Rapid Recap: Northwestern 21, Nebraska 13

Drew Schott, Assistant Sports Editor


Football


For the first time since 2000, Northwestern is 3-0 in Big Ten play. It wasn’t pretty, but the Wildcats did enough to pull out the victory at Ryan Field on Saturday.

Peyton Ramsey threw for 169 yards and two touchdowns — and added 28 on the ground — as the Wildcats defeated Nebraska 21-13 to stay undefeated in 2020.

On the Wildcats’ first possession of the game, they looked the opposite of their opponents early on: efficient. Peyton Ramsey found tight end John Raine — who did not have a catch in NU’s 21-20 win over Iowa — for 17 yards and then wide receiver Kyric McGowan.

The drive then became about running back Drake Anderson. Stepping in for Isaiah Bowser — who missed the game — Anderson took a counter to the right and dashed past the Cornhuskers’ defense for a 41-yard touchdown.

But the Cats’ offense struggled after the first drive, only gaining 54 yards in the rest of the first half. In the second quarter, Ramsey’s pass to wide receiver Riley Lees was underthrown and the ball bounced off the helmet of a Nebraska player and was intercepted by safety Myles Farmer.

Ramsey’s struggles continued. Following a Culp miss on the next possession, Ramsey threw another interception to Farmer, who picked an out route to Raine and almost scored. One play later, Mills took it in from three yards out to put the Cornhuskers up 13-7.

The story of the first half for the Cats defense was bending, but not breaking after the offense made mistakes. Nebraska had 226 yards in the first half, but, because of the defense, only had 13 points to show for it and went into the half with a 13-7 lead.

Ramsey flipped the script in the second half. On the opening possession, he accounted for 50 total yards and threw a two-yard touchdown to Raine to give NU a 14-13 lead.

With the lead in hand, the Cats’ defense continued their stout effort in the second half and stifled Nebraska’s chances to score. Brandon Joseph had a clutch interception of Adrian Martinez to keep the Cats’ lead at 1.

NU continued to maintain its one-point lead as Ramsey started to pick apart the Nebraska defense with completions of 21 yards to Hull and 12 to wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman. Fifteen minutes after taking the lead, he found Riley Lees — who spun out of a tackle and dove for the goal line — for a 10-yard touchdown to make the score 21-13.

But McCaffery soon led his squad into the redzone, aided by pass interference calls against Newsome and safety JR Pace. However, linebacker Chris Bergin stopped all Cornhusker momentum with an interception at the two-yard line.

Nebraska had one last chance to try and tie the game. McCaffery once again led his team into the red zone and had a chance to tie the game on fourth-and-four from the 14-yard line. But the pass was off-target, allowing the Cats’ defense to seal the victory.

Takeaways

1. Peyton Ramsey bounced back in the second half. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey was shut down by Nebraska’s pass defense in the second quarter. He threw two interceptions to one completion and constantly threw away the ball due to heavy pressure. However, he looked rejuvenated at the beginning of the third quarter. Ramsey looked poised on the touchdown drive, hitting tight windows and making off-balance throws. Later in the quarter, he threw a great 20-yard pass on the sideline to wide receiver Bryce Kirtz. Additionally, the Indiana transfer looked more confident on the ground, making a great 16-yard run in the third quarter. His touchdown throw to Lees and third-down pass to Chiaokhiao-Bowman showed his increased poise in the pocket, a necessary quality as the brunt of Northwestern’s Big Ten schedule kicks comes in the next few weeks.

2. The run game struggled without Isaiah Bowser. Isaiah Bowser has been Northwestern’s most consistent rusher this season, making bruising runs in between the tackles and getting crucial conversions in short-yardage situations. Yet with his absence today, the mantle was passed to Drake Anderson, who looked great on the first drive as he raced for a 41-yard touchdown. However, Nebraska started to cover the Wildcats’ outside runs better, stifling the dynamic Anderson and running back Evan Hull. Outside of Anderson converting a fourth-and-one on the first possession of the game, NU had no other halfbacks rush for a first down in the entire game. The Cats’ running backs only rushed for a combined 96 yards on the day, making Bowser’s return against Purdue — an important game in NU’s race for a Big Ten West title — all the more important.

3. Northwestern is still in the race for a Big Ten West title. Currently, there are three undefeated teams in the Big West: Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. The Badgers and the Boilermakers were supposed to face off this weekend, but the game was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak inside Wisconsin’s football program. As the Wildcats travel to West Lafayette next weekend for a nighttime clash, the division matchup has large implications for the hierarchy of the Big Ten West. This game is critically important for NU, especially since the Cats play the Badgers one week later.

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