For the second straight week, the Huskers did what they never could a year ago. They closed out a close football game.
No. 20 Nebraska took down Northwestern 24-13 on the road to go 4-0 on the season and 1-0 in Big Ten play. Here’s what we learned in Nebraska’s win.
1. Nebraska is able to close out close games
After multiple games a year ago when Nebraska couldn’t run out the clock or get a stop late in the game, the Huskers did both against Northwestern for the win.
That was the main thing that kept Nebraska from being a 9-win team last season.
Now, Nebraska is 4-0, with two wins they earned late in the fourth quarter.
2. Another slow start
Each of Nebraska’s four games this year they’ve failed to really get the offense started before halftime.
Against Northwestern, Nebraska racked up the yards but couldn’t convert when they needed to in the first quarter. Terrell Newby’s fumble in the end zone on the fourth play of the game gave Nebraska a rough start, and another fumble at the 1-yard line by Devine Ozigbo also cost Nebraska a touchdown.
The Huskers finished with 10 points in the first half which isn’t awful, but yet again Nebraska couldn’t get that offense going until the second half, which could catch up with them down the road.
3. Turnovers hurt
Twice, two times, Nebraska fumbled at the goal line.
Nebraska went into the half up 10-7 when that could have easily been 24-7 and the Husker wouldn’t have had to deal with the pesky Wildcats late in the game.
Nebraska’s been able to stay above the turnover margin, and ended up picking off a pass in the end zone to make up for the fumbles, but turnovers in the red zone are killers. It’s also worrisome considering both fumbles were by the top two running backs, and they occurred in the same half.
4.Nebraska’s secondary continues to impress
The Huskers secondary held Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson to 249 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, one by sophomore Aaron Williams and one by senior Josh Kalu.
The Nebraska secondary now has eight interceptions on the season. Williams has two.
In a game where Northwestern had their way on the ground, the Nebraska secondary played well to make up for the rushing yards.
With the run defense not there yet, Nebraska’s secondary might end up being the strong point of the Blackshirts.
5. Leaning on Tommy Armstrong is working
Late in the second quarter Nebraska needed a spark, and again their quarterback gave it to them.
Armstrong found Alonzo Moore on a deep post for 59-yards to put Nebraska in the redzone. One play later, Newby ran the ball in to retake the lead 10-7.
Again and again Nebraska is lulling teams to sleep with runs, and catching teams off guard with deep, beautiful throws to Moore, or senior Brandon Reilly, or senior Jordan Westerkamp.
In the second half, Armstrong threw a perfect ball to Cethan Carter in the end zone to go up 17-7, when Nebraska needed some breathing room.
Armstrong finished 18 of 29 for 246 yards and one touchdown.
Where do you fit sophomore Mikale Wilbon into the game plan now?
Add yet another running back into the playbook. The sophomore had a great day on Saturday with six carries for 55 yards.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf now has three (or four, if you could freshman Tre Bryant) running backs to try and fit into this system.
It’s a good problem to have, but you have to wonder if this is the only time we see Wilbon run more than a handful of times.
Mike Riley said it this week during his Big Ten Teleconference, but running with Tommy Armstrong is becoming a pillar of this Husker offense.
Armstrong ran 13 times for 132 yards.
Coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf are drawing up plays for Armstrong to run, rather than just giving him the option to, which shows they really trust that run play, and really trust they can run teams into the ground with their quarterback.
137 rushing yards given up by the Nebraska defense.
After giving up more than 300 rushing yards last week to Oregon, the Husker defense again was a little better at stopping the run.
What it means
Nebraska will only go up in the polls from this.
Northwestern was 1-2, but they’ve had Nebraska’s number the past few years.
Now the Huskers are 4-0, Tommy Armstrong is playing well and the demons from last year are slowly fading away.