5 takeaways from Northwestern’s ‘upset’ over Nebraska

·6 min read

The Big Ten officially kicked off its season in week zero in Ireland (any teams from there looking to join?) with an absolute barnburner. Northwestern pulled off the “upset” over Nebraska, Scott Frost’s men shockingly losing yet another close contest.

This game was everything great about Big Ten football. It had everything: surprisingly good quarterback play, Northwestern pounding the rock to the win, and Scott Frost losing another close game due to coaching ineptitude. What else could you want?

Despite being a week zero play between two teams that Iowa will see much later in the season, it did have intrigue for Hawkeye fans. Of course, Nebraska is a team many, for some reason, predicted to be a breakout contender in 2022.

If so, their season-ending clash could have massive playoff implications. Northwestern was projected to have another bad season this year, but showed some things that could possibly give Iowa some trouble coming off of a massive matchup with Ohio State. With the curtain closed in Ireland, here are the key points to take away from Northwestern’s victory.

Same ol' Scott Frost

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Nebraska received a lot of hype heading into the year because of how many close games they were in last season. They were the biggest what-if team for a lot of fans, many going as far as to call them the greatest 3-9 team in college football history. If a few things go differently, they were a winning team. The problem is, it always seems like the little things go against Nebraska. They aren’t capable of getting it done when it matters, and this has been a problem throughout Scott Frost’s entire tenure.

At some point, it is more than just bad luck for the Cornhuskers. When a program constantly fails to get it done when it matters late in games, it has to fall on the head coach. Today, it was the same. Yes, Casey Thompson forgot how to throw a football in the fourth quarter, and the defense couldn’t keep up late in the game, but that onside kick attempt is a fireable offense. You’re up by 11 in the third quarter, rolling with two straight scores… and you decide to go for an onside kick? This is why Frost is now 3-22 when trailing at halftime and 5-21 in one-score games.

So yeah... Nebraska's defense kind of stinks

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That might have been the most demoralizing way for a defense to lose a game. You see your offense struggling to do anything, either turning the ball over in the form of an interception or a punt. Northwestern is going super conservative, taking the ball out of Ryan Hilinski’s hands in a close contest despite how well he was playing. You know exactly what your opponent is going to do, and they let them have their way anyway.

It was hard to watch Nebraska try and defend the run in the fourth quarter. Their defensive line was mauled all game long by Peter Skoronski and Co., and it showed in the waning hours of the fourth quarter. Add in the sea of arms flailing at Evan Hull and Cam Porter and it was an embarrassing display. Isn’t it interesting that the offensive line they were dominated by didn’t throw up collectively 15-20 times in practices? Who would have thought?!

The two Casey Thompsons

Brendan Moran-USA TODAY Sports

It felt as though Casey Thompson’s transfer from Texas to Northwestern went a bit under the radar nationally. Of course, all of the attention from the national media was focused on who Texas gained in former Ohio State quarterback Quinn Ewers. Only those around the Big Ten knew the potential Thompson brought to the Cornhuskers. With Thompson, the Nebraska offense looked completely different against Northwestern in the beginning.

From the very start, the redshirt junior quarterback was locked in, marching the Cornhuskers right down the field to score. He looked calm under pressure, making the throws he needed to. However, he looked like a completely different quarterback in the second half, missing some throws and throwing a bad interception nearly identical from the throw that was nearly picked before. And then again, he threw another interception over the middle with the game on the line. He was one of the biggest reasons they let this win slip away from them. The defense let them down, but Thompson is responsible for this loss.

Ryan Hilinski looked good when given the chance

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Northwestern really brought themselves back into this contest once they opened up the playbook. Raise your hand if you had that on your bingo card? The offense looked like the stagnant unit from last year, with uninspired play calling in a run-heavy offense. Running the ball so much can work, but it is excruciating to watch when it’s not working. While Hilinski looked a bit shaky very early on, as the Wildcats opened up the playbook more, he calmed down and delivered. Being able to step up and make the big throws in turn opened up the running game for Hull and Porter, who both looked phenomenal.

Now, this makes things interesting for Northwestern. You don’t want to overreact to a week zero matchup against a team known for losing close games, but, boy, that offense looks better. They already had a great running game, led by two lead backs and a fantastic offensive line, but, if Hilinski can give you that play all season, they could be way more dangerous than we all thought.

Northwestern's defense clamps in crunch time

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For years, Northwestern’s trademark was a stout defensive unit. They might not outgun you on offense, but they were going to make life hectic for even the best offenses in the nation. Think back to the 2020 Big Ten Championship where they held Ohio State to only 22 points, causing quarterback Justin Fields’ worst game. Last year some cracks started to form. They went from the fifth-best defense in points allowed with 15.9, falling all the way to 89th in the nation last season.

Early on, it looked shaky for the Wildcats. New offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s up-tempo offense was giving Northwestern some trouble, Nebraska’s playmakers torching their secondary. It was not looking good one bit. However, Northwestern clamped down when they needed to, intercepting two passes in the fourth quarter. It worked this game, but be warned Wildcats, you will not be facing Scott Frost’s traveling circus every week.

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Story originally appeared on Hawkeyes Wire