Football: Northwestern shuts Nebraska down in the second half, stays undefeated


(Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer)

Cam Ruiz and Chris Bergin make a tackle. Northwestern held Nebraska scoreless in the second half of its 21-13 win on Saturdyay.

Greg Svirnovskiy, Reporter


Northwestern’s defense led the way in a 21-13 win over Nebraska, which saw the cats extend a season-long second half shutout streak to four.

Dating back to last season’s Land of Lincoln victory over Illinois, the Wildcats have yet to allow a single point in the second half of games. This time, they got there with timely red zone interceptions and inspirational offensive playmaking — leaving the Huskers without any answers.

NU’s offense got off to a flier. Graduate quarterback Peyton Ramsey’s first play of the game was a chip shot to graduate tight end John Raine for an easy 17-yard pitch and catch. That got the Cats on their rhythm.

Six straight plays later, NU capitalized on its fast start with a 41-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Drake Anderson — the longest rushing score of his career.

Starting in place of the injured Isaiah Bowser, Anderson used his deceptiveness and speed — and timely blocking from senior lineman Nik Urban and Raine — to slip by an aggressive Nebraska defense.

But things unraveled as the half continued. Senior kicker Charlie Kuhbander missed a 42-yard field goal. Then Ramsey threw two interceptions. The first came when his throw to an open Riley Lees popped off the senior wide receiver’s helmet and up to Nebraska’s Myles Farmer.

It was a brilliant stroke of bad luck. The second wasn’t.

Ramsey’s poor throw fell straight into the arms of Farmer, who almost turned the play into a pick-six. The Wildcats took a 13-7 lead by way of a three-yard rushing score from Dedrick Mills on the ensuing play.

But Ramsey wasn’t rattled.

“The first one was a freak deal,” Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “If he puts one more yard on it, it’s an explosive play. It sure helps to have a veteran at that position. I think he’s been really good when things haven’t gone well coming to the boundary and I think he’s just tough as nails.”

Both teams were punished for mistakes. The Huskers’ penalties ended drives and pushed them back. For Ramsey and the Cats, it was about the interceptions — which directly contributed to ten Nebraska points.

“I just talked to the offense like, ‘You guys seem bored, you’ve been out there for like nine minutes, so it would be cool to get something going here,” Fitzgerald said.

They listened. Ramsey’s 16-yard scramble at the beginning of the third quarter helped take NU into the red zone. Raine capped off a five-minute drive with a two-yard touchdown haul from Ramsey — giving the Cats a one-point lead.

They extended that lead to eight points with ten minutes to play in the fourth quarter. That drive was all about Lees. His 33-yard punt return set the drive up in good field position. He finished it off with a 10-yard touchdown catch and put a defender in the spin cycle to put the Cats up 21-13.

“He was actually yelling at me before I threw the ball, clapping his hands out, telling me he was open,” Ramsey said. “He made a great play. Caught the ball, got vertical, reached out and got in the endzone. So it was good for us, a big momentum booster.”

The defense held on with two interceptions to end promising Cornhusker offensive drives. Redshirt freshman defensive back Brandon Joseph came up big late in the third quarter, intercepting Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez in the end zone.

Senior linebacker Chris Bergin’s takeaway all but ended the game with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Cornhuskers had capitalized on two questionable calls to the tune of a first and two shot at the Northwestern goal line. And then Nebraska backup quarterback Luke McCaffrey threw an ill-advised pass which bounced into Bergin’s waiting arms.

He and the rest of NU’s senior linebacker core of Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher all came up big in the win. The Cats moved to 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2000.

“That group of three with Gally and Bergy and Patty. It goes back to the way they prepare,” Fitzgerald said. “If it’s Nebraska or Iowa or Maryland or next week against Purdue, these guys are relentless. They will do everything in their power to film study. They practice the same way they play. I’ve gotta slow them down at times.”

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Twitter: @gsvirnovskiy