It wasn't always pretty and they trailed at one point, but No. 20 Nebraska (4-0, 1-0) did enough Saturday on the road to pull out a 24-13 win over Northwestern (1-3, 0-1) in Evanston, Illinois. The Huskers improved to 4-0, overcoming two turnovers.
"This Northwestern team - Pat's (Fitzgerald) always has them ready to go," said Riley on the Big Ten Network telecast. "They played hard tonight, but we held on and made some plays to win it. It was hard. I'm really proud of our team, coming on the road for the first time and winning. Winning our first Big Ten game."
Playing a team known for their stinginess on defense, Nebraska racked up 556 yards - including 378 total yards from quarterback Tommy Armstrong.
Offensive Player of the Game:
The sophomore back’s stats will not jump out at you in this win, but the Chicago native played the best game in his career in his home state. Wilbon ended the game with six carries for 55 yards, averaging 9.2 yards a rush. The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder also outshined his teammates at the running back position, as he was the only back to not fumble on the night. Wilbon provided a unexpected spark in the second half. Ultimately, the Offensive POG could every week go to quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who did play his best statistical game of the season, but we have come to expect that from the senior. More on Armstrong later in this report.
Defensive Player of the Game:
Williams finished the night with seven tackles, five of which were solo stops. The sophomore safety also appeared to be involved on a lot of plays in the passing game, as he finished with one pass breakup and one interception that gave the Huskers momentum to start the second half.
The Moment It Was Over: Junior cornerback Joshua Kalu picked off Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson’s throw on 4th down with 1:23 left in the fourth quarter. The turnover gave the Huskers the ball, and after picking up a first down on the ground, sealed the deal with the knee for the final play of the game. The interception was Kalu’s first of the year and his fifth of his career.
Quote To Note: "I think we need to take better care of the football down on the goal line, that could have saved us a lot of the anxiety at the end, but it's football," said Riley, who was asked what Nebraska needs to do to keep the momentum on their side after a 4-0 start. "I think it's just getting better. They like to play, they like to work. And I think we need to spend the week trying to get better."
What A Nebraska Win Means: No. 20 Nebraska improves to 4-0 on the year and 1-0 in the Big Ten after picking up a win in their first road game of the year. This win was Riley’s first against Northwestern in his first career game coaching at Ryan Field. Nebraska will face three opponents they should be big favorite in, potentially setting up a 7-0 record heading into Madison on Oct. 29.
* I hate to play the IF/AND/BUT game, BUT IF Nebraska does not fumble twice in the end zone, AND Armstrong Jr. connects with a wide open Jordan Westerkamp in the end zone, then this game would’ve never been close to begin with. The Huskers left 21 points out on the field and could have comfortably won this game 42-13 (substitute a Westerkamp touchdown for Brown’s field goal).
* Tommy Armstrong Jr. continued to have another great outing in tonight’s game, where he finished with a career-high 132 rushing yards. The senior also went 18-of-29 through the air with 246 yards and one touchdown. Most importantly, the Texas native did not throw an interception tonight.
* Dylan Utter and Tommy Armstrong Jr. had a few misconnections on the snap. There were two fumbled snaps and a handful of other instances where the senior quarterback had to make an acrobatic play to catch the ball. Chalk this up to either the grass field or Big Ten jitters, but either way, this issue needs correcting going forward.
* Jordan Westerkamp’s reception in the third quarter made it his 30th consecutive game with at least one reception. The senior wide out also finished with a ten-yard rushing touchdown, his first rushing touchdown of his career. Not a bad stat in front of 200 friends and family in his home state.
* Penalties on Northwestern seemed to bail out the Huskers when they needed it. A pass interference call in the first quarter kept a drive alive, a horse collar call gave them a few extra yards to set up a score, and a holding on 3rd and short late in the 4th quarter could have been the biggest play of the game. The Wildcats ended the game with four penalties for 36 yards.
* Nebraska’s “bend, don’t break” mentality on defense, though gut-wrenching to watch at times, has been proven to work each week. This week, the Blackshirts gave up 388 yards total, and only 137 yards on the ground. The defense allowed just 13 points and their secondary finished with two interceptions. Kevin Maurice also had two sacks in a row towards the end of the second quarter to take Northwestern out of field goal range.
* Alonzo Moore had another great game at wide out with three catches for 72 yards. Moore and Armstrong Jr. connected on a 59-yard pass in the second quarter that set up a Nebraska touchdown. This was the senior’s third reception of at least 50 yards this season, proving that he is a deep threat, as well as a big play guy.
* Nebraska fans held up to their reputation of being a traveling fan base. Though I do not know the actual Husker fan attendance figure, the crowd seemed to have more red than purple in the stands. A loud “Husker Power” chant before and after game was heard clearly over the announcer’s voice.