Maybe that “who is the real NU” thing means more to Northwestern University than it does to Nebraska.
The exclusive little private school from Evanston, Ill., brought very little football tradition into Lincoln and had its best player on the sidelines more than half of the game, but it came out and kicked the Cornhuskers at the line of scrimmage, as slowly, agonizingly, Nebraska gave away its advantage in the Big Ten Legends Division.
Chancellor Harvey Perlman gave his faculty and students a pep talk earlier this year about becoming more competitive in the classroom. Maybe he should have been in the locker room before this game. The academic powerhouse grabbed the initiative on the football field Saturday and never let go, grabbing a 14-3 lead early in the third quarter and making it stand up for a 28-25 upset win.
The Wildcats came in with one of the worst defenses in the nation, but stuffed Rex Burkhead and the Husker running game. I never thought I’d see Northwestern nearly double up Nebraska in rushing yardage, but that’s what happened.
Nebraska’s offense, defense and special teams all made critical mistakes and Northwestern simply outplayed the Huskers in front of a stunned crowd. Burkhead made a killing fumble inside the Northwestern 5-yard line and Quincy Enunwa coughed up the ball to the Wildcats again just minutes later. The Husker secondary blew multiple pass coverages after looking like world-beaters against Michigan State just one week earlier. The kickoff coverage team continues to be inconsistent.
A Northwestern team well known for its propensity to collapse in the second half instead got stronger after quarterback Dan Persa was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Nebraska, which once had the best home field advantage in college football, now has gone 10 consecutive seasons without sweeping its home schedule. Under Bo Pelini, the Huskers have played almost as well on the road, going 22-6 at home and 12-5 in true road games since 2008.
“Maybe they wanted it a little more than we did,” Pelini said. “This was a team loss; everybody contributed to it.”
Taylor Martinez was one of the few Huskers who stood tall. He got very little help from anyone else on Tim Beck’s offensive unit. His offensive line, which until this day had seemed to be steadily gaining momentum, simply didn’t do the job. Meanwhile, the defensive line, with Chase Rome out with a pulled muscle, got physically beaten up.
Why Nebraska rose to the challenge at the line of scrimmage against a more talented Michigan State team, but not against Northwestern is one of the mysteries of college football.
Despite having four passes dropped, the sophomore quarterback completed 28 of 37 passes for 289 yards and ran for 53 more. Trailing 21-10 in the fourth quarter, he drove Nebraska downfield, completing six of eight passes to set up Burkhead’s 1-yard touchdown run, then ran for a two-point conversion to pull the Huskers within three points at the 8:55 mark.
But with all the momentum on their side, the Blackshirts crumbled. Led by backup freshman quarterback Kain Colter, Northwestern responded by running the ball 14, 11 and 14 yards on three successive zone read plays, and more or less shoved the ball down the respective throats of the Blackshirts, driving 66 yards on 13 rushing plays, bleeding more than seven minutes off the clock, forcing Martinez to watch from the sideline and extinguishing Nebraska’s chances.
For his part, Pelini handled his postgame interviews with class in a tough situation. He gave Northwestern a lot of well-deserved credit and shot straight from the hip.
In his postgame radio show, he was direct and to the point, especially when asked about his offensive line play.
“I thought that was a matchup we needed to win,” Pelini said, “and it didn’t happen.”
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org