Homecoming: Ohhh's and Ahhh's, a tale of two halves

By Mike Marut

On homecoming, Northwestern (3-4, 2-2 Big Ten) started out strong, but fell in the second half to No. 19 Nebraska (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten).

Northwestern looked so good in the first half. The Wildcats recorded 262 all-purpose, offensive yards. They controlled the clock with 17:15 of possession time. They held Ameer Abdullah, arguably the best running back in the Big Ten, to 46 total yards. This begs the question, where was NU in the second half?

Quarterback Trevor Siemian led the Cats to a 17-14 lead in the first half. He threw for 146 yards and helped NU convert four of its eight third downs. The Wildcats got to the red-zone three times and took advantage of all three opportunities with three scores: two touchdowns by running back Justin Jackson and a field goal by Jack Mitchell to end the half. Northwestern had the momentum.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald mentioned a lot of oooh’s and ahhh’s during Saturday night’s game, more oooh’s for Nebraska, ahhh’s for Northwestern. The first half told a different story for crowd reaction though. The Wildcats came out strong against the second ranked team they’ve faced this year.

Probably the biggest oooh for NU was freshman phenom Jackson. A highlight that will be remembered for at least this week is his Madden-esque spin move. Jackson stopped on a dime and shook off a Cornhusker to high-step into the endzone for his second touchdown of the night. Jackson notched 99 yards in the first half averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

Another oooh for the Cats was the defense. Limiting Abdullah to under 50 yards in the first half is no easy feat. In fact, NU is only the third team this season to achieve that. Besides one breakaway 50-yard carry, the Wildcats would’ve held the running back to under 100 yards.

The second half though was more ahhh’s. The offense could never really get started. There was one small spark after receiver Miles Shuler suffered a game ending head injury. It seemed the offense used the Shuler injury as motivation to continue forward. They did not get much farther, only about 20 yards or so after the injury and then had to punt.

Nebraska, on the other hand, turned up the heat and scored on nearly every drive, outscoring Northwestern 24-0 in the second half. The Wildcats only mustered 28 yards of offense while the Cornhuskers more than doubled their halftime yardage of 227 and finished the game with 471 yards.

One of the big ahhh’s in the second half was the fact NU only had more than a three plays and a punt twice out of their six second half drives. Nebraska only had to punt one time and that was after a deep 29-yard strike from Cornhusker quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. to receiver Kenny Bell.

The defense cannot be blamed for everything that happened in the second half. Simply put, the offense needs to stay on the field longer than 10 of the 30 second half minutes. Comparing the first half to the second, it really is a tale of two halves. This theme may be all too clichéd, but it’s clichéd because it works well to define events like Saturday night’s loss to Nebraska.

Next week, NU does not have a football game. The team has two weeks to prepare for Iowa and in those two weeks, they will need to get healthy and figure out a game plan to earn the lead and keep the lead throughout the entirety of the game.

Nebraska vs Northwestern: Rapid Reaction

By Mike Marut

Northwestern and Nebraska traded blows throughout the game until midway through the third quarter when Nebraska scored its first touchdown of the final frame. The Cornhuskers forced the Wildcats to punt in every possession in the second half while Nebraska kept scoring . Most impressively, Tommy Armstrong Jr. nearly capped a 53 yard drive in the fourth quarter by hurdling some NU defenders. The original call of the touchdown was reversed and Nebraska had to put it in the old fashioned way: Ameer Abdullah 1 yard touchdown carry, his fourth of the night. Abdullah had one breakaway play for 50 yards and officially broke the 1000 yard marker with 146 yards making him the first running back in Nebraska football history to have three 1000+ yard seasons with the team.

Northwestern had trouble throughout the second half to get any offense going. Justin Jackson did his best to get the ball moving forward, but when the Wildcats were stuck in long third down situations, it became difficult for Siemian to hit his targets and convert.

Chris Gradone struggled to punt it away early in the game but increasingly set the Cornhuskers deeper until late in the fourth with a low punt that De’Mornay Pierson-El returned to the Northwestern 20 yard line. Despite the advantageous field position, the ‘Cats held the Cornhuskers to a field goal.

