DiNardo: Time to tweak the offense

Northwestern lost a 12-point fourth-quarter lead, falling to the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Ryan Field. PurpleWildcats guest columnist Jack DiNardo offers his breakdown of the game, pointing to concerns of the Wildcats' two-quarterback system.

Northwestern fell to Nebraska 29-28 in front of a sold-out crowd Saturday in Evanston. Despite taking a 28-16 lead with 8:31 remaining in the game, Northwestern could not close out the fourth quarter, and let another pivotal conference game slip away.

NU struggled for much of the game to produce consistent offense. The Cats' offense produced 11 three-and-out possessions and only 301 yards of total offense against a defense that allowed 498 yards two weeks ago at Ohio State.

Venric Mark, the Wildcats' most consistent big playmaker this season had his fifth 100-yard rushing performance, with 118 yards on 16 carries. Mark did leave the game in the second half with an injury, however, and the Wildcats offense was not the same the remainder of the game.

With the exception of a Tony Jones 26-yard receiving touchdown and a 24-yard completion to Rashad Lawrence, Northwestern could not connect on much of anything through the air despite having one-on-one coverage on the outside all afternoon.

It is not fair to look at either Kain Colter (1-of-2 for five yards passing and 14 carries for 43 yards rushing) or Trevor Siemian's (15-of-35 for 116 yards passing) numbers individually and compare them to other quarterbacks around the league because of what the NU coaches are asking them to do. Colter, despite being the starter, is never in at quarterback on a play that involves a down field passing option. And Siemian is seldom dropping back to pass when it is not an obvious passing situation.

For NU to have success with the two-quarterback system that they appear committed to running, it is necessary for both players to be put in situations where it is easier to succeed, for example, let Colter throw the ball downfield, like he did earlier in the year, and let Siemian attempt a pass when it is not third down-and-8.

Northwestern's defense kept Nebraska in check for much of the game, but when the secondary lost Nick VanHoose in the fourth quarter to a dislocated shoulder, Nebraska took advantage. Taylor Martinez, who averaged 212 yards per game coming into Saturday, shredded the stat column for 342 yards against the Wildcats. Many of those yards coming from pass plays of 20 yards or more in the fourth quarter.

On a more positive note, NU's rushing defense played true to form, only allowing 201 total rushing yards against a team that averaged 292 yards per game. The front seven needs to continue their strong play against the run for the remainder of the season to give the Wildcats a chance at a division title. Like Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State are all built around their running games, so the ability to take away their biggest strength may provide an advantage for the Wildcats in the weeks to come.

Jack DiNardo was a standout defensive tackle with Northwestern's winningest-ever senior class. He graduated with a degree in political science and is now pursuing a master's degree in liberal arts. Each Sunday following a Northwestern game, DiNardo will offer a column sharing his perspective.

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