NU lets Nebraska off hook
Ahead 12 midway through 4th, Wildcats give up 2 touchdowns as upset bid falls short 29-28
Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien watches as he misses a field goal in the final minute of the fourth quarter that would have given Northwestern the lead against Nebraska. (Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune / October 20, 2012)
Taylor Martinez fired a pass over the middle, and David Nwabuisi tipped it. Before he could make the interception, fellow linebacker Damien Proby crashed into him. The ball popped up, giving lineman Sean McEvily a shot at the ball. But he couldn't corral it, either.
Proby called it "one of those freak things."
NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said he "thought we were watching the Cats play volleyball, passing it back and forth. When you have a chance for a turnover and then you miss it, the football gods usually strike you with some lightning."
And then on the next play, safety Ibraheim Campbell put himself in position to make a diving interception. But the ball came loose.
"Two on one drive, not good," Fitzgerald said. "Lightning and thunder."
Given a second life, Martinez led Nebraska down the field for a touchdown. And then he did it again, delivering a stunning 29-28 comeback victory before a sea of admiring, red-clothed fans at Ryan Field.
There were so many Huskers devotees among the crowd of 47,330 that the Wildcats had to use a silent count on their final drive because their linemen could not hear the calls.
"We didn't prepare for that all week," quarterback Kain Colter said.
That last drive began with promise. Trevor Siemian completed his first three passes, driving the Wildcats to Nebraska's 39-yard line. They could not get past the 36.
Fitzgerald summoned kicker Jeff Budzien on