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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: The Top Five Things We Saw Against Northwestern

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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By Erin Sorensen
“Maybe we overlooked Northwestern for Penn State.”
These brutally honest words were uttered by Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez following last Saturday’s 28-25 loss to Northwestern. For fans, the game was a shock. Just before kickoff, Nebraska controlled its Big Ten destiny.
With a tiebreaker over Michigan State, Indianapolis didn’t seem so far away. By 6:00 PM, things had changed in Memorial Stadium. Fans saw a very different team than the one seen against Michigan State. There were five main areas Husker fans needed to keep an eye on. What did they end up seeing?
1. Stopping Dan Persa, But Not Kain Colter
One of the most important things Nebraska’s defense needed to do on Saturday was stop Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa. While the Wildcats use the dual-quarterback approach, it was clear Persa was going to play most of the game as backup Kain Colter watched from the sidelines.
Things changed in the second quarter when Eric Martin delivered a big hit to Persa, injuring his left shoulder and removing him from the game. It was a very similar scenario to when Ohio State’s Braxton Miller was injured during Nebraska’s recent heroic victory over the Buckeyes.
However, while familiar, this scenario played out much differently. Colter, a good friend of Nebraska’s Kenny Bell, stepped in and ran like the wind. He proved to be too much for the Blackshirts’ front seven as Northwestern picked up chunks of yardage play after play. It wasn’t pretty and Nebraska showed once again that its defense is a weak link.
2. A Shaky Secondary (For Some)
It would be unfair to call the performance of Nebraska’s secondary last Saturday a big flop. In fact, most of the secondary played well.
The standout player was clearly Austin Cassidy, who intercepted a pass and ran it back for a huge momentum swing in the Huskers’ favor. It was a shining moment for a senior safety that has been battling adversity throughout the season.
However, the rest of the secondary overshadowed Cassidy’s big plays, and not in a positive way. Through the struggles, Stanley Jean-Baptiste was noticeably absent, while Lance Thorell continuously got scorched.
Even more surprising, Alfonzo Dennard played a little softer than usual. After such an emotional win against Michigan State, fans saw defensive backs that were clearly worn out. On a positive note, the heart and determination is still there.
3. Poor Clock Management
By the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, quarterback Taylor Martinez was poised to make another comeback. He was throwing perfect short passes that were resulting in big gains.
He then dug down deep and scored two fourth quarter touchdowns. If Martinez had more time left on the clock, he could have scored again, but time was a luxury that Nebraska did not have.
Northwestern managed the clock phenomenally well on Saturday. The Wildcats knew that the more time they used on offense, the tougher it would become for Nebraska to score.
With the way the Blackshirts were playing, it was far too easy for Northwestern to run down the clock. As for Nebraska, too much time was wasted. Whose shoulders does this massive error fall on? Unfortunately, this was an issue for the entire team, both offense and defense.

NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: The Top Five Things We Saw Against Northwestern

4. Continued Pressure on Rex Burkhead
I-Back Rex Burkhead had 15 carries by the end of the first half on Saturday. It was essentially a consensus among the Husker Locker crew's game day thoughts that Burkhead should only have had 15 carries by the end of the game.
However, it was immediately clear in the first quarter that the game plan mirrored the one against Michigan State: Give the ball to Burkhead.
While effective against the Spartans, this strategy was ineffective for a couple of reasons. The first being that Burkhead was still tired coming off a 35-carry game against Michigan State.
It was imperative that Burkhead received a week to rest. Nebraska has three true freshman running backs that easily could have stepped in and taken on more responsibility. All three would watch from the sidelines for the most part.
The second reason handing the ball to Burkhead was ineffective was due to the offensive line's struggles. With both offensive tackle Yoshi Hardrick and center Mike Caputo limited by injuries, the line often found itself allowing Northwestern big holes that forced Martinez to scramble or Burkhead to get hit.
There was no room for Nebraska’s stud I-Back to run, who even uncharacteristically fumbled the ball for the first time since the 2010 Holiday Bowl.
It was at this point that fans saw offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s stubbornness rear its ugly head once again. The game plan was ill-advised and Northwestern took full advantage. With a quarterback throwing a perfect game, the need to hand the ball to Burkhead was baffling.
Many still point to the fact that it is Beck’s first season as offensive coordinator, but fans will only buy that for so long. Beck needs to stick to what works and go with it. It may not always be what was envisioned originally, but Nebraska saw an offense that can adapt when given the opportunity last Saturday. It simply wasn’t.
5. An Active and Involved Crowd
Regardless of last Saturday’s outcome, Nebraska fans were loud and active throughout the game. Constant “Husker Power” chants filled the walls of Memorial Stadium and fans were often on their feet. It was a positive moment for those continuously criticized for not being involved enough.
The Big Ten is filled with stadiums full of tradition and fans that love their home-field advantage. While not quite on the same level as some, Nebraska fans are starting to find their footing.
With the help of “Take Back Gameday,” the Cornhusker faithful are taking steps in the right direction. Given the way the crowd reacted against Northwestern, it would be hard to believe Memorial Stadium won’t be rocking against Iowa.
However, a large criticism would be the amount of fans that chose to leave early based on the score. Those individuals missed an amazing touchdown pass from Martinez to Kenny Bell. It may not have given the Huskers a win, but it was a sight worth seeing. It is unfortunate so many missed it live.
Nebraska fans are now the biggest Iowa Hawkeye-backers for one week. With a Michigan State loss to Iowa, it could put the Cornhuskers back in the driver’s seat for a Legends division title.
While a challenge, it is far from impossible. If there is anything Nebraska fans have learned about the Big Ten so far, it is that there are no guarantees. Any given week, a new team could be at the top. Will Nebraska find its way back? As always, time will only tell.
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