Nebraska junior quarterback Adrian Martinez was efficient on the ground with 13 carries for 102 yards and back-to-back rushes in the third quarter for 19 and 28 yards. Martinez struggled in the passing game, though, going 12-of-27 for 125 yards. He threw an interception in the end zone to Northwestern redshirt freshman cornerback Brandon Joseph to close the drive in which he rushed for back-to-back big gains.
Martinez was unable to sling completions in critical moments and because of that, he will shoulder much of the blame for Nebraska only scoring one touchdown with six red zone opportunities.
After Martinez’s interception, redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey took control of Nebraska’s offense and led the Huskers on a nine-play, 70-yard drive. McCaffrey, too, had his mistakes. He ended that drive with an interception by Northwestern senior linebacker Chris Bergin in the end zone with 6:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. McCaffrey barely saw the field until the end of the third quarter, but was 12-of-16 and 93 yards and rushed for 49 yards on eight carries.
Overall, McCaffrey’s performance trumped Martinez’s, bringing their position grade to a B.
Wide Receivers: B-
The wide receiver core had two players make their first catches as Huskers. True freshman wide receiver Marcus Fleming led the receivers with four receptions and 65 yards, including a 28-yard catch. On top of that, freshman Zavier Betts earned 17 yards on two catches with a long of 12 yards. These two make up the bulk of this grade, showing class despite their young age.
Junior wide receiver Omar Manning also made his much-anticipated Husker debut but did not record a catch.
As for the veterans in the receivers room, sophomore Wan’Dale Robinson reined in four catches for 32 yards. However, team captain junior Kade Warner was fairly disappointing on the night, and had just one catch for seven yards. The leaders in Nebraska’s wide receiver room did not step up and provide the production the Husker offense was desperate for; production which could’ve swung the game.
Running Backs: C
Senior Dedrick Mills led the running back core with 19 carries for 59 yards and the Huskers’ lone touchdown, and six receptions for 33 yards. Mills improved from his previous game at Ohio State in which he only had 25 total yards.
The only other running back that received the ball was freshman Marvin Scott III, who rushed for 14 yards on three carries.
Tight Ends: D+
Without senior Jack Stoll, Nebraska’s tight end room was below average. Senior Austin Allen had two receptions for 29 yards including a 25-yard catch. Junior Travis Vokolek also had two receptions for 13 yards.
The tight ends were only targeted eight times the entire game. With the exception of Allen’s 25-yard catch at the end of the first quarter, the tight ends didn’t produce on their rare targets.
Offensive Line: C-
Nebraska’s offense did not respond well to the adjustments made to cover for an injured sophomore center Cam Jurgens. Senior Matt Farniok moved to center, creating room for redshirt freshman Ethan Piper to make his first career start at right guard.
Because of this change, the offensive line contributed to five of Nebraska’s nine penalties for 55 yards. These errors made it harder for an already struggling Husker offense to convert on important drives.
Despite the suffocating penalties, Nebraska rushed for 224 yards which earns the line a passing grade.
Defensive Line: B
Nebraska’s defense carried the weight of the offense’s mediocre performance. The defensive line allowed 148 rushing yards, and they were unable to slow down Northwestern sophomore running back Drake Anderson, who rushed for 89 yards on 18 carries. This includes a 41-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the game off of several missed tackles.
Redshirt freshman Ty Robinson had four tackles, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry. Senior Ben Stille added four tackles. Their first half was significantly better than their second, especially in the second quarter, but overall the performance was uneven.
The linebackers were the star position group of the entire team.
Sophomore Luke Reimer dominated Northwestern’s offense in his first appearance of the season. Reimer was all over the field, earning 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a strip-sack recovered by Northwestern.
Senior Collin Miller had six tackles, one quarterback hurry and shared a tackle for loss with Reimer. The great strength of the linebacker unit was its exceptional depth throughout the game. Senior JoJo Domann clocked five tackles, one of the team’s six tackles for losses and one quarterback hurry.
Junior Caleb Tannor also had an impressive showing with two tackles and two quarterback hurries. For a younger contribution, redshirt freshman Nick Henrich pressured senior quarterback Peyton Ramsey two plays in a row for a Northwestern three-and-out in the middle of the second quarter.
The linebackers did a great job of keeping pressure on Ramsey and tackling him outside of the pocket, earning the best grade of any unit on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Myles Farmer’s first two career interceptions led to 10 points for the Huskers.
He returned the second for 37 yards, then Mills punched in a touchdown on the next play.
Senior Deontai Williams, who sat out the first half due to a targeting call against Ohio State, had four tackles and one tackle for loss to force a Northwestern punt late in the fourth quarter.
Northwestern earned 169 receiving yards with the longest reception caught by freshman wide receiver Evan Hull for 21 yards in the fourth quarter.
Special Teams: B
Senior kicker Connor Culp accounted for seven of Nebraska’s 13 points. He hit a 38-yard field goal followed by a 36-yard field goal on consecutive Nebraska drives in the second quarter, cutting Northwestern’s lead to 7-6. Culp missed a 38-yarder towards the end of the quarter.
Sophomore William Przystup had five punts for a total of 202 yards including a 56-yarder and one touchback.
While Nebraska’s kickers did well, the rest of its special teams were decent. Senior wide receiver Kyric McGowan returned a kick 36 yards and senior wide receiver Riley Lees returned two punts for a total of 44 yards.
In a game that was expected to come down to both team’s kickers, the Huskers’ special teams held their own.