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Report Card: Northwestern Wildcats 31, Huskers 28

Oops. They did it again.

Northwestern Wildcats v Nebraska Cornhuskers - Aer Lingus College Football Classic
Another whiff on an arm tackle.
Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images

Like television meteorologist Phil Connors, Scott Frost has tried all sorts of things to break his never-ending nightmare of repeating close losses. Fire half the staff, hire a new offensive coordinator and special teams coordinator, change quarterbacks. Hit reset, new momentum, a fresh start, right?

It’s 6 am on Groundhog Day. Again. Like the movie “Groundhog Day,” every day was different, but Phil Connors ended up right back in the same spot he was before. For Connors, it’s waking up to Sonny and Cher.

For Frost, it’s yet another single digit loss, bringing his critics back and even louder than before. This game only reinforced their arguments, but it doesn’t really matter. Nothing is going to happen this week or next month. Probably not the month after either. Let’s let the season play itself out, unless we’re really looking to make ourselves miserable.

With that, it’s on with this week’s report card, and as always, your feedback is welcome in the comments.

QB: Casey Thompson looked really good in the first half, not so good in the third quarter and not good at all in the fourth quarter. Some of that fourth quarter failure was likely due to tight end Travis Vokolek’s ankle injury; walk-on Nate Boerkircher simply wasn’t able to make the plays that Vokolek could. As the game progressed, Northwestern was able to generate more and more pressure, which in turn led to more and more mistakes on Thompson’s part. One observation is that Nebraska’s new offense suffered in Dublin because of the lack of a quarterback run threat. Having the quarterback lead the team in carries isn’t a good strategy, but I’m not sure doing a 180 to eliminating the quarterback run is a great plan either. Thompson probably earned an A- in the first half, but a poor second half drops it to a C+.

I-Back: When he could find some room, Anthony Grant looked solid. The problem with Grant was that holes were extremely limited most of the day. Nine of his carries went for two or fewer yards. Ajay Allen had a nifty carry on his first tote, while Jaquez Yant wasn’t effective at all. I have to presume that Gabe Ervin wasn’t available. I’d like to see much more of Grant and Allen. Grade: C-

WR: Trey Palmer and Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda are huge upgrades in Nebraska’s offense. (And if I can memorize how to spell Ndamukong, I can memorize Garcia-Castaneda as long as he gives me reasons to tweet his name.) I still believe that Garcia-Castaneda’s knee was down before the ball was stripped. Props to Mickey Joseph for getting Alante Brown involved more in the passing game. But aside from Brody Belt and Marcus Washington, it was a short list of contributors at the receiver positions. (I mentioned the tight ends above.) Grade: B

OL: This was one of my areas of concern, and it’s now progressed to a major problem because there was little to no push in the running game. And as the game evolved, Thompson faced more and more pressure. The horrible Fox remote broadcast made it impossible to track exactly who was in the game, but senior Broc Bando did split time with redshirt freshman Henry Lutovsky at right guard. If there’s reason to be optimistic, the combo of Teddy Prochazka, Turner Corcoran, Lutovsky and Bryce Benhart is really young; they have nine years of combined eligibility remaining after this season. That doesn’t help things in 2022 if they don’t find some quick fixes quickly. Grade: F

DL: On the other side of the ball, it was much the same thing. An inexperienced line was pushed around by Northwestern...especially in the fourth quarter as Northwestern’s veteran line (four returning starters, all upper classmen) dominated the Blackshirts. Again, like the offensive line, except for Alabama transfer Stephon Wynn, the interior three d-linemen are all underclassmen. Grade: F

LB: It didn’t help that both Luke Reimer and Nick Heinrich both missed time due to injuries, but the missed arm tackles continue to plague this defense. This was a problem last season, and it’s not getting better. Grade: F

Secondary: Marques Buford had a rough first half, but gave Nebraska some momentum forcing a turnover in the second half. Tommi Hill had a big pass breakup, but overall, Northwestern had way more success through the air than they should have. Grade: D

Special Teams: Before going to the point of consternation, let’s point out that Brian Buschini netted 47.2 yards on six punts; none were returned. That’s a huge upgrade from last season. As for the onside kick, I remain unconvinced that the choice originated with Scott Frost. In the end, Frost is ultimately responsible for whatever happens on the field, and any comments that he makes end up getting interpreted as throwing someone under the bus. (See the reactions to Frost’s comments that his offense’s playcalling needs to be more dynamic.) And it’s not like there Northwestern didn’t tempt the onside kick with their formation.

Nebraska’s onside kick against Northwestern; note all of the vacant real estate on the near side of the field. No doubt someone noticed this and suggested trying to exploit it with the onside kick call.

Perhaps this was Pat Fitzgerald trying to draw Nebraska into trying an onside kick with his formation. Perhaps Brendan Franke didn’t execute it correctly. Or perhaps Frost pressed on a way to impact the game, since he wasn’t calling plays, so he took a bad risk. But as long as we’re vilifying the choice, let’s at least acknowledge that if it had worked, Nebraska had a chance to drop a dagger on Northwestern in that situation. Grade: C

Overall: D- I’m not awarding a failing grade because we have no idea how good Northwestern is in week zero. Yes, they were bad in 2021, but it is an even year, and Northwestern won the division in 2018 and 2020. That being said, being dominated on both sides of the ball and not being able to tackle is a major problem that pours gasoline onto Scott Frost’s hot seat. Can’t go negative-two on turnovers either. Those factors, not the decision to call an onside kick, are the reason Nebraska lost another season opener.

And let’s not forget: it was the season opener. It’s still August, for crying out loud. Only complete, absolute morons write off a season after the first game. Yes, it was a loss and it was a bad loss. It was a game that many put down as a must-win game, and they did not. But let’s not throw in the towel on the season before Labor Day weekend even starts. We’re not going to be able to fast forward to 2023 this week. The season continues on.

We all stick together, in all kinds of weather, for Dear ‘Ol NU.

(In other words, don’t be a Clay.)


How would you grade the Northwestern loss in Ireland?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    A - All the Free Beer I could drink!
    (29 votes)
  • 0%
    B - Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer, Beer!
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    C - Couldn’t watch because I was busy trying to figure out how I could get there for free beer.
    (13 votes)
  • 19%
    D - Disappointed because Nebraska lost and I didn’t get any free beer.
    (193 votes)
  • 56%
    F - Failed to win, failed to get any free beer
    (554 votes)
  • 18%
    G - GBR, Always
    (180 votes)
977 votes total Vote Now