EVANSTON, Ill. — Nebraska could not hang on to a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost its 10th straight game in a 34-31 heartbreaker at Northwestern.
A three-yard touchdown run by Maurice Washington gave Nebraska a 28-14 lead with 13:40 left in the fourth quarter. Northwestern had a chance to tie it later, but a pick by safety Tre Neal gave the ball back to the Huskers, who extended the lead to 31-21 with a field goal by Barret Pickering.
Northwestern converted two fourth-and-10s in the final minutes, and drove all the way to the 4-yard-line. A sack by Nebraska defensive end Luke Gifford pushed the Wildcats back to the 13. Northwestern elected to kick a 31-yard field goal, which cut the lead to 31-24 with 2:27 left in the game.
A failed onside kick gave Nebraska the ball near midfield. But three run plays went for just three yards. Walk-on punter Isaac Armstrong pinned Northwestern at the 1-yard line, but on first down, Carlos Davis was flagged for roughing the passer.
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorston drove the Wildcats down to the 5-yard line. On second-and-goal with 17 seconds left, Thorson found JJ Jefferson, who dove into the end zone to tie the game up at 31.
That sent the game into overtime.
Nebraska got the ball first. The Huskers got to third-and-1, but a false start pushed it back to third-and-6. Spielman was held just short of the line of gain, forcing a 4th-and-1.
A bad snap sent Martinez scrambling, and a heave toward the end zone was picked off.
The Wildcats took over and knocked in a 37-yard field goal for the win.
Nebraska falls to 0-6 on the year, its worst start in school history.
Martinez finished the game with 251 passing yards. Devine Ozigbo had 159 rushing yards. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson finished with 455 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Nebraska struck first just 88 seconds into the game on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to JD Spielman. The Huskers took a 7-0 lead into the second quarter, their first lead after the opening 15 minutes this season.
Northwestern then scored 14 straight points. Thorson found Flynn Nagel for a 21-yard score, and later, Northwestern took the lead on a scoop and score by Northwestern defensive lineman Earnest Brown. On third-and-10, Northwestern linebacker Trae Williams bolted into the backfield unblocked and clobbered Martinez, forcing a fumble, which Brown picked up scored from 10 yards out, giving the Wildcats a 14-7 lead.
Nebraska saved some face with an an eight-play, 83-yard touchdown drive late in the second. Martinez completed two passes to Mike Williams to get across the 50 and a 12-yard run from Ozigbo with less than a minute remaining pulled it to 14-13.
A missed extra point by Pickering kept the score there.
Nebraska started the second half with its fifth takeaway of the season. Safety Antonio Reed picked off a lazy, deep Thorson pass and came down with it at the 3. A third-and-9 12-yard run by Martinez kept the Husker drive alive, and a 26-yard pass to Stanley Morgan on the next play picked up the Nebraska tempo. Ozigbo finished off the drive at the one, scoring in front of about 2,000 Husker fans clad in red in the south end zone. Pickering made the extra point this time and took a 20-14 lead.
Nebraska forced Northwestern to a three-and-out and drove into Wildcat territory, but a Martinez pass to Jaron Woodyard was picked off by JR Pace in the end zone.
On third-and-10, Nebraska had six guys near Thorson, who slipped around in the pocket and found Nagel for 14 yards, which extended the drive. A third-and-10 stop by Nebraska forced a 42-yard field goal by Drew Luckenbaugh, which he junked and missed wide left.
A “Go Big Red” chant spread throughout the crowd as Nebraska entered the fourth quarter up 20-14.
Ozigbo took over in the fourth, breaking off runs of 37 and 21 on Nebraska’s next drive. Nebraska took its first two score lead of the season on a 3-yard touchdown run by true freshman Maurice Washington. Martinez dove into the end zone for the two-point conversion to make it 28-14 with 13:40 left in the game.
But it was far from over.
Players feel the pain after loss, but they say Scott Frost hurts more
EVANSTON, Ill. — Scott Frost told reporters that the avalanche of losses are wearing on him. Players agree that as tough as 0-6 is for them, it’s tougher on their coach.
