Football: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska run away from Northwestern in second half


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior receiver Miles Shuler can’t hold on to a pass in the end zone. Shuler and the Wildcats were held scoreless in the second half, falling to NEbraska 38-17.

Rohan Nadkarni, Reporter


The only thing in common between Saturday’s Nebraska-Northwestern matchup and last year’s was the chant of “Go Big Red” at the end of the game.

The Wildcats (3-4, 2-2 Big Ten) fell to the No. 19 Cornhuskers 38-17 in front of a sold-out homecoming crowd Saturday night. Last year, the Cornhuskers needed a last-second Hail Mary to clinch a victory. This season, it was no fluke. NU was just beaten by a better team.

The Cats’ defense wore down in the second half. Special teams left a lot to be desired. And NU’s offense continued to struggle producing any big plays. Add it up, and NU hardly looked to be the Big Ten contender it seemed to be two weeks into conference play.

The second half was when the cracks in the Cats’ armor turned into gaping holes. Nursing a 17-14 lead at halftime, NU allowed the Cornhuskers (6-1, 2-1) to score the game’s next 21 points. The defense, stout in the first half, allowed Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah to run wild in the final 30 minutes. After only nine carries for 39 yards in the first half, Abdullah finished with 23 carries for 146 yards and four touchdowns.

“He’s a great player. He’s a big-time player,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said of Abdullah. “He’s a senior, right? That’s great. I’m going to send him a present for his graduation.”

The Cornhuskers’ offense kept the Cats’ defense on the field by converting third down after third down. NU’s offense seemingly couldn’t move past an invisible wall at midfield in the second half, spending most of it backed up in its own territory. Another rough outing for junior punter Chris Gradone made it nearly impossible for the Cats to flip field position.

Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian was the primary culprit for his unit’s struggles. His pocket presence was lacking, and his inability to deal with the Nebraska blitz killed many drives. In the first half, with NU leading 7-0, Siemian threw an egregious interception into triple coverage, and the Cornhuskers responded with a touchdown. It was the first obvious mistake in an offensive effort that left plays and points on the field before completely shutting down in the second half.

“I think they loaded up the box. We had to throw to win,” Fitzgerald said of what changed in the second half. “It looked like we had some one-on-one losses up front. We have to sustain drives. Our defense plays great, but they play even better when our offense sustains drives.”

Fitzgerald noted that Siemian’s ankle injury, which he suffered in week two against Northern Illinois, is still a factor in the junior’s performance. According to Fitzgerald, Siemian is still not close to being 100 percent healthy.

The poor showing wasted another sterling performance from freshman running back Justin Jackson. Jackson finished with 22 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns, his third straight game with more than 100 yards rushing.

“I just go out there and play hard,” Jackson said. “But this week we didn’t play well enough.”

NU started positively, leading 7-0 after the first quarter. After Siemian’s interception, the team’s traded touchdowns until a field goal on the Cats’ final drive of the first half gave them the 17-14 lead. Abdullah got going after the intermission, capping off three Nebraska scoring drives with 1-yard touchdown runs. NU had four three-and-outs in their first five drives of the second half, sinking any hope of a response.

The game was a turnaround from the previous three meetings between the teams since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. Those games were decided by a combined seven points, and NU held a fourth-quarter lead even in the two it lost. The teams looked to be headed for another classic Saturday, but the Cornhuskers reminded the Cats of the gap between NU and the Big Ten’s elite.

“We didn’t show up the way we should have,” junior safety Traveon Henry said. “We just need to show up a little bit more. It’s on us to get the job done. We still have a lot of Big Ten games, our goals are still in check.”

Correction: in an earlier version of this story, quarterback Trevor Siemian’s year was misstated. Siemian is a senior. The Daily regrets the error.

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