Football: Wildcats defense has no answers for Nebraska

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Football: Wildcats defense has no answers for Nebraska

Trae Williams tackles Nebraska receiver Alonzo Moore moments after he caught a 59-yard pass. Northwestern gave up 556 yards of total offense Saturday.

Trae Williams tackles Nebraska receiver Alonzo Moore moments after he caught a 59-yard pass. Northwestern gave up 556 yards of total offense Saturday.

Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Trae Williams tackles Nebraska receiver Alonzo Moore moments after he caught a 59-yard pass. Northwestern gave up 556 yards of total offense Saturday.

Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Trae Williams tackles Nebraska receiver Alonzo Moore moments after he caught a 59-yard pass. Northwestern gave up 556 yards of total offense Saturday.

Tim Balk, Managing Editor

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Northwestern’s defense couldn’t stop Nebraska Saturday night.

The Wildcats (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten) surrendered 556 yards to the Cornhuskers (4-0, 1-0) in their Big Ten opener, and though the Cornhuskers scored just 24 points — a number limited by a pair of fumbles at the goal-line — the yardage total was the most NU has given up since Sept. 1, 2012.

More yards than the Cats allowed when Wisconsin waxed them to the tune of a 35-6 final in 2013. More yards than when Illinois ran roughshod over NU in the 2014 finale, a 47-33 Illini victory. And more yards than when Iowa roughed up the Cats in a 40-10 Hawkeyes win at Ryan Field last October, spoiling homecoming.

Everything Nebraska did offensively seemed to work. At the end of a long night at Ryan Field, coach Pat Fitzgerald was left searching for answers.

“We’ve got to take a hard look at what we’re doing,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t think there were a whole lot of plays that we couldn’t have stopped. It just didn’t look like we executed.”

NU failed repeatedly to stop Tommy Armstrong Jr., Nebraska’s senior quarterback, who threw for 246 yards and added 132 on the ground.

In total, Nebraska piled up a season-high 310 yards rushing as the Wildcats struggled to stop Nebraska’s zone-read option plays.

“It’s mind-boggling to me,” Fitzgerald said. “We did it right all week in practice.”

A recurring theme for the Wildcats’ defense this year has been an inability to stay off the field. Western Michigan held possession for more than 39 minutes against NU, and Illinois State’s offense spent more than 34 minutes on the field against the Cats. Against Nebraska, it was a similar story. The Cornhuskers ran 76 plays and held the ball for more than 35 minutes.

“We’re not getting off the field on third down,” Fitzgerald said after his team allowed Nebraska to complete eight-of-15 third and fourth down conversions.

But Nebraska was successful on first and second downs too. Nebraska’s first touchdown drive was just two plays, sparked by a 59-yard pass from Armstrong, and while its third and final touchdown drive lasted nine plays, the Cornhuskers didn’t face a single third down on the 79-yard march to the end zone.

After hanging its hat on its defense last year, NU must now respond to its worst defensive performance in over four years.

In spite of the disappointing performance, junior safety Godwin Igwebuike still thinks the Cats can regroup.

“We have a lot of talent on this defense,” Igwebuike said. “I still believe in this defense.”

Email: timothybalk2018@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @TimBalk

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