Nebraska had several opportunities to essentially put the game away in regulation against Northwestern on Saturday.
Instead, the Huskers and Wildcats, tied at 24, went to overtime, a period where Nebraska has had little-to-no success both offensively and defensively under Coach Mike Riley.
In three overtime periods since 2015, Nebraska has run nine offensive plays, none of which have been successful; meaning the offense gained at least 50 percent of the yards to gain on first down, 70 percent on second down and 100 percent on third or fourth down.
The Huskers’ opponents have attempted 14 offensive plays during those three overtime periods, eight of which were successful, a 57-percent success rate.
Most importantly, Nebraska’s offense has not scored a single point in the three overtime periods, while its opponents have scored a combined 16 points.
Since 2015, there have been 14 overtime games involving a Big Ten school, including Nebraska. The teams in those games scored, on average, just over four points in the first overtime period.
Under Riley, Nebraska’s defense has given up an average of just over five points in overtime.
Let’s review how the three overtime periods since 2015 went down.
The Huskers attempted just one offensive play against Miami in 2015 after storming back from 23 points down in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s attempted pass toward wide receiver Taariq Allen in the end zone came up a half-dozen yards short and was intercepted.
After a personal foul against the Huskers, the Hurricanes started their overtime possession at the Nebraska 12-yard line. Following three conservative run plays, including an 8-yard carry on first down, Miami kicked the game-winning field goal.
Last season, Wisconsin ran four plays, all of which were run plays, in the opening possession of the overtime period. Three of those rush attempts resulted in a successful play, including Badger running back Dare Ogunbowale’s 11-yard touchdown.
Wisconsin missed the extra-point attempt, giving Nebraska a chance to win the game in the first overtime.
The Huskers failed to pick up a first down, gaining just two yards on four plays. Again, Armstrong’s attempt toward the end zone came up a bit short and fell incomplete and the Badgers won the game.
We return to last Saturday’s game against Northwestern. The Wildcats began the overtime period with a 12-yard carry from Jeremy Larkin, setting up a first-and-10 from the Nebraska 13-yard line.
Back-to-back successful carries by Larkin and Justin Jackson put Northwestern in a prime position to score a touchdown with a first-and-goal from the two.
Nebraska’s defense prevented a score on the first three attempts by the Wildcats, but Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson punched through on fourth down.
Needing seven points to force a second overtime period, Nebraska failed to do so.
An incomplete pass on first down set up a second-and-long. A Northwestern sack pushed the Huskers back for a third-and-20, before an eight-yard gain set up a fourth-and-12.
Quarterback Tanner Lee’s pass was batted down, handing Nebraska its third straight loss in overtime games.
In total, the Huskers have gained positive yards on two of the nine overtime plays since 2015, picking up 11 yards. They’ve also had two plays result in negative yards, losing 11.
Together, that equals zero yards gained in overtime.
The Huskers’ opponents have accomplished their 16 points and 56 total yards gained on 14 rushing attempts and zero pass attempts.
Nebraska’s run-pass ratio in overtime is two rushes and seven passes. A likely reason for this ratio is that its shortest distance to go for a first down in overtime is 7 yards. The vast majority of its overtime plays have been passing situations.
Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf’s offense thrives on early down success, especially first down. In three first-down plays in overtime since 2015, Nebraska has an interception, 3-yard carry and an incomplete pass.
On the two second-down plays, it has a carry for a loss of 1 and a 10-yard sack.
This is not a recipe for success.
How do these three overtime games compare to the previous three under Bo Pelini?
Answer: Not well.
Nebraska went 2-1 in overtime games under Pelini. After falling to Texas Tech in 2008, the Huskers won their next two overtime games, defeating Iowa State in 2010 and Iowa in 2014. Pelini was however fired the day after that win in Iowa City.
Regardless, with the pressure on, the Huskers’ offense scored a winning touchdown in two of the three games. Having a 50 percent success rate helped their cause.
Although the Nebraska defense allowed a 50 percent success rate, it came up with big stops in each of the three games.
Against Texas Tech, the Huskers blocked the Red Raiders' extra-point attempt, giving the offense a chance to win the game with a touchdown and an extra point of its own.
The Blackshirts came through against Iowa State as well, intercepting the Cyclones' go-ahead two-point attempt.
Lastly, against Iowa, the Nebraska defense held the Hawkeyes to just a field goal, allowing the Huskers offense to score the game-winning touchdown.
It doesn’t take a magnifying glass to realize that Nebraska hasn’t been successful in overtime under Riley, but a closer look shows just how bad those extra periods have actually been.