Football: Nebraska drops Wildcats in Big Ten opener

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Football: Nebraska drops Wildcats in Big Ten opener

Jared McGee (left) attempts to tackle opposing quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. The Nebraska signal caller ran for a career-high 132 yards.

Jared McGee (left) attempts to tackle opposing quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. The Nebraska signal caller ran for a career-high 132 yards.

Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Jared McGee (left) attempts to tackle opposing quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. The Nebraska signal caller ran for a career-high 132 yards.

Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Jacob Swan/Daily Senior Staffer

Jared McGee (left) attempts to tackle opposing quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. The Nebraska signal caller ran for a career-high 132 yards.

Ben Pope, Reporter

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When Northwestern twice benefited from first-half Nebraska fumbles at the one-yard line, the good fortune at Ryan Field seemed like it might align just right for an upset victory.

“The stars were lining up — you kind of feel like this is going to be our night,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

But the No. 20 Cornhuskers eventually solved their red zone woes, quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. found his rhythm and Nebraska rolled to 556 yards of total offense en route to a 24-13 victory over the Wildcats Saturday night.

After leading 10-7 at halftime, Nebraska (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) opened the second half with back-to-back 80- and 79-yard drives — sandwiching a response touchdown by the Wildcats (1-3, 0-1) — to take command of the game.

“I’m really disappointed because I thought the plan at the outset was one that could give us an opportunity to win,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got to take a hard look at what we’re doing, we’ve got to take a hard look at who we’re doing it with, and we’ve got to eliminate those self-inflicted wounds.”

Armstrong took advantage of inexperienced NU corners Montre Hartage and Trae Williams, completing 18-of-29 passes for 246 yards. His longest pass of the night, a 59-yard bomb to Alonzo Moore, set-up a go-ahead touchdown late in the second quarter.

On the ground, however, was where the Cats’ defense struggled most, surrendering the most rushing yards since Indiana racked up 319 against NU in 2011.

A foursome of rushers, including Armstrong himself, gashed the hosts for 310 yards and two touchdowns. It could have easily been four scores if not for Nebraska running back Terrell Newby losing the ball on a dive for the endzone in the opening minutes of the game and NU junior safety Godwin Igwebuike stripping Devine Ozigbo on another goal-line run in the second quarter.

The Cats’ offense showed more signs of life, as the connection between sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson and senior wide receiver Austin Carr continued its newfound success. Eight of Thorson’s 24 completions and 109 of NU’s 249 passing yards came via the sure hands of Carr, who snared an over-the-head throw for a 24-yard touchdown in the third quarter that briefly cut the lead to 17-13.

That relative effectiveness in the passing game opened up some holes on the ground for junior running back Justin Jackson (97 total yards) and Thorson, who gave the Cats a 7-3 lead in the second quarter with a 42-yard touchdown dash.

“I just saw a lane, (center) Brad North had a nice cut-block, and there was no one there,” Thorson said.

The explosive play quieted a large contingent of red-clad fans inside Ryan Field and sent a mostly-full student section into exuberant chaos. The home-field advantage proved short-lived, though — much like NU’s early signs of good fortune.

The luck and miscues balanced out as the game progressed. Kicker Jack Mitchell missed a 27-yard field goal and an extra point, opening up what Fitzgerald said will be a competition between Mitchell and backup Matt Micucci in practice this week. Thorson threw a costly interception into double-coverage at the goal line in the third quarter, and linebacker Anthony Walker dropped an easy interception and almost-certain touchdown with less than 12 minutes to play.

By the time Armstrong took a knee to close out Nebraska’s victory, only opposing fans populated the Ryan Field stands — a sight the Cats will have to get used to as road dates at Iowa and Michigan State loom.

“Looking at our three losses, we’re tired of being close,” Carr said. “Offensively, we need to finish (drives). Defensively, we need to put a whole game together. I’m telling the guys that we have to come together stronger: we can’t let this break us, we can’t let these losses ruin our whole season.”

Email: benjaminpope2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BenPope111

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