That was the most Big Ten game of all Big Ten games to ever Big Ten, which is impressive, considering it came immediately on the heels of Michigan and Iowa Big Tenning their way to a Big Tensy 10-3 final score.
I mean, the first two drives of the game for both teams included a delay of game, a false start, an illegal shift, a 27-yard punt, another punt from midfield and two three-and-outs. So six plays. Three penalties in six plays. At one point in the first half, Northwestern took a delay of game from Nebraska’s 42-yard-line in order to punt from the 47.
But someone had to win. And even if the offensive showing was still a lot of meh, Nebraska should feel at least somewhat good about a 13-10 win as it moves to 4-2 on the season and 2-1 in conference play. It’s got one week left before a much-needed bye week, a trip to Minnesota to play the 5-0 Gophers (2-0 in league play).
But first, here are three thoughts from Saturday’s game.
The Walk-On with the Walk-Off
Nebraska hasn’t had Barret Pickering, its only scholarship kicker, all year.
Isaac Armstrong, the team’s punter, wasn’t the answer.
Dylan Jorgensen, the backup walk-on placekicker, got hurt, too.
So the Huskers turned to another walk-on, a guy who was on the team to play safety.
Lane McCallum was 8-for-9 entering the day on extra points, but he’d missed his only field goal try.
He hit his first one Saturday, from 35 yards out, to put Nebraska up 10-0.
And he hit his last one, from 24 yards out, to give the Huskers a 13-10 win as time expired.
A walk-off. More like a run-off. McCallum took off toward the other end of the field, was mobbed by his teammates as the sideline emptied and then damn near carried off. There’s good and bad to get to in a minute, but what a moment for McCallum.
Maybe Scott Frost found a recipient for that last scholarship.
Stop Complaining About the Blackshirts
It’s a good thing the Blackshirts are good. Because the offense sorely needs them to be.
For the fourth time in six games, Nebraska’s defense held its opponent under 150 yards of total offense in the first half. And for the fourth time in six games, the Blackshirts held an opponent under 5 yards per play for the game.
I saw sentiment before and during Saturday’s game that defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and his group needed to step up their play. Why? Compared to Nebraska’s offense, this unit is the backbone of the team right now. Nebraska’s defense kept it in relative control of the football game all afternoon.
Northwestern had the ball for 30 minutes and broke the Nebraska 40-yard-line just four times. The defense flies to the football. It plays the way you want a defense to play. And it gave up 10 points.
That’s an unrivaled win by defensive standards in today’s day and age. Northwestern’s quarterback, Aiden Smith, is probably the worst of the six throwers Nebraska has seen this season, but when you have absolutely no margin for error and you consistently come up big when you’re needed, you’re doing something right.
Nebraska’s defense so far has broken against Colorado in a second half at altitude where the offense did it no favors, and against Ohio State, a team everyone is being broken by, when the offense again did it no favors. Turnovers will kill you.
But, hey, Nebraska didn’t turn the ball over, which means the defense was never put in sudden-change situations. The prevailing thought with these two turnover-prone outfits was that the first group to turn it over would lose it.
Nebraska’s defense took it.
That’s senior corner Lamar Jackson, with a minute to play, ending a Northwestern march at midfield and setting up the game-winning field goal. That was the only turnover of the afternoon. It belonged to the Blackshirts
Now for the Bad
A win is a win. But Nebraska needed a field goal at the end of regulation to beat one of the most offensively-challenged teams in FBS football. With stiffer competition on the horizon, we have reached a point in the season — the midway point — where enough is enough.
Head coach Scott Frost has to severely hamstring his play sheet because he’s not comfortable dialing up anything with a slighly-above-average degree of risk.
Because receivers aren’t getting open.
Because the offensive line isn’t consistently protecting.
Because the center can’t snap the football where it needs to go.
Because the quarterback misses.
Because one running back has to break three tackles just to get back to the line of scrimmage if he runs between the tackles and the other running back won’t run between the tackles at all.
Nine of Nebraska’s 14 drives on offense were over after four plays or less. There are flashes of something special here and there, but most of those occur when freshman Wan’Dale Robinson touches the football, and he’s not built to be an every-down kind of player yet.
It’s time for some new faces.
The snapping problem is past the point of being a side-story to work through. Redshirt freshman center Cameron Jurgens might have all the potential in the world, but he is in his head right now and the snaps are all over the place. It needs to be fixed fast because an offense this reliant on post-snap reads and timing cannot constantly be plucking the football out of the air. Quarterback Adrian Martinez didn’t make the kind of crippling mistakes he made a week ago against Ohio State, but he was rarely given an opportunity to make a winning play. If Will Farniok is the lesser blocker, does it matter much at this point if he can snap the ball on the money?
If the guys running routes cannot provide an impact in the passing game, why can freshman Darien Chase or senior Jaron Woodyard not get a chance? When junior wideout JD Spielman left the game in the third quarter with an unknown injury, Nebraska’s passing game all but dried up. Jack Stoll and Austin Allen make plays when they’re given a chance, they’re just not given a chance.
Nothing is going right at the moment, which means the personnel needs to change. Adrian Martinez is still the answer at quarterback, as long as he’s healthy, but he desperately needs some help from anyone who can offer it.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.