On the final drive for Northwestern, the Wildcats started at their own 25 and drove to their own 41 where the offense stalled. Cornhuskers got one first down then took to the victory formation and finished the game with 38 points.

Final Score: Northwestern 17 – Nebraska 38

3rd Quarter Recap

By Mike Marut

With both teams trading punts throughout the beginning of the second half, Nebraska finally broke the scoring barrier with a touchdown with 4:27 remaining in the 3rd quarter. Northwestern defense has struggled on 2nd and 3rd down, allowing conversions at crucial points in the drive. To respond, the Wildcats started at their own 24 yard line and marched down the field and seemed to pick up momentum after a long injury timeout as Miles Shuler was taken care of. NU gained two first downs and then stalled at midfield and were forced. Nebraska picked up at their own 23 and began to march down the field as the quarter ended.

Halftime Recap

By Mike Marut

The Wildcats looked to catch a break after a personal foul resulted in NU entering Nebraska territory early in the 2nd quarter but the very next play, quarterback Trevor Siemian threw to the endzone looking for receiver Mike McHugh who was triple covered. The attempt resulted in an interception. On the Cornhuskers first drive of the second quarter, they looked to be picking up momentum and ended their first second-quarter-drive in an Abdullah touchdown.
Northwestern had trouble picking up any offensive steam early in the second quarter but later in the quarter, running back Justin Jackson got the offense rolling. After a 88 yard drive, the Jackson spinned in for a touchdown. The Cornhuskers immediately retaliated with a deep 46 yard strike followed by a trick play for the touchdown. With 1:14 left in the half, the Wildcats drove back down the field to score a 29-yard field goal before ending the half.
Abdullah did not break away for any big plays but steadily racked up his rushing yards, quickly approaching the 1000 yard mark on his season. If he breaks that milestone, he will be the first running back in Nebraska football history to achieve three 1000+ yard seasons.

Halftime Score: Northwestern: 17 – Nebraska: 14

1st Quarter Recap

By Mike Marut

Nebraska started out strong with running back Ameer Abdullah getting 4 carries for some strong yards and wide receiver Kenny Bell getting one 29 yard reception but Northwestern fought off the Cornhuskers forcing two punts and a missed field goal, only the third missed field goal by kicker Drew Brown this season.
The Wildcats responded with a touchdown of their own after essentially a 96 yard drive, a holding penalty forced NU to start at the 6 yard line rather than the 11 yard line. Six players contributed positive yardage on the scoring drive.

FH: Michigan Defeats Northwestern, 2-1


By Axel Boada

In a battle for first place in the Big Ten conference, No. 9 Northwestern fell on the road to 14th-ranked Michigan Friday night.

The Wildcats got on the board quickly as Dominique Masters scored the team’s lone goal about eight minutes into the game. Masters was able to get her stick on the ball after Charlotte Martin fell and pushed the ball toward the net.

That ended up being Northwestern’s only shot of the first half. Michigan dominated possession and had a commanding 9-1 lead on shots in the half. The Wolverines also took eight penalty corners while Northwestern attempted none. They tied the game 1-1 off Leslie Smith’s goal on their seventh corner in the 32nd minute.

Northwestern started the second half more aggressively, taking three shots in the first five minutes. However, Michigan’s Sam Swenson earned two of her four saves on back-to-back attacks by Isabel Flens and Masters following the Wildcats’ first penalty corner of the match.

The Wolverines scored their second goal of the game off another penalty corner with 13:58 remaining. Lauren Thomas’ shot seemed to deflect off the stick of Amy Guttman, but Thomas was awarded the goal.

Michigan protected their 2-1 lead for their fifth Big Ten win of the season and 10th win overall.

Northwestern falls to 10-5 (4-1 B1G) and are now tied with Maryland for second place in the Big Ten. The Wildcats next face Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., Sunday 11 a.m.

SportsNight (10/16/14)

This week, Greg Mroz and Tara Wendell bring you the top news in Northwestern sports — including a big recruiting get by Chris Collins.