Football: NU’s bend-don’t-break mentality works again in win over Nebraska


Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer)

Brandon Joseph intercepts the ball in the endzone. The redshirt freshman safety has three interceptions in the last two games.

Andrew Golden, Gameday Editor


Senior safety J.R. Pace stared at the referees in disbelief. Teammates threw their hands up in the air in shock. An irate Pat Fitzgerald screamed at the officials from the sideline.

On a third-and-goal from the six-yard line late in the fourth quarter, Pace was called for pass interference in the end zone to set Nebraska up with a fresh set of downs from the two-yard line down by eight points.

Northwestern’s streak of not allowing a point in the second half of this season was in jeopardy.

But two plays later, senior linebacker Chris Bergin picked off Nebraska quarterback Luke McCaffrey on a tipped throw.

As has been the theme for the Wildcats defense all season, the unit as a whole found a way to make the necessary plays when it mattered the most. And this was evident once again in the second half.

The Cornhuskers had one final chance to win the ballgame at the very end. McCaffrey drove the team down to NU’s 14-yard line with seven seconds left, but NU forced a fourth-down incompletion to cap off the victory.

“Penalties are a part of the game of football and we don’t think too much about it,” Bergin said. “It’s no different than a big play and we just respond. If we were to just sit there and think about it, we would’ve given up a lot more points.”

Apparently, if the Cats’ opponents don’t have a lead by halftime, they don’t stand a chance at winning this season. But Nebraska went into the locker room after thirty minutes with all of the momentum and a six-point lead.

NU struggled to stop junior quarterback Adrian Martinez early on and the Cornhuskers followed his lead. Nebraska finished the first half with 226 total yards compared to the Cats’ 134.

Martinez led the way on the ground, racking up 41 of his team’s 114 rushing yards. Nebraska finished with 4.6 yards per carry in the first half. Even in the second half, the team struggled to contain McCaffrey’s legs when Nebraska turned to him late in the third quarter.

“We let them get loose a few times out of the pocket and it creates another threat on the ground,” Bergin said. “We could play a lot better in that aspect. We let Martinez and McCaffrey get loose way too many times.”

Brandon Joseph ended Martinez’s day with an interception on Nebraska’s second drive of the second half, and Frost changed quarterbacks citing that the team needed a spark offensively and he wanted to get McCaffrey extra touches. Joseph, who won the starting safety job after Travis Whillock opted out, now has three interceptions in the last two games.

The Cats’ defense wasn’t stellar in the second half, but didn’t let the Cornhuskers garner any momentum. Nebraska had five possessions in the second half: two of them didn’t reach NU’s side of the field, two ended in turnovers and the final possession ended in a turnover on downs to seal the ballgame.

The Cats have forced nine turnovers so far this season as a team, a marked improvement from last season when they collected a dismal 14 in a 12-game season. NU also finished the game with nine pass breakups and eight tackles for loss.

It still wasn’t a perfect day for the defense — it gave up an average of five yards per play, only had one sack and had four penalties in the secondary in the second half.

But what matters is that the defense responded to adversity. And that’s a main reason why the number of losses it has so far matches the number of points it’s given up in the second half of their three games — zero.

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you, 90 percent what you do about it,” Fitzgerald said. “Things are going to happen and you have to respond to it. I honestly think we gotta be better at it… but I thought our guys were awesome on the field. I thought they had a great look in their eye. I thought they had great confidence.”

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