NUmbers Guy: Northwestern vs. Nebraska
WNUR’s Ari Ross (@aross50) breaks down how the ‘Cats performed in their homecoming game against Nebraska.
Northwestern played one great half of football, and one really bad half of football. On homecoming, Northwestern came out and took a 17-14 lead going into the half. They looked good, pumped up for the homecoming game in their gothic uniforms, with a full, cheering student section. But then they flopped in the second half. Nebraska came out in the second half and made adjustments and the plays needed to win the game, and the ‘Cats didn’t. It’s as simple as that. Northwestern couldn’t put together a complete, 60-minute game, and that’s what they needed to beat a ranked Nebraska team. With this loss, Northwestern’s Big Ten championship hopes fly out the window, and now the Wildcats need to win three of the last five just to make a bowl game. So let’s take a look at the stats behind Northwestern’s homecoming loss to Nebraska.
In the second half, Northwestern gained just 22 yards of offense. They went three and out on four of their six drives in the second half. There’s no other way to say it, the Wildcats’ offense flat out flopped in the second half, and it was a big reason behind their loss.
In the first half, the ‘Cats scored 17 points, gaining 250+ yards of offense. They looked good. Trevor Siemian led the ‘Cats on two long, 80+ yard scoring drives, and another for just over 50 yards to end the half. But in the second half, Northwestern recorded just three first downs, Siemian was under pressure just about every time he dropped back to throw, and Northwestern’s offense sputtered.
22 yards of offense in any half is never going to get it done. The ‘Cats longest play was a 23 yard catch by Treyvon Green. The ‘Cats offense wasn’t able to move the ball in large chunks against a good Huskers defense, and it cost them the game. Nebraska averaged 6.4 yards per play, while Northwestern averaged just 4.0. A poor offensive performance in the second half really did the ‘Cats in this week.
V41 vs. H19
Nebraska’s average starting field position was their own 41. Nebraska started their average drive nine yards from midfield, while Northwestern’s average starting field position was in their own red zone. With terrible starting field position and great starting field position for the Huskers, there’s no way the ‘Cats could have expected to win this game, no matter how great Northwestern’s defense played.
You cannot expect your defense to continually defend a short field, especially against Ameer Abdullah and the dynamic Nebraska offense. The defense just wasn’t able to hold up.
And the blame for this difference in field position has to fall both on the offense and Chris Gradone. Especially in the second half, Gradone was consistently kicking out of his own end zone or own red zone. The ‘Cats were consistently punting from inside their own 20. And with Gradone averaging just 36.9 yards per punt, Northwestern rarely pushed the Huskers past midfield. That’s just not going to do it against a ranked team.
1 vs. 0
Northwestern again lost the turnover battle at Ryan Field. In order to win this game, the Wildcats needed to force turnovers and not turn the ball over themselves. But neither was the case. Northwestern’s defense wasn’t able to get much pressure on Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. and didn’t force him to make many mistakes. While on the other hand, Trevor Siemian was under pressure all night, and threw a pick on a deep ball in the end zone, on a drive that had some promise.
Being the lesser team on paper, Northwestern needed to come out and force Nebraska to make mistakes to win, but they were unable to.
20:04 vs. 9:56
In the second half, Nebraska dominated Northwestern in time of possession. Nebraska’s offense was on the field for much of the second half, while Northwestern’s offense was on the field for just under 10 minutes of the half. A team cannot expect to win the game, when their defense is on the field for two thirds of the second half. With the ‘Cats offense unable to move the ball, Northwestern’s defense was left to the task of stopping the Husker’s offensive juggernaut.
But being on the field for 20+ minutes in the second half, the Wildcats’ defense tired and Nebraska was able to move the ball and score 24 unanswered points, going onto win this game. Northwestern cannot expect to win when they put their defense in a position like this.
The lone bright spot in the game again for the ‘Cats was freshman running back Justin Jackson. For the third consecutive game, Jackson rushed for over 100 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry Saturday against Nebraska. He also rushed for two touchdowns. Jackson has been arguably, the best offensive player on the ‘Cats this season. He leads all running backs with 630 rushing yards and leads the team with 732 all-purpose yards. Named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week last week, Jackson is competing with Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
This week Northwestern has a bye, and they’ll head to Iowa City on Halloween weekend to take on the Hawkeyes. With just five games left, one of them against highly ranked Notre Dame, Northwestern could use a win in Iowa to assure them of a bowl appearance. They’ll have to play like they did in the first half, and not the second half, if they want to go on the road to Kinnick Stadium and beat the Hawkeyes.