by Armstrong helped move the ball down to the Wildcat 2-yard line. Ameer Abdullah took it in for a touchdown from there to tie it up with 10:14 left in the second quarter.
The teams traded punts until Northwestern finally got going again with another long drive, this time going 88 yards on 10 plays and scoring on a five-yard run by Jackson to go back up 14-7 with 1:52 to go in the half.
Needing to respond, Nebraska turned to standout freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El to make a play. Pierson-El answered the call with a 46-yard catch and then struck again when NU reached into its bag of tricks with a reverse pass from Pierson-El to a wide-open Armstrong for a 16-yard touchdown.
Just when it looked like the Huskers had taken back the momentum, Northwestern took it right back down the field and knocked in a 29-yard field goal from Jack Mitchell with three seconds remaining to make it a 17-14 Wildcat lead going into halftime.
Things slowed down a bit in the third quarter until Nebraska got back on the board with a touchdown drive that saw it convert three third downs, including conversions from 10 and 13 yards. A 17-yard pass to Pierson-El got the ball to the goal line, and Abdullah once again punched it in to put NU back up 21-17 with 4:27 left in the third.
Nebraska struck again early in the fourth quarter, as Abdullah finally got loose on a 50-yard run down to the 1 and then plowed in for his third touchdown of the night to boost NU's lead up to 28-17. On NU's next possession, Armstrong broke off a 16-yard run down to the 1, setting up Abdullah for his fourth score to all but put the game away at 35-17.
"You just keep pounding it," head coach Bo Pelini said. "You just keep running the football and you know he doesn't need a lot of room. What I was happy with and what I give the offense credit for, is we didn't go away from the run. We stuck with it and kept looking for different ways and different structures and motions and showed Northwestern a lot. We eventually found some things that we really liked and that we were able to take advantage of."
Brown added a field goal with 4:28 remaining to make it 38-17, putting the finishing touches on an all-around impressive second half for NU.
The Huskers improved to 6-1 overall, making them bowl eligible for the seventh time in the Bo Pelini era. Nebraska will look to keep things going next when it plays host to Big Ten newcomer Rutgers at 11 a.m., which will be televised on the ESPN family of networks.
"(The win) was absolutely important," Pierson-El said. "A lot of people changed their mind about us and everything like that but we're the same old team. Everybody has off-weeks and off-days, and it just so happened that Michigan State was our off-game. But we bounced back and everything's going to be on a roll."