Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nebraska's Fourth Quarter Struggles Continue in Northwestern Upset

Six hours later, I'm at a loss for words to really explain how Nebraska lost to Northwestern. More than one person has compared this to Iowa State's 19-10 upset of Nebraska in 1992. Both Tom Shatel and my old buddy AJ compared Northwestern's Clayton Thorson to Marv Seiler today, and that's saying something.
Granted, this Northwestern team is about 100 times better than that Iowa State squad, but even so, this game shouldn't have been this close.  And frankly, in that first half, except for one play, it wasn't that close. Just before halftime, I took this picture of the stats board on top of North Stadium:
And that's including a 68 yard run by Thorson...which means that Northwestern's offense was pretty much in neutral the whole first half. Yet Nebraska trailed because (a) Nebraska couldn't sustain any drive and (b) the defense gave up two big first half scrambles by Thorson.

Nebraska's offensive inconsistency started with playcalling:  nine rushes and 14 passes called. Last week, Mike Riley praised the 60/40 run/pass split as being optimal, but this week, Nebraska didn't even try to build off of what worked last week. Argue all you want about how Nebraska couldn't run the ball effectively, but don't forget the point that Nebraska never tried it in the first place.

Does Nebraska have issues on the offensive line? Clearly so.  Some want to point fingers at the previous staff, and they may have a point. But here's my question: what's this staff doing about it? With offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh's refusal to substitute, we don't really know that there aren't other bodies available on the offensive line who could help. We do know that he converted Givens Price from being a part-time starter last season to being a backup defensive tackle who doesn't play this season.

I'm not going to bury the defense much this week, though linebacker play was really shoddy late in the game when Northwestern took the lead. But I didn't expect Northwestern's offense to challenge Nebraska much, and they didn't most of the afternoon. Problem is, Nebraska's misplays on offense kept Northwestern not just in the game but actually in the lead, despite the clear lead on the stat sheets.  And when you let an inferior team hang around with you as long as Nebraska let Northwestern hang around, eventually something bad is going to happen.

And something bad did happen.  Can someone explain to me why Tommy Armstrong threw 48 passes today?  Can someone explain what Nebraska's kickoff strategy is with Jordan Stevenson? And when you've won the time of possession battle in the third quarter, how do you explain another fourth quarter meltdown?

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