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.