Northwestern's much maligned defense came up golden today, and up front, they dominated the Husker offensive line, Especially the left side, where Andrew Rodriquez found himself benched in favor of Seung Hoon Choi in the second half, even as the Huskers had to abandon the largely ineffective ground game. Contrast that with the Northwestern offensive line, which regularly pushed the Blackshirts 3-4 yards downfield on nearly every snap. Except, for some reason, that second quarter, where it looked like the defense had finally adjusted to Northwestern's spread attack. Two three-and-outs, and an interception. The Husker defensive line seemed to have the upper hand, and Dan Persa was running around for his life.
So when third-string quarterback Trevor Siemian trotted out onto the field on Northwestern's opening possession of the third quarter, I thought Nebraska had this game in check. Nope: it was checkmate, as the Wildcats drove the ball deep downfield on every possession after halftime. Only a missed field goal and an interception by Austin Cassidy prevented the Huskers from getting taken to the woodshed in the second half.
Only two players seemed to show up this afternoon for Nebraska: Taylor Martinez and Brett Maher. Maher unveiled his own version of the rugby-punt against the wind with impressive results. But need I remind you that one of the surest signs of a bad game is when the punter is outplaying the rest of the team. Martinez critics will have to tip their cap to #3 for today's performance, though they'll probably point out that Northwestern's defense isn't very good. True, and the Wildcats were playing soft and trying to stop the run. But there's no denying that Martinez was on-target with his throws all day. Perhaps he heard the clip from ESPN's Rece Davis during last week's halftime show repeated over and over:
"I would not let No. 3 throw that ball…Ever!"
Update: A commenter pointed out that Baker Steinkuhler played a great game as well. Which he did in the first half, but in the second half, the defensive line got wore down. He does deserve kudos for his first half performance.
Let me make it clear that Northwestern outplayed Nebraska fair-and-square, but it didn't help the Huskers chances to salvage a victory by some horrible officiating. Ciante Evans looked like he made a great play on Jeremy Ebert, only to get flagged. I lost count on the number of holding penalties that weren't called. Yet the refs were paying enough attention to flag both teams for ineligible receivers downfield? Even Greg Burks probably thought this game was poorly officiated.
Fans probably should have had a uneasy feeling as the early games kicked off today. Minnesota leading Michigan State? Indiana leading Ohio State? Even Purdue made it interesting at the start against Wisconsin. But other than the Weasels, all of the favorites emerged today...except for the Huskers. The Huskers second loss puts them a game behind Michigan State in the Big Ten's West division, and with Sparty concluding the season with Indiana, Iowa, and Northwestern, the Spartans have the inside track to Indianapolis. But you never know what will happen, so fans have to have hope.
Hope. That's not what Husker fans were looking for this season going into November.