LINCOLN — The offense stumbled early. The defense withered late. And a notable giant-slayer notched another mark on its Big Ten slingshot.
Northwestern 28, Nebraska 25. It’s the fifth straight year the Huskers have lost to an unranked team at home.
“We laid an egg,” defensive end Eric Martin said.
Nebraska lost control of the Big Ten Legends Division as quickly as it gained it.
NU’s newly anointed Blackshirts were red-faced after giving up 468 yards — 308 in the second half — to the Wildcats’ three-headed quarterback. NU I-back Rex Burkhead was glum over two first-half turnovers. And the offensive line — its coaches, starters and backups — bolted past reporters without comment after it couldn’t punch through Northwestern’s 95th-ranked run defense.
The loss blotted out one of quarterback Taylor Martinez’s best games — 28-of-37 passing for 289 yards and two touchdowns — and rendered head coach Bo Pelini matter-of-fact in the postgame presser. He pulled few punches.
“You want to talk about a team loss? That was a team loss,” he said. “Every phase of the team.”
To the particulars:
>> Nebraska’s offense reached its own 48-yard line on all six first-half drives. Marched into Wildcat territory on four. But the Huskers scored just three points. Why? Lost fumbles by Burkhead and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, a botched fourth-and-two at Northwestern’s 43 and Pelini’s unwillingness to go for two fourth-and-shorts at midfield.
“It’s a problem we’ve had the entire year, man,” wide receiver Kenny Bell said of the miscues.
>> But Pelini pinned some of Nebraska’s 7-3 halftime deficit on the offensive line, which plowed holes for just 122 rushing yards.
The Wildcats’ undersized defensive line repeatedly knifed into the backfield on zone read, option and trap plays. Nebraska’s bread-and-butter power toss was stuffed cold.
In the second half, offensive coordinator Tim Beck benched left tackle Yoshi Hardrick and left guard Andrew Rodriguez. He declined to elaborate. Offensive line coaches Barney Cotton and John Garrison walked briskly through the postgame media area to an exit sign. Center Mike Caputo got a cup of sports drink and headed for the same sign.
“I’m going upstairs to watch film,” he said to an interview request.
None of them was talking. Pelini was.
“Our offense needed to come out and play today, keep us off the field,” Pelini said. “That didn’t happen. That was the most disappointing thing in the football game. Our offensive line and our offense and the running game, I thought that was a matchup we needed to win.”
Said Martinez: “Their front was different from what our offensive line expected, and maybe it threw them off a little bit. In the second half we still couldn’t figure out how to block it.”
So the sophomore quarterback took to the air, scrambling around, throwing the ball from all angles, leading the offense to 22 second-half points.
>> But Nebraska’s defense couldn’t get Martinez a stop. The Blackshirts knocked starting quarterback Dan Persa out of the game, and slowed him down before that. Backup Kain Colter — with a dash of third-stringer Trevor Siemian — was a different story.
Colter ran for 57 yards and passed for 115. He also caught three passes for 57 yards. The Huskers struggled to stop him in any phase of the game.
His biggest play was an 81-yard touchdown strike to Jeremy Ebert to start the fourth quarter. Nebraska’s safeties got caught looking in the backfield while Ebert bolted past cornerback Ciante Evans. Colter hit Ebert in stride to give Northwestern a 21-10 lead.
“We were supposed to have two guys on (Ebert),” safety Austin Cassidy said. “But there was a little bit of confusion.”
Par for the course Saturday, Pelini said, as Northwestern averaged 16 yards per completion.
“We blew coverages,” he said. “We played undisciplined. We had opportunities to get off the field, they run a little pivot route and get 35 yards on it.”
Bo’s defensive coordinator brother, Carl, declined interview requests.
Yet Nebraska (7-2 overall, 3-2 in the Big Ten) had only to make a single stop when Burkhead scored a 1-yard touchdown and Martinez converted a two-pointer to draw within 21-18 with 8:48 left in the game.
Northwestern (4-5, 2-4) proceeded to drum the life out of the Huskers. Thirteen plays, 66 yards, seven soul-crushing minutes, all runs, with Colter finishing off the touchdown drive with a 1-yard plunge.
“Our guys got tired,” Pelini said. “We were obviously undermanned. We’re thin up front ... I dunno, it just leaked. We didn’t tackle sharp there near the end. They were just getting a push. We’d have them stopped for no gain and it’d leak for three and four yards.”
Martinez answered with a late touchdown drive, but Northwestern recovered Brett Maher’s onside kick with 17 seconds left. The Wildcats didn’t leap for joy at game’s end — they’ve been here before in the Big Ten — while Pelini was to midfield before the final second had ticked off the clock.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald called it his team’s most complete game of the year.
Nebraska was left answering whether it had taken the Wildcats seriously enough after beating Michigan State 24-3 — with 8-1 Penn State coming up next week.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Martin said.
And Martinez: “We didn’t come out to play. Maybe we overlooked Northwestern for Penn State. Other than that, I don’t know what to say about the game.”
The score will do.
|Yards per carry||3.8||3.5|
Nebraska is 8-5 all-time against Northwestern.
|Fresno State||Sept. 10|
|Ohio State||Oct. 8|
|Michigan State||Oct. 29|
|Penn State||Nov. 12|
|South Carolina||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 21 games on Nov. 5. See them all »
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