Huskers lose to Northwestern, 21-13
In another game between Nebraska and Northwestern that came down to the final play, Luke McCaffrey's pass to the middle of the end zone intended for Wan'Dale Robinson fell incomplete to allow the Wildcats to escape with a 21-13 win over the Huskers at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill., on Saturday afternoon.
Nebraska suffered its second defeat to open the season despite putting up 442 yards of total offense and 28 first downs against Northwestern, while holding the unbeaten Wildcats to just 317 total yards and just 14 first downs.
The Huskers pounded the ball up and down the field against a stout Northwestern defense, rushing for 224 yards on 43 carries (5.2 ypc), while holding Northwestern's potent ground attack to 148 yards on 38 totes (3.9 ypc).
Nebraska also controlled the time of possession (32:27-27:33) for the game and matched the Wildcats in the turnover department as both defenses recorded a pair of interceptions. The Huskers were also penalized for 55 yards (9 penalties), compared to 64 (8 penalties) for Northwestern, but the Wildcats made more plays in the red zone on both sides of the ball to walk away with their first 3-0 start to a season since 2000.
Junior quarterback Adrian Martinez led the Nebraska ground game with 102 yards on 13 carries, while adding 125 yards by completing 12-of-27 passes in three quarters of action. Redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey added 49 yards on eight carries while completing 12-of-16 passes for 93 yards in just over one quarter of action.
Senior running back Dedrick Mills also played a big role in the Husker offense, carrying 19 times for 59 yards, including Nebraska's only touchdown, while adding a career-high six receptions for 33 yards. Freshman Marcus Fleming led the Nebraska wide receivers with five catches for 75 yards, while sophomore Wan'Dale Robinson added four receptions for 32 yards.
Northwestern jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Drake Anderson's 41-yard run with 8:29 left in the first quarter. It capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 2:43 of clock and put the Wildcats in the driver's seat.
That score held until the second quarter when Nebraska got on the board with Connor Culp's 38-yard field goal with 11:29 left in the half to cut Northwestern's margin to 7-3. Culp's kick capped a 14-play, 56-yard drive engineered by Martinez, who converted twice on fourth down inside Wildcat territory to extend the drive before it stalled on the Northwestern 20.
On the second play of the Wildcats' ensuing drive, redshirt freshman defensive back Myles Farmer intercepted a Peyton Ramsey pass that initially hit Husker defensive back Marquel Dismuke on the top of the helmet and ricocheted into the air. Farmer caught the ball at the Nebraska 40 and returned it eight yards to put the Husker offense back on the field in great starting position.
After a 28-yard completion from Martinez to Fleming and a Martinez 13-yard run, the Huskers were knocking on the door with 1st-and-10 at the Northwestern 11. However, the Wildcat defense stiffened and forced the Huskers to settle for Culp's 36-yard field goal to trim the margin to 7-6 with 8:54 left in the half.
Nebraska's defense continued to thwart the Cats on the next drive, forcing a three-and-out to give the Husker offense the ball in good position again on its own 36. Martinez moved the Big Red into the red zone again, before the drive stalled at the Wildcat 20. Culp came out to attempt his third field goal of the quarter, but missed wide right to keep the lead in Northwestern's hands.
The Wildcats picked up their only first down of the quarter on the following drive, before Farmer nabbed his second interception of Ramsey in the quarter. Farmer pulled the ball out of the air at the Wildcat 40 and sprinted down the Northwestern sideline to the NU 3 before a touchdown-saving tackle from Ramsey. Farmer, who made his first career start in place of senior safety Deontai Williams, added three solo tackles to his two interceptions on the day.
Nebraska turned the second Farmer interception into seven points one play later on a Mills three-yard blast to give the Huskers a 13-7 lead with 1:25 in the half. In the quarter, Nebraska outscored the Wildcats 13-0, out-yarded Northwestern 134-23, and ran 30 plays compared to just 14 for the Cats.
