Saturday afternoon’s game between Northwestern and Nebraska was a classic Big Ten slugfest, as the Huskers emerged with a 13-10 victory. Nebraska came out with the win, but it wasn’t the team’s most dominant effort.
Here’s what went right:
Coming up clutch
Tied at 10-10 late in the fourth quarter, with Northwestern driving past midfield, Saturday’s game looked like it could end in another late Nebraska collapse. However, senior cornerback Lamar Jackson secured an interception to give Nebraska the ball and an opportunity to win the game.
With just one minute left on the clock, Nebraska needed to rely on its backup quarterback to lead a game-winning drive. The Huskers didn’t have their best receiver either, and if it came down to a field goal, they’d need their safety-turned-kicker to make it even after he missed a short attempt earlier in the game.
Sophomore quarterback Noah Vedral came up big with a 32-yard pass to freshman wideout Wan’Dale Robinson and sophomore kicker Lane McCallum provided the decisive kick a few plays later.
Nebraska had a reputation for falling apart late in the past, but it did just the opposite against Northwestern with a game-winning drive.
The turnover battle
All week long, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost emphasized that turnovers could be the difference in a tight game against Northwestern. Despite entering the game with one of the worst turnover margins in college football (-4 on the year), Nebraska avoided turning the ball over against Northwestern.
Meanwhile, Wildcat quarterback Aidan Smith committed a costly mistake late in the fourth quarter, as his turnover set Nebraska up for the game-winning field goal. There haven’t been many games in recent memory where Nebraska hasn’t coughed up the ball at least once, making tonight an important step in the right direction.
“They threw the interception that made the difference,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said. “Last year we had the strip sack that probably made the difference. When you’re in a tight game, special teams and turnovers are the difference.”
However, not everything went well for Nebraska. Here’s what went wrong:
Play calling (again)
Nebraska’s play calling has been an issue all season long, as the Huskers have appeared to stick with certain concepts for too long. Frost has also made some questionable calls this year, such as a bubble screen in the end zone against Northern Illinois.
On Saturday, Nebraska’s play calling was extremely vanilla for the most part and it turned extremely conservative down the stretch, especially after sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez went down with a knee injury. With Vedral in the game, Frost called a number of quarterback draws and interior runs in order to minimize risk, leading to displeasure from many Husker fans.
The gamble did pay off, as the ground-based attack kept Nebraska from turning over the ball. If it didn’t result in a victory, though, it would raise concerns about the team’s offensive ceiling moving forward.
Over-reliance on Robinson
It might seem impossible that Robinson’s offensive heroics are a problem for Nebraska, but if the Huskers didn’t have Robinson, they lose that game handily. With junior wide receiver JD Spielman out with an injury and sophomore running back Maurice Washington benched on a coach’s decision for the first half, Robinson was Nebraska’s only explosive threat all game long.
He delivered on his touches with an explosive touchdown run, ankle-breaking catch-and-run on a shovel pass and the crucial fourth-quarter catch. But an over-reliance on Robinson can only mean problems moving forward, especially if he has a poor game or worst-case scenario, goes down with an injury like Spielman did.
Robinson deserved every touch he had on Saturday, but perhaps Nebraska should consider a more well-rounded approach moving forward.