The Nebraska/Northwestern series continues to be a head scratcher. I just cant get my head around it. It never seems to go as you would think. There have been upsets, thrillers, and heartbreakers. I hate the saying throw out the record book, but….well, you do. The 2016 version was more of the same. On paper, the Huskers were the superior team riding a wave of momentum from a nice victory while Northwestern was 1-2 with losses to a MAC team and an FCS team. Throw that out the window. While this seemed like an easy Big Red win, that did not take place. Saturday night the Wildcats fought their ass off, while the Huskers milled around and kept them in the game. It was an ugly effort for the Big Red. In the end NU wins the game and moves forward. While I would have liked a crisper effort, a more decisive victory, that was not in the cards. This one was extremely competitive from start to finish. The Huskers may not have played their best, but ultimately they are 4-0 and move a step closer to a date with the Wisconsin Badgers Halloween weekend.
I was quite distressed with the Huskers play on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats came in as a team that was struggling to move the ball. The Cats moved the ball consistently enough to give me gray hairs. Fortunately, their drives mostly stalled due to their lack of playmakers. NW QB Clayton Thorson, who is mediocre at best, threw for 250 yards and ran for another 79 and 2 total TDs. His success was pretty disconcerting. It seemed that Nebraska’s secondary was giving quite a cushion to the Northwestern WRs. I could not figure this out. It appeared all night that NU was superior in this area, yet Thorson was able to complete quick, short passes all night long. Personally, I would have liked to see Nebraska’s secondary challenge the NW receiving core. I doubt they would have been able to beat NU over the top and it would have minimized the short passing game and stifled their entire attack. As much as the Nebraska defense struggled against the Cats they did make plays when they had to make them. Aaron Williams intercepted a pass in the end zone. NW was 0-2 on 4th down and 5-14 on 3rd down. Also the NU defense was able to get to Thorson to the tune of 4 sacks. Those are good numbers. The bad numbers are that Nebraska gave up 388 yards on the night and allowed NW to hang in there. While I was generally annoyed and displeased with the performance of the defense it’s hard to argue with the 13 points given up as well as the timely plays made defensively. The really aggravating part is that I know this unit can do better. There was sloppy tackling and inconsistent play all around. My expectations for this defense are much higher than the effort I saw Saturday.
Offensively the Huskers fumbled twice into the end zone spoiling drives. The first one Terrell Newby loses control as he thrusts to the end zone after a long run. Infuriating.The 2nd Devine Ozigbo loses the ball after his progress was stopped. I don’t know why a whistle was not blown. Still these two turnovers cost NU 14 points and are completely unacceptable. Those two gaffes aside, the offense was pretty damn good Saturday night. Danny Lansgdorf did a great job calling plays and by and large the offense was efficient executing the game plan. In particular the QB runs were well conceived. As a result, Tommy Armstrong had a really solid performance. He ran for 132 yards on 10 carries, and was 18/29 for 246 yards and TD through the air. He did miss on a couple passes, but he did so in a way that would not result in an interception. That is progress. His playmaking ability kept this offense humming for the better part of the game. Northwestern insisted on giving NU receivers a large cushion for the better part of the night. Armstrong made it look easy time and again. On the ground the Big Red ran for 310 yards with an average of 6.6 yards per carry. That is tremendous. Everyone seemed to get in on the act. In particular, it was great to see Mikale Wilbon, who ran 6 times for 55 yards. He was shifty and elusive. He needs to be part of the rotation going forward. On a night where the defense struggled this unit carried the torch. I don’t like the 2 fumbles into the end zone at all. But all things considered, this offense moved the ball consistently and at key times to ensure the win.
It’s good to have this one behind us with a notch in the w column. Northwestern is always a pain in the butt. Saturday was no exception. Pat Fitzgerald’s teams always fight to the end. Additionally, the Huskers did not play their best ball. The Huskers made enough plays to get out of Evanston with a win. That is the good news. The bad news is that the anty has been upped in the Big 10 West. Did you seen Wisconsin go into Spartan Stadium and beat the brakes off of Michigan State? If not, educate yourself. The Badgers are for real. The Husker’s had better get their act fine tuned over the next few weeks. There are a few also rans along the way, but that’s a date to look forward to. Nebraska should be 7-0 going into Madison Halloween weekend.Saturday night was great. It was good to beat Northwestern, but this is not the goal. As of Saturday, it appears a division title goes through Madison.