“I think this one he’s taking harder than any other because he felt like we should have won as a team,” senior safety Antonio Reed said. “Like we should have played better and made more plays as a team and that’s something we didn’t do. So it’s something we have to come out and do next week.”
Ben Stille, an Ashland-Greenwood graduate and sophomore defensive lineman, said he wears Nebraska’s struggles as hard as anyone, with maybe the exception of the former title-winning quarterback.
“Definitely he feels it as much as all of us, if not more,” Stille said. “He pours everything he’s got into this and we’re just going to keep working for him to get better. And we’re going to get it done.”
Ex-NFL QBs take in game
On Saturday, Trent Green and Kurt Warner were fans.
Donning a purple long-sleeve shirt with a black vest was Green, an NFL analyst with CBS. In red was Warner, now with the NFL Network.
“Just a couple of dads supporting their sons,” Green tweeted before the game.
Warner’s son Kade — a Nebraska redshirt freshman from Scottsdale, Arizona — caught a pair of passes for 11 yards. Green’s son, TJ, a junior from Leawood, Kansas, didn’t get in as a backup quarterback for Northwestern.
Their fathers both enjoyed long NFL careers as quarterbacks and are forever linked by a series of events in 1999 while both were with the St. Louis Rams. Green was set to take over the starting job but suffered an injury in a preseason game. That cleared the way for Warner, who earned MVP honors en route to a Super Bowl title.
Loss is ‘depressing’
One day this will be over. One day the locker room will be happy postgame and Mike Williams won’t have to talk about missed opportunities and miscues.
Just not today.
“I thought we did enough to win that game,” the transfer receiver said.
Williams had three catches for 41 yards Saturday. But he called the loss to Northwestern “depressing.” Nebraska went up 14 and 10 but couldn’t hold off the Wildcats.
“Yeah it was definitely frustrating,” Williams said. “Like I said, we felt like we did enough to win this game and down the stretch things didn’t go our way.”
Williams said he felt like the offense took its foot off the gas after they got a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Once Nebraska wins a game, he said, then he thinks a few more will come with it.
The only thing left to do, he said, is hit it hard again Monday. Maybe next Saturday, this 10-game losing streak will end.
“It’s definitely going to end some day. It wasn’t today. Hopefully it’s next week,” Williams said. “We’ll see.”
Neal pick led to 3
Nebraska led 28-21 and faced a fourth-and-inches at its own 43-yard line when Frost, against his usual aggressive style, made a kicking motion with his leg.
He called for a punt, and Isaac Armstrong delivered with a 49-yard boot down to the Northwestern 8-yard line. On the Wildcats’ ensuing drive, Tre Neal grabbed an interception, setting up NU’s field goal drive.
“I didn’t want to give them the ball at the 40,” Frost said. “If we’d have gone for it and not got it, you would have asked me the other question. We punted it.”
Vedral granted waiver
Frost said he was “glad” quarterback Noah Vedral was granted a waiver by the NCAA for immediate eligibility late this week. Vedral, who transferred to Nebraska from Central Florida, was supposed to sit out this season due to NCAA rules but the Huskers began pursuing options for him to play right away early in the season.
Vedral found out the waiver was approved Friday. He replaced true freshman walk-on Matt Masker on the travel roster. So long as he doesn’t play in more than four games this season, he’ll retain his redshirt year.
“We wish it would have happened earlier in the year,” Frost said. He said he’d figure out later whether the Wahoo Neumann product is the No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback.
Cross off three more Nebraska true freshmen from consideration for a redshirt season this fall.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez, running back Maurice Washington and corner Cam Taylor each played in their fifth game, officially ending any chance to save this campaign from counting against them under the new NCAA eligibility rule.
Pickering and outside linebacker Caleb Tannor passed the threshold last week and appeared in their sixth contest Saturday. The only other true freshman with more than one game played is defensive back CJ Smith, who logged his second on Saturday but left with an apparent leg injury.
Other true freshmen who have been in single games are offensive lineman/tight end Cam Jurgens, receiver Andre Hunt and corner Braxton Clark. Frost said coaches plan to insert more youngsters into games later this season when they are ready.