After the overtime disaster in East Lansing, Michigan, last week, Nebraska and head coach Scott Frost needed a bounce-back performance in the worst way Saturday night as it hosted Northwestern under the lights.
They got exactly that, and didn’t have to wait around for it to happen, either.
The Huskers led 21-7 after the first quarter and 35-7 at halftime along the way to a 56-7 victory. There was a lot to like, and the team didn’t shoot itself in the foot like it has been. There were no penalty issues in non-garbage time. No one noticed the special teams—which is a good thing—and punter William Przystup uncorked an 84-yarder while Connor Culp was perfect with his extra points.
The win improves Nebraska’s record to 3-3 and 1-2 in the Big Ten. Saturday night’s win makes next week’s home night game against undefeated No. 14 Michigan (5-0, 2-0 in Big Ten) all the more interesting. Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines defeated Wisconsin 38-17 on the road Saturday.
Here are three thoughts from Nebraska’s game with Northwestern:
Nebraska punched Northwestern in the mouth, and kept the foot on the gas
It took five games, but for the first time this season the Nebraska offense started strong and scored a touchdown on its opening drive of the game. The Huskers took a deep shot early on its first possession, and quarterback Adrian Martinez found wideout Samori Touré for a 70-yard pitch-and-catch. Credit Touré for stealing an interception from the Northwestern defender on the play. Two plays later Martinez walked in for a 1-yard touchdown.
Everything seemed to work for the offense in the first half. The option was deadly—credit Frost and offensive coordinator Matt Lubick for spotting the weakness in Northwestern’s defense and drawing up a game plan to exploit it. With a newly-retooled offensive line (more on that later) the Huskers gained 405 total yards in the first two quarters—and 241 of that came from the rushing attack.
Nebraska’s 35 first-half points were the most since 2018 against Illinois. The team continued to pile on in the third, too, as Zavier Betts took an option pitch 83 yards for a touchdown on the offense’s first play of the quarter. Martinez connected with Touré again, this time for a 32-yard scoring toss that put the Huskers up 49-7.
Things were going so well that backup Logan Smothers entered the game with seven minutes left in the third.
The shakeup on the offensive line worked
In: Teddy Prochazka and Nouredin Nouili. Out: Bryce Benhart and Trent Hixson. Flip Turner Corcoran to the right side.
That shakeup worked. Was it because Northwestern isn’t good? Who cares. The point is the unit played well, had success and that’s what matters.
Nebraska’s starting o-line of Prochazka at left tackle, Nouili at left guard, Cam Jurgens at center, Matt Sichterman at right guard and Corcoran at right tackle did well. So did the running backs that ran behind them in Jaquez Yant and Rahmir Johnson. At one point in the second quarter, Yant had 109 rushing yards with an average of 15.6 yards per carry—he can thank the hogs up front for that.
My colleague Jacob Padilla made a great point: It doesn’t matter if Northwestern was bad on Saturday night. The old version of the o-line didn’t do this against Fordham. Let that sink in. There are more games to play and it’ll likely not go this well all the time. But it’s a heck of a start.
The defense continues to bend, but not break
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander’s unit started off hot by forcing two punts, but then crashed to reality when Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski connected on back-to-back throws of 32- and 28-yards for a touchdown. Fans had to be thinking, ‘Here we go again with this team.’
The Wildcats then took the ball down to the Husker 1-yard line and looked like they were going to punch in another score. But outside linebacker JoJo Domann and defensive tackle Deontre Thomas sliced into the backfield to create havoc and save the day. Domann caused a fumble and Thomas recovered. Crisis averted.
The defense also did its job to start the second half and helped win that valuable “middle third” of the game. The offense scored a touchdown with 42 seconds left in the second quarter. The defense then forced a three-and-out to start the third, and the offense scored on its first play once it got the ball back—that 83-yard option run from Betts. Nebraska doubled-up Northwestern and pumped its lead to 42-7 early in the third.