Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Rapid Recap: Nebraska 17, Northwestern 9

Junior+running+back+Anthony+Tyus+III+breaks+away+for+a+39-yard+run.+He+led+the+%E2%80%98Cats+in+rushing+yards+on+Saturday.+
Angeli Mittal/The Daily Northwestern
Junior running back Anthony Tyus III breaks away for a 39-yard run. He led the ‘Cats in rushing yards on Saturday.

Following the bye week, Northwestern traveled to Lincoln to face Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.

With 86,769 fans in attendance, both teams looked to start the second half of the season on a high note and move above .500. And, early on, NU’s (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) chances looked promising with two early first quarter interceptions.

Yet, after strong defensive showings from both programs in the first half, the Cornhuskers’ (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) 10-6 lead held firm in the second half. Even with a final chance to snap its 13-away game losing streak entering the contest’s last three minutes, the ‘Cats couldn’t overcome Nebraska’s blistering defense, dropping the matchup 17-9.

Here are five takeaways from the ‘Cats one-possession loss to Nebraska.

TAKEAWAYS:

1. ‘Cats defense picks up the slack on early offensive struggles

There’s no better way of making a statement than on the first play of the game.

Enter sophomore defensive back Devin Turner.

On the first play of scrimmage, Turner intercepted Nebraska quarterback Heinrich Haarberg’s pass to give NU’s offense great field position. Senior defensive back Rod Heard II joined the party two drives later, intercepting Haarberg and setting the ‘Cats up at the Cornhuskers’ 13-yard line.

However, between both drives, NU came away with only three points. Nebraska’s defense didn’t give them an inch — literally or figuratively. After four first quarter drives, the ‘Cats finished with 12 total yards.

Although NU’s defense found success from the get-go, the offense’s inability to overcome the Cornhuskers’ defense in scoring opportunities proved to be huge as the contest continued.

2. Rushing attacks steal the spotlight in the first half

Nebraska’s rushing attack has been its bread and butter all season — it currently averages the second-most rush yards in the Big Ten. Additionally, Haarberg has lived up to the dual-threat quarterback title, leading the Cornhuskers in rush yards and quarterbacks in the conference with 352.

NU, on the other hand, has struggled to tote the rock, averaging only 103 rush yards per game — last in the conference.

Yet, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, both teams leaned heavily on their run games in the first half. While Nebraska’s ended with 105 rush yards in comparison to 24 pass yards, the ‘Cats racked up 86 rush yards to 10 pass yards. Junior rusher Anthony Tyus III led the way with 59 of the 86 yards.

Although running the ball is a common theme for Nebraska, NU’s ability to rely on their rushing attack consistently, especially on the scoring drive, was eye-opening.

3. NU’s offensive line continues to be problematic

Against tough defensive lines, a strong front seven or pressure, the ‘Cats offensive line hasn’t risen to the occasion consistently.

Once again, this was an issue on Saturday, as the Cornhuskers dominated the trenches battle. By the end of the contest, Nebraska finished with 11 tackles for loss. And for junior quarterback Brendan Sullivan and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, this meant less opportunities to use the entire playbook.

In down-to-the wire matchups that are separated by a touchdown or less entering the fourth quarter, every play and yard matters. But facing multiple setbacks that create second or third-long downs, the chances to overcome that become slimmer and slimmer.

This was prominent during the ‘Cats first drive of the fourth quarter, where Sullivan was sacked on 3rd and 8 to end the drive. Nebraska scored on the first play of the next drive.

4. A tale of two big fourth quarter plays lead to different results

Entering the fourth quarter, both offenses were searching for a spark. Neither team put a dent into the scoreboard in the third, sitting at 10-6 with Nebraska in front.

That all changed in the first few minutes of the fourth, as Haarberg found wide receiver Malachi Coleman yards past the closest NU defender for a 44-yard touchdown. The connection made up nearly half the Cornhuskers total receiving yards, giving Nebraska a two-possession lead.

Three plays later, though, Sullivan and senior wideout Bryce Kirtz nearly one-upped the big play with their own. The junior found Kirtz down the left sideline for a 66-yard reception to put the ‘Cats on the Cornhuskers’ nine-yard line.

However, Nebraska’s defense shut down NU’s momentous offense from there, forcing a three-and-out and field goal. Although the ‘Cats brought the game back within a possession, a touchdown would’ve made a comeback much more feasible.

5. NU’s chances for a Big Ten West title, bowl game chances lessen

Outside of striving toward its fourth win of the season, Saturday’s matchup meant a chance for the ‘Cats to solidify their place as a top three team in the Big Ten West, inching closer to bowl game hopes.

Yet, Saturday’s 17-9 loss moves NU down in the West division standings, losing its third-place tie, while keeping the team three wins away from the program’s first bowl game since 2020.

The ‘Cats still have five games left in their regular season schedule — four Big Ten West opponents — so there’s still time to achieve their goal. And although both sixth-year quarterback Ben Bryant and graduate defensive lineman Richie Hagarty didn’t suit up due to injuries, Saturday revealed where both the offense, defense and special teams were at seven games into the season.

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Twitter: @LPIII_TRES

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