Despite Nebraska's second-quarter domination, Northwestern went back in front on the scoreboard with its opening drive of the second half. Ramsey found John Raine on a two-yard pass to cap a 10-play, 61-yard drive that used up 4:57 to put the Wildcats up 14-13 with 9:53 left in the third.
The two defenses shut down the offenses on the next two drives before Martinez got the Huskers moving again on their second possession of the second half. On a drive that started at Nebraska's own 8, Martinez converted a 3rd-and-11 with a 19-yard run, then added a 28-yard sprint on the next play to put the Big Red in Northwestern territory. Four plays later, Martinez was 2nd-and-9 at the Northwestern 25-yard line but threw an interception in the middle of the end zone to Wildcat Brandon Joseph.
While the interception potentially kept points off the board for the Huskers, Nebraska's defense forced a quick three-and-out, giving the ball back to the offense at the close of the third quarter.
Luke McCaffrey, who played sparingly in the first three quarters, took over at quarterback on the drive. The Huskers picked up a first down but were forced to punt from their own 24. Will Przystup stepped up with a booming 56-yard punt, but Northwestern's Riley Lees slipped through the coverage for a 36-yard return to set the Wildcats up on the Nebraska 44. Six plays later, Ramsey connected with Lees on a 10-yard touchdown pass to extend Northwestern's margin to 21-13 with 9:53 left in the game.
McCaffrey returned to lead the offense and quickly completed three passes and rushed twice for 21 yards to drive the Huskers back inside the Northwestern red zone. A Northwestern pass interference penalty on the next play put the Huskers 1st-and-Goal at the Wildcat 3. After a pair of unsuccessful McCaffrey runs, Northwestern was called for pass interference again in the end zone to give the Big Red another chance on 1st-and-Goal at the NU 2. Mills was thrown for a two-yard loss, before a McCaffrey pass on the next play was intercepted by Chris Bergin to end another long Husker drive with no points.
Northwestern took over at its own 7 with 6:05 left and moved the ball near midfield until its drive stalled with just over two minutes left.
McCaffrey and the Nebraska offense returned to the field for the final time, needing to go 92 yards in 2:14 to try and tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. He began the drive by going 5-for-5 through the air to move the Huskers to their own 46 with 57 seconds left. A pair of McCaffrey runs then pushed Nebraska 23 more yards to the NU 31, before an 11-yard completion to Mills put the Huskers at the Wildcat 20. After another six-yard completion to Mills got the Huskers to the 14, McCaffrey was faced with 4th-and-4 with seven seconds left. His pass intended for Robinson in the end zone on Nebraska's final play fell incomplete.
Overall, Luke Reimer led the Husker defense with 10 tackles, including seven solos and a sack, while Collin Miller added six stops and Dicaprio Bootle and JoJo Domann each pitched in five tackles.
Nebraska is scheduled to return to Big Ten action next Saturday by playing host to Penn State at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.
Northwestern 21, Nebraska 13
Saturday, Nov. 7
Ryan Field (Evanston, Ill.)
First Quarter (NU 7, NEB 0)
8:29 - Drake Anderson 41 run (Charlie Kuhbander kick), 7 plays, 80 yards, 2:43, NU 7-0
Second Quarter (NEB 13, NU 7)
11:29 - Connor Culp 38 FG, 14 plays, 56 yards, 5:33, NU 7-3
8:54 - Culp 36 FG, 6 plays, 34 yards, 1:57, NU 7-6
1:25 - Dedrick Mills 3 run (Culp kick), 1 play, 3 yards, 0:07, NEB 13-7
Third Quarter (NU 14, NEB 13)
9:54 - John Raine 2 pass from Payton Ramsey (Kuhbander kick), 10 plays, 61 yards, 4:57, NU 14-13
Fourth Quarter (NU 21, NEB 13)
9:53 - Riley Lees 10 pass from Ramsey (Kuhbander kick), 6 plays, 44 yards, 3:13, NU 21-13