Where to begin? How about at the end?
Bo Pelini was stopped by ABC sideline reporter Maria Taylor as the left the field.
The just-completed game was “good for TV, not good for the heart,” he said.
That summarized the Huskers’ victory against Northwestern at Ryan Field about as well as anything. The score was 29-28, and the finish was as dramatic as one would expect.
The winning touchdown came with 2:08 remaining, on a 7-yard pass from Taylor Martinez to tight end Ben Cotton. And it capped a comeback from a 28-16 deficit.
Northwestern had increased its lead to 12 points with 8:31 remaining.
The 12-point, fourth-quarter comeback tied for the largest in Husker history. “Well, I hope we don’t break it any time soon,” Pelini said during his post-game news conference.
He laughed because he could. He was “frustrated with some of the things that put us in that situation, but we overcame a lot today, and there are a lot of guys that did a lot of things and made some plays,” he said. “Trust me, there’s a lot of things that need fixed from that game.”
But “that was a heck of a football game,” he said.
One of those guys who did a lot of things was Martinez, who completed 27-of-39 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 65 yards and one touchdown. More to the point, however, he completed 10-of-14 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The second touchdown was to Cotton, the first to redshirted freshman Taariq Allen for 8 yards with 5:55 remaining. The touchdown catch was Allen’s first, and only his second catch as a Husker.
Martinez also teamed with Kenny Bell for 37 yards and Nebraska’s first touchdown in the second quarter. “He’s a big part of our offense,” Pelini said of Martinez.
“We thought we could throw the ball around a little bit . . . they put a lot of guys up there in the box, and they were real aggressive trying to stop our run game.
“Obviously, there was some passing game available to us and we took advantage of it.”
The Huskers also took advantage of the fans who made the trip to Evanston, accounting for about half (or maybe more) of the sellout crowd of 47,330 at Ryan Field. “Our crowd was phenomenal,” said Pelini. “Obviously, I couldn’t talk to every one, but I thanked them coming off the field. I thought they brought great energy to us. They stuck behind us. At times, it felt like a home game.
“That’s one of those special things. Our fans are different. They travel. And they had a big-time impact on that game. Our guys fed off it, I thought.”
They did, indeed, according to linebacker Will Compton.
“In pre-game, I was talking in guys’ ears (saying), ‘Look at the red we have.’ It seemed like we had more red than there was purple out there, and when you get support like that, it’s awesome,” Compton said. “It felt sort of like a home game. There wasn’t a lot of capacity, but it was awesome to see.”
So was the play of the defense. Northwestern finished with 301 total yards, 80 of which came on a Venric Mack touchdown run early in the third quarter to give the Wildcats a 21-10 lead.
“They got us on that,” said Pelini. “They blocked it different than we thought. We didn’t react very well to it. It hurt us. I was a little bit nervous after that play.”
The Wildcats couldn’t do much against the defense, though.
“I thought our defense played really well today, really well, did a lot of good things,” Pelini said. “That’s a tough offense to play. They stress you in a lot of different ways. I thought our DBs played really well. I mean, front to back I thought we did a lot of good things defensively.
“I thought we executed really well, didn’t do anything fancy . . . executed to a really high level. Our guys really understood the game plan. I thought our preparation was the key.”
The Husker offense gained 543 yards, with Martinez accounting for 407. But it also made some mistakes that contributed to the drama, penalties at inopportune times and one lost fumble. Nebraska also fumbled away two punts, putting the defense in difficult situations.
“We’ve gotta quit shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Pelini.
“I’m not trying to take anything away from Northwestern because I have a lot of respect for their team and how they play, but a lot of the issues we had were self-induced.
“I know you guys have heard it before, we’ve got to play cleaner football. We’re not always going to be able to make that kind of comeback.”
That’s the essence of what he told ABC’s Taylor afterward.
* Rex Burkhead left the game midway through the first quarter after injuring his left knee again and didn’t return. Pelini was uncertain of his status. “The initial report was a lot like it was after the Ohio State game,” said Pelini. “I’ll have to wait and see.”
* Quincy Enunwa caught six passes for 110 yards, including four for 74 yards in the fourth quarter, even though at one point he went to the sideline and took off his pads. He “had some burning sensations, some things going on in his shoulder,” Pelini said. “And Mark Meyer told me he needed to settle down; he was having a strength deficit, and the next thing I know, I look up and he’s back in the football game. That isn’t easy to do. Not only did he suck it up but he made some great plays for us.”