Rapid Reaction: Northwestern does just enough to beat Nebraska

Alex Putterman, Web Editor

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Northwestern beat Nebraska 30-28 in Lincoln on Saturday. Here’s the good and the bad from the key victory.

What went right: NU’s defense bent but didn’t break, allowing 26 points (Nebraska scored two points via an NU safety) but also making some key plays. Senior cornerback Nick VanHoose returned an interception 72 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and senior defensive end Dean Lowry had two sacks and six tackles for loss.

On offense, redshirt quarterback Clayton Thorson showed what he can do with his legs, carrying nine times for 126 yards, including two long runs that set up a touchdown and a field goal, respectively. Thorson also delivered an excellent throw to senior superback Dan Vitale for what ended up the game-winning touchdown in the fourth-quarter.

The Wildcats made just enough plays to walk out of Memorial Stadium with a win.

What went wrong: NU struggled offensively for much of the afternoon. For the third straight game, Thorson completed fewer that half of his passes and sophomore running back Justin Jackson rushed for less than 50 yards.

The defense was susceptible to big plays, allowing plenty of points and getting away with at least one should’ve-been touchdown when a Cornhuskers receiver dropped an open pass in the end zone.

Speaking of dropped passes in the end zone, NU senior Christian Jones failed to hold onto a ball he should’ve caught, which would have saved the Cats some drama.

Penalties hurt NU, especially on special teams, where two long returns were called back for holding.

What it means: First and foremost, the win means NU is bowl eligible for the first time since 2012. With six wins in the bank, the Cats can now fight to improve their standing without worrying about missing out on postseason play altogether.

Saturday’s performance also means maybe the sky wasn’t really falling when NU lost back-to-back blowouts the past two weeks. At the very least, it means the team we saw begin the season 5-0 isn’t gone forever.

Twitter: @AlexPutterman