After last week’s domination of Michigan State, you thought the Huskers had righted the ship and were in prime position to win their division. I should have waited another game before thinking Nebraska was on its way. Looking back, there seems to be one game a season, under Pelini, the Huskers lose they shouldn’t. Today was that game. A number of little things added up to lead to the biggest upset since Iowa State was on the receiving end of eight Nebraska turnovers in 2009.
First Down: Lack of depth at defensive line cost Nebraska – In the second quarter, it looked like the Blackshirts had solved Northwestern on offense. They were getting pressure on Dan Persa, and shutting them down. Baker Steinkuhler was dominant. The second half was a different story as Northwestern marched up and down the field. Last week it looked like the Huskers would still be strong despite Jared Crick’s injury. However, the Huskers were also without Chase Rome and Thaddeus Randle for today’s game. Northwestern went right at the Huskers, and the defensive line was gassed by game’s end. Not having three of their players for rotation on defensive line hurt.
Second Down: This time, opposing team’s QB injury hurts Nebraska – When Eric Martin sacked Dan Persa in the second quarter, it injured the Northwestern QB. It was at a time when Northwestern wasn’t doing anything on offense. The secondary was playing well, and the front four was doing just fine applying pressure. However, backup QB Kain Colter played well in the second half, rushing for two touchdowns and passing for a third. Who knows, maybe the defensive line still wears down with Persa in the game. All I know is Colter stepped in and Northwestern’s offense took off.
Third Down: Hold off on sainthood for Rex – Perhaps giving Rex Burkhead 35 carries against Michigan St last week, especially when the game was well in hand, was not a good idea. He didn’t appear to play his best, and was not breaking tackles. His first half fumble near the endzone was a killer. While it was his first fumble of the year, he does have a history. He had crucial fumbles before in last year’s Holiday Bowl, the Big 12 Championship game, and a huge drop against Texas last year. He may be the most beloved Husker right now, but he needed to play better. 35 carries or not, last week, it’s no excuse for the fumble. Knowing him, he’ll own it and feel worse about it than anyone else. He’ll come back strong.
Fourth Down: Taylor Martinez played great – It’s almost not fair to expect a better game from Taylor Martinez. Was there room for improvement? Of course, but on a day where he goes 28-37 for 289 yards and two touchdowns, not to mention three dropped passes, you hate to see that effort go to waste. He was playing hard all the way to the end. He was taking advantage of what Northwestern was giving him. Perhaps that provides some hope for the final three games. There is a passing game that works, if the defense dares him to pass it.
Looking Ahead – If the Huskers can get healthy with their defensive line, I like their chances against Penn State next Saturday. (Especially since Penn State is now dealing with one of the worst scandals imaginable.) Penn State’s offense is ranked 88th in the country. The Blackshirts should be able to shut them down. It’s just a matter of the offense being able to execute. If the Huskers don’t fumble the ball away in the red zone, like they did twice today, and just play solid on that side of the ball they should win. Should. Of course, I’m the guy that said the Huskers would beat Northwestern.