EVANSTON — Given two huge breaks, Northwestern couldn't do anything with them.
Nebraska fumbled not once but twice on the goal line in the first half Saturday, taking 14 points off the board and giving the ball to Northwestern. But the Wildcats punted away on both drives as an again ineffective offense couldn't muster enough to keep up with the Huskers for four quarters in a 24-13 loss.
Northwestern's defense did a decent job early on Nebraska's potent offense — one that was averaging more than 43 points a game coming in — but when Tommy Armstrong & Co. stopped fumbling on the goal line, they struck with expected potency. The Cats' offense did not.
The game started in wacky fashion, typical whenever these two teams get together. Nebraska running back Terrell Newby broke away with a 49-yard run on the game-opening drive, but diving for the end zone he dropped the ball, fumbling out of the back of the end zone for a touchback that gave the ball to Northwestern. The Cats couldn't do anything with it, though, and kicker Jack Mitchell missed a short field goal on the offense's second drive.
The Huskers broke the seal on the scoring with a second-quarter field goal, a win for the Cats' defense considering it came with goal to go. Later in the quarter, Northwestern took a 7-3 lead thanks to a short field when Clayton Thorson went 42 yards untouched to score his first rushing touchdown of the season.
A 37-yard run by Armstrong set the Huskers up at the Northwestern two-yard line, but Devine Ozigbo fumbled at the goal line, again into the end zone where the Cats recovered for another touchback, a stunning second time that happened on the night. But once more, the Northwestern offense couldn't do anything with the gift, and after a punt a 59-yard pass from Armstrong to Alonzo Moore put the Huskers at the Cats' four-yard line, Newby rushing in for the go-ahead touchdown to give Nebraska a 10-7 lead. With Mitchell struggling, Northwestern tried a wacky fake field goal in the second quarter's final minute, but it went nowhere, ending another promising drive.
Thorson had the Cats marching to open the second half, but he fired an interception into the end zone to halt a promising drive. Armstrong then led the Huskers downfield, completing a 35-yard pass to Brandon Reilly (a play that also featured a 15-yard penalty on Northwestern) and capping an 80-yard drive with a short touchdown pass to Cethan Carter. Thorson and Northwestern answered quickly, though. A Nebraska penalty on the kickoff put the Cats near midfield, and Thorson fired back to the end zone, this time hitting Austin Carr for a touchdown to make it a 17-13 game (Mitchell clanked the extra-point attempt off the upright).
But the Nebraska offense raced right back down the field, putting the Northwestern defense on skates with a 79-yard touchdown drive that ended in a Jordan Westerkamp scoring rush to make it 24-13.
The Huskers held a big edge in offensive numbers, racking up 556 yards, a balanced attack that featured 310 on the ground and 246 through the air. The Cats accumulated 388 total yards, 137 rushing and 251 passing.
Thorson finished 24-for-37 for 249 yards and a touchdown plus a pair of interceptions. Armstrong was 18-for-29 for 246 yards and a touchdown.
The loss dropped Northwestern to 1-3, and the Cats take on Iowa next weekend.
Nebraska improved to 4-0 with the win and plays Illinois next weekend.