Nebraska is off to another 0-2 start.
In a 21-13 loss to Northwestern on the road, Nebraska was eerily familiar. The defense played well in the first half, then forgot how to tackle in the second half. The offense struggled to move the ball with any deal of consistency for most of the day. Penalties again played a role.
Now in Year 3 under head coach Scott Frost, not much has changed for Nebraska.
The Huskers opened the game Saturday with a promising offensive drive that gained 47 yards on its first six plays, pushing down to the Wildcat 28-yard-line. Then came a false start. Then came a hold. Nebraska punted away from the Northwestern 39 and netted 19 yards.
Northwestern went 80 yards in seven plays, capped by a 41-yard touchdown run from tailback Drake Anderson. The Wildcats cut through NU’s front like butter.
From that drive on, though, Nebraska’s defense stiffened. It intercepted Cat quarterback Peyton Ramsey twice—both times with safety Myles Farmer, a replacement starter with Deontai Williams serving his first-half suspension. It gave up just 54 yards on the next 24 Wildcat plays and forced three three-and-outs.
But Nebraska trailed at halftime 14-13 as it struggled to find any offensive rhythm. It became the third Northwestern opponent this year to fail to score a second-half point.
Starting quarterback Adrian Martinez had one of his poorer games as a Husker. He ended his day 12-for-27 for 125 yards throwing it. A late-third-quarter interception ended a promising drive that had covered 67 yards in eight plays; Martinez was late and floated a ball to tight end Austin Allen that was undercut by safety Brandon Joseph.
That throw ended Martinez’s day.
With him handling snaps, Nebraska averaged 4.8 yards a play. The vertical passing game was once again non-existent. Wideout Omar Manning made his debut, but he played sparingly and didn’t get a touch. Wideout Wan’Dale Robinson had just two touches before Luke McCaffrey took over.
McCaffrey, a redshirt freshman, got the entire fourth quarter. He was much more of a reserve quarterback than the utility weapon he was against Ohio State two weeks ago before coming into the game, but when he did, he gave NU life.
Eight plays on a mid-fourth-quarter drive netted 70 yards. McCaffrey was quick with his reads and involved freshmen wideouts Zavier Betts and Marcus Fleming. But a second-and-goal pass from Northwestern’s 4-yard-line was deflected off the mass of bodies at the line of scrimmage and fell into Wildcat linebacker Chris Bergin’s arms.
Nebraska got one final crack at it, trailing by eight, with a fourth-and-4 attempt from Northwestern’s 14 with seven seconds left it the game. McCaffrey tried to find Robinson in the end zone. He missed.
Nebraska ended the day with six red zone trips and only 13 points. It turned the ball over twice and committed nine penalties.
McCaffrey finished 12-for-16 for 93 yards and the one turnover. He ran it eight times for 49 yards. (Martinez carried it 13 times for 102 yards.) Running back Dedrick Mills was more involved than in NU’s first game, getting 19 carries Saturday, but he struggled to find room to run.
Nebraska will host Penn State on Nov. 14 in its home-opener.