Two words. Missed opportunities.
That was the key difference maker in the Wildcats 24-13 loss to Nebraska on Saturday night at Ryan Field.
Northwestern (1-3) came into Saturday’s game on a high note after beating Duke last week at home. Now entering Big Ten conference play, the Wildcats had high hopes of turning their season around with the opportunity to beat No. 20 Nebraska (4-0) at home under the lights in front of a raucous crowd.
That wasn’t the case.
Not only were the Wildcats handed a great opportunity after Cornhuskers running back Terrell Newby fumbled the ball in the end zone on the third play of the game that resulted in a touchback for the Wildcats, but the same incident happened again late in the second quarter when running back Devine Ozigbo fumbled in the end zone, which was recovered by Northwestern.
In both cases Northwestern was rewarded the ball at the 20-yard line, but failed to convert those turnovers into points – which in the end was crucial for the Wildcats.
Not to mention on the Wildcats third series, they were finally able to move the chains and get the ball into Cornhuskers territory. After coming up short on fourth down, Wildcats kicker Jack Mitchell had an easy 27-yard field goal attempt that would have put Northwestern up early in the first quarter. Mitchell completely missed to the right and the Wildcats came up empty handed.
Then in the third quarter after quarterback Clayton Thorson threw a perfect pass to receiver Austin Carr for a touchdown, Mitchell could not convert on the extra point.
After the game, Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald told the media that the kicking job is “wide open” after the disappointing showing by Mitchell.
But it wasn’t just missed opportunities that hurt Northwestern, giving up 556 total yards on offense, 246 through the air and 310 on the ground, hurt as well.
The Wildcats did not have an answer for Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. The senior quarterback threw for 246 yards and had 13 carries for 132 yards. Newby and Ozigbo combined for 23 carries and had over 100 yards rushing together as well.
As for the Wildcats offense, they ran the ball effectively with star running back Justin Jackson leading the way with 20 carries for 79 yards. Thorson added 43 yards on the ground as well, one in which he ran for 42 yards that resulted in a touchdown. Thorson also threw for 249 yards with one passing touchdown, but threw two crucial interceptions.
Now, after a disappointing showing through the first four weeks of the season, Northwestern will have to get ready to play their first road game this season. A task that will not be easy for the 1-3 Wildcats who have to travel to Iowa City to play the Iowa Hawkeyes.
From here on out, the Wildcats schedule does not get any easier.
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