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."

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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