LINCOLN, Neb. – Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson led two scoring drives in the fourth quarter to give the Wildcats an eight-point lead and Nebraska failed to pick up a two-point conversation late in the game, as the Huskers lost on Saturday, 30-28.
Nebraska (3-5, 1-3) has lost all five of their games by five points or less and had four quarter leads in all five games.
"Well, I told them we're going to coach football and practice football on Monday, and we're going to continue to work to get better,” said head coach Mike Riley. “Everybody that wants to do that will be there. I think that this group will be.
The Nebraska defense got off to a good start, forcing the Wildcats into three punts and a safety on Northwestern’s first five drives. It wasn’t enough for a Nebraska offense, which struggled to get into any rhythm during the game. After a Nebraska field goal to start the contest, the Huskers had four straight drives of punts and an interception before finding the end zone late in the second quarter.
“We came out of kind of slow,” said Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp. “Obviously our defense had some great stops early, and we weren’t able to capitalize on them.”
Down 30-22 with under five minutes left to play, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong found wide receiver Brandon Reilly for 37-yards on fourth-and-six to extend the Huskers drive. Armstrong would run it in for a touchdown a few plays later from 3-yards out.
On the two-point conversation, Nebraska drew up a play similar to the two-point conversion they had against Miami earlier in the year – this one wasn’t successful.
"Not quite, but close,” said Riley when asked if it was the same play? “It looked to me like a tipped pass, but we'll know more tomorrow.
"They moved into coverage, Tommy went to the backside. The guy got a hand in on the backside route. (Tommy) got through the progression, they covered the front side of it pretty well, we had a guy coming over the middle with the back clearing it, and the guy got a hand in there and knocked the ball away."
Facing the nation’s No. 11 passing defense, Nebraska couldn’t generate much in the ground game, forcing quarterback Tommy Armstrong to throw 49 times. The junior finished with just 24 completions for 291 yards, an interception and a touchdown.
“Quarterbacking, and every position, is all about choices. (The interception) wasn't a great choice, he knows it, everybody in the world knows it,” said Riley. “He made some good throws. We dropped a number of balls that really could've helped him out. When you're doing that for the quarterback, then the rhythm of stuff (goes away). He made some nice plays, but it was not enough. There was too much inconsistency within all that that helped contribute to the loss."
Nebraska’s passing defense, which ranked last in the nation coming into the contest, held Thorson to just 177 yards and a completion percentage below 50 percent. But, the redshirt freshman hurt the Huskers with his feet, racking up 126-yards on nine carries, including runs of 68 and 49 yards.
“We saw that on film,” said Nebraska defensive end Jack Gangwish. “You always prepare for that reality in any heavy pass rush game, so yeah we prepared for that. He’s a good athlete and he made things hard for us.”
Thorson's biggest play came in the fourth quarter, when the Northwestern quarterback hit receiver Dan Vitale for a 37-yard touchdown, giving the Wildcats the lead they would never relinquish.
Nebraska controlled the time of possession in the game by nearly 18 minutes and ran 31 more plays than the Wildcats.