Since Nebraska (0-2) has joined the Big Ten conference, the Huskers and Wildcats have played in some classics. Seven of the nine games the two have played in the Big Ten have been decided by seven points or less, and six have been within a field goal. But not this time: Northwestern (3-0) was finally able to come away with a victory of more than seven points, as the Wildcats beat the Huskers by a score of 21-13, allowing Northwestern to start 3-0 in conference play for the first time in twenty years.
The ’Cats started out strong and capped off their first offensive drive with a 41-yard touchdown by Drake Anderson, a career best for the second-year running back. Anderson led the powerful rushing attack, posting 18 carries for 89 yards with an average of 4.9 yards per carry.
Graduate quarterback Peyton Ramsey played far from his best in this matchup, throwing for a measly 51 yards in the first half, along with two interceptions; these developments led to Northwestern trailing 13-7 at halftime. Thankfully, Ramsey turned things around in the second half, leading two touchdown drives and throwing with more accuracy than before, as well as spreading the ball around as he completed passes to seven different receivers.
Toward the end of the first quarter, kicker Charlie Kuhbander missed a 42-yard field goal, the momentum shifted and allowed Nebraska to take control of the remaining half, scoring 13 unanswered points. The Huskers also capitalized off of turnovers, scoring 10 points from Ramsey’s two interceptions.
The defense played tough, however, and their play is shaping up to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 season. The front seven, led by Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher, absolutely owned the offensive line of Nebraska with the duo combining for 27 total tackles and 2 tackles for loss. This is now the third game in a row where Northwestern’s defense has not allowed a single point scored in the second half.
Northwestern’s offense has found much success on opening drives, and it was no different in the second half. To start off the second half, the ’Cats marched 61 yards down the field and capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Ramsey to graduate tight end John Raine to take back the lead. This was Raine’s first touchdown as a Wildcat, as he transferred to the program from Florida Atlantic University last winter.
First-year defensive back Brandon Joseph continued his sensational play after being named Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week last week; He saved the ’Cats this week with a potentially game-winning, backward-diving interception in the back of the end zone. This saved Northwestern from allowing Nebraska to take back the lead, and ultimately led to the Huskers’ head coach Scott Frost pulling quarterback Adrian Martinez in favor of Luke McCaffrey. Martinez finished his day completing 12 passes for 125 yards with an interception, to go along with 13 carries for 102 yards.
Northwestern started with great field position at the beginning of the fourth quarter due to Riley Lees’ solid punt return. Six plays later, Lees capped off the drive, scoring a 10-yard touchdown and taking control of the game with a 21-13 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining.
On their next drive and with the help of two pass interference calls, McCaffrey led Nebraska all the way down to the Northwestern five-yard line, but the ’Cats were saved by an interception from Chris Bergin.
On their final possession of the game, Nebraska was able to reach the Northwestern 14-yard line but turned the ball over on downs with a second remaining, handing the win to Northwestern.
This was a special game for Northwestern to win, as it matched last year’s win total of three.
“We talked about it last year to make a decision individually, collectively and as a program on how we are going to respond to never allow what happened last year to happen again,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said in the postgame press conference. “The credit goes to our players and how they’ve handled it and to our staff — just to stick together and working to get better. Today was an ugly game. We’ve got to get better in a lot of ways, but a win is a win. I’ve approached this year with a thankful mindset just to be able to coach these guys and have the opportunity to be out on the field. I can’t thank our medical team enough.”
Northwestern (3-0) will head to Purdue (2-0) to play in a battle for the Big Ten West division crown on Nov. 14.