Missed opportunities doom NU defense late

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Missed opportunities doom NU defense late

The Northwestern defense did just about everything right Saturday afternoon against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were held to their lowest point-total of the season (29), averaged only4.6 yards per rush and totaled 201 rushing yards, 78 below their season average. The Northwestern defense and special teams even forced three turnovers, including one inside the Wildcat 25-yard-line.
But for as good as the Wildcats defense was for 51 minutes, the last nine minutes were all too familiar for a defense that has struggled to play 60 minutes on multiple occasions this year.
After running back Mike Trumpy, filling in for the injured Venric Mark, rumbled in from 3 yards out to extend Northwestern's lead to 28-16, Taylor Martinez and Nebraska sliced through the Wildcats defense with ease on two straight possessions, scoring touchdowns on both, to take a 29-28 lead they never gave up.
In those two possessions, Martinez, the Big Ten's efficiency leader, was 10-of-13 with 143 yards and two touchdowns to Taariq Allen and Ben Cotton.
"The last two drives, they just made plays and we didnt," linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team with 12 tackles, said. "There is nothing more to be said. We were on top of every route, they just made plays and we didn't. We have to capitalize on that. We need to improve on that area of our defense."
That familiar feeling stemmed from two weeks ago, when the Wildcats allowed 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against Penn State. The week before that, Indiana scored 29 points in the second half to almost upset Northwestern before Kain Colter's heroics saved the Wildcats late.
In eight games, the Northwestern defense has allowed 63 points in the first half, but 121 after halftime.
Perhaps that's the reason that when the Nebraska offense took over, down 28-23, with 4:10 to play, Martinez was so confident in what would be the eventual outcome.
"Everyone knew we were going to score a touchdown," Martinez said. "We could feel it in our guts and throughout the offense. We knew once we have the chance, we were going to score again."
That's exactly what happened. Martinez was 5-for-5 for 74 yards (and ran once for 2 yards), including the game-winning touchdown pass to Cotton on the drive.
"I thought we battled and gave ourselves a chance to win," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "and down the stretch, just didn't make one more play that we needed to make."
The defense had a chance to make that one play. Twice, actually.
On Nebraska's first scoring drive in the fourth quarter, down 28-16, a Martinez pass was tipped by linebacker David Nwabuisi. As he went to grab it, Proby ran into him while also trying to make the catch. That sent the ball back into the air, but defensive lineman Sean McEvily couldn't pull it in.
Proby said the collision was "just one of those freak things," but he wasn't making excuses for the defense's late collapse.
"You can't leave anything in this game up to chance," he said. "We all have to fly to the ball, it's just something that happened on one play."
But the near-misses weren't over.
The very next play, safety Ibraheim Campbell undercut a route in the flat but couldn't come up with the Martinez pass. After those incompletions, Martinez would miss on only one pass the rest of the afternoon.
The Northwestern defense stopped Martinez and the Cornhusker offense most of the afternoon, relative to the firepower of Bo Pelini's group. But in the end, the cliche of having to play for 60 minutes will ring true for the Wildcats as long they fail to do so.
"I thought we were watching the Cats play volleyball, passing it back and forth," Fitzgerald said. "When you have a chance for a turnover and then you miss it, the football gods usually strike you with some lightning.
"We've got to make those plays to win."

Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have so much going for them, all this blue-chip talent, a clubhouse mix of young players and grizzled veterans, arguably the best manager in the game, an impactful coaching staff and a front office that blends scouting and analytics as well as anyone.

So, no, John Lackey is not at all surprised by the way this clicked into place, 101 wins and counting for the machine built with October in mind.

“Not really,” Lackey said after Tuesday night’s 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I had some pretty good offers from other people, and I chose this one for a reason. It’s all here.”

But to win the World Series — and get the jewelry Lackey talks about — you still need some luck, good health and the guts to perform in those Big Boy Games. That reality of randomness and matchups made a pregame announcement some 250 miles away from PNC Park so telling.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his MVP-caliber season. The National League East champions will lose a .307 hitter with 22-homer power from the middle of their lineup and a veteran presence for a playoff rotation that will likely be without injured ace Stephen Strasburg (right elbow) in the first round.

“That’s a tough one when you lose your catcher, a guy who’s that significant for the pitching staff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Think about the pitching staff — it’s so different when you know the guy back there is your guy and he knows what’s going on. The communication’s different. The trust factor, all that stuff is different.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Within that big-picture context, the Cubs survived as Lackey limited the checked-out Pirates (77-80) to one run across five innings in his fifth start since recovering from a strained right shoulder and coming off the disabled list. Maddon then used six different relievers — staying away from Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman — during a three-hour, 49-minute game that felt more like the Cactus League.

After defecting from the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals team the Cubs bounced out of last year’s playoffs, Lackey finished the regular season at 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 188 1/3 innings.

“I’m going to get to 200,” Lackey said.

Beyond wins and losses, Lackey called this season his career best in terms of “those numbers that they’ve made up in the last few years” like WHIP (1.04) and opponents’ OPS (.646) and whatever. And, no, he doesn’t know his WAR, either: “Not even close.”

Yes, the Cubs got the old-school attitude they wanted when they signed Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal before the winter meetings. For all the talk about the pitching deficit and the New York Mets after their young guns swept the Cubs out of last year’s NL Championship Series, the Cubs are getting their money’s worth with a guy who will turn 38 in October.

The amazing Mets have lost three of those frontline starters — Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (nerve damage in his right elbow) and Steven Matz (bone spur in his left elbow) — and are still holding onto the first wild-card spot, which says something about this playoff field.

This doesn’t guarantee anything in October, but the Cubs are just about as close to full strength as they could reasonably hope now. Instead of the silence that would have come with losing an irreplaceable player like Ramos, the sound system in the postgame clubhouse blasted Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G. after their 101st win.

“Yeah, we lost Dexter (Fowler) for a bit,” Maddon said. “We lost (Kyle) Schwarber all year. Otherwise, when a couple pitchers got banged up, whether you’re talking about Rondon or Strop, I don’t think that our injuries have been as magnified because we’ve covered them pretty well.

“We still had our moments, like everybody else has. But when you get to right now, we’re getting well, and hopefully that trend continues. But to lose somebody of that magnitude for them, that’s got to be difficult.”