Nebraska head coach Scott Frost stressed this week that everything the team wanted to achieve was still ahead of them. The first step was to get a win at home against Northwestern (1-4, 0-3 Big Ten).
Nebraska (4-2, 2-1) got that win, but it wasn’t pretty.
A last-second game-winning field goal from walk-on sophomore kicker Lane McCallum sealed a 13-10 win for the Huskers. Even that kick wasn’t pretty, as it miraculously split two defenders’ arms and found its way through the uprights.
“Praise God, I didn’t think that thing was going in when it left my foot,” McCallum said. “I looked at it and it was really low and I was like ‘oh crud’.”
No part of this game was easy for the Huskers as it was a tough, grind-it-out type of game from the start. That style took a toll on the Huskers as both sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez and junior wide receiver JD Spielman left the game with injuries.
The game began normally enough as both teams traded punts until around the four-minute mark in the first quarter, when freshman all-purpose back Wan’Dale Robinson broke a read option for a 42-yard touchdown run. The run was helped by a huge pancake block from pulling right tackle junior Matt Farniok.
After that, both teams traded punts until two Husker drives later, when Nebraska got a break on a roughing the passer penalty against Northwestern. A few plays later, on third down, Martinez completed an impressive 24-yard pass and catch to sophomore tight end Austin Allen who was just able to keep one foot inbounds. The play moved the Huskers to Northwestern’s 26-yard line, where the Huskers eventually hit a field goal to move the score to 10-0 midway through the second quarter.
Northwestern immediately responded with a field goal of its own helped by a big return on the ensuing kickoff. After that, both teams struggled to move the ball, sending the game to halftime at 10-3 in favor of the Huskers.
The Huskers came out of halftime sluggish, as they went three-and-out on their first possession of the half. Then, Northwestern marched 58 yards down the field to score a touchdown on its opening drive of the half.
“We haven’t played well coming out of halftime in a few games,” Frost said. “So I don’t know whether to line them up and scrimmage for a couple plays before we start second half or what to do.”
Those were the last points to be scored before McCallum’s game-winning field goal, but that didn’t mean the game wasn’t any more eventful.
Two drives later, Robinson struck again, as he received a nifty shovel pass from Martinez and ran 49 yards, juking a man in the process. That drive ended in no points, however, because McCallum doinked the 29-yard field goal attempt off the right upright.
The next Husker drive resulted in a punt, but they lost more than just that, as Martinez went down with an apparent leg injury. This coupled with Spielman leaving in the third quarter with a leg injury left the Huskers’ cupboard of offensive weapons pretty barren.
Thankfully for the Huskers, Northwestern had some special teams issues of its own, as it missed a 34-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. That attempt was set up by two personal foul penalties from the Huskers, although both were questionable at best.
Although the missed field goal was big for the Huskers, they couldn’t get anything going with backup quarterback Noah Vedral under center. If the Huskers were going to score, they were going to need help, which they received from the defense with just over a minute left in the game.
The Wildcats were driving, looking to escape Memorial Stadium with another win, until senior cornerback Lamar Jackson stopped them in their tracks, picking off Northwestern quarterback Aidan Smith.
With the Huskers at around midfield and a minute left to work with, Vedral and the offense went to work. On the second play, Vedral found Robinson for a 32-yard reception, putting the Huskers in the red zone and more importantly, field goal range. A few plays later, Frost sent McCallum out and he drilled the game-winning field goal.
“I called him a name and said go make it, and sometimes levity is better,” Frost said.
Robinson had a big game for the Huskers, as he had 186 all-purpose yards (44 rushing, 123 receiving, 19 returning) and shouldered much of the offensive load all day. This is the second game the true freshman has starred in a close victory.
“He’s not afraid of much. He wants the ball in these situations,” Frost said. “I said the same thing after the Illinois game. He’s going to be a weapon for us around here for a long time.”
While much of the talk this week will be about the availability of Martinez and Spielman, having a player like Robinson who can step up when needed is invaluable.
This game was a big win for the Huskers, but it doesn’t feel like they will dwell on it for long.
“We’ve got to get ready for Minnesota,” Vedral said. “We’ve got a one week season. It’s one week seasons for us right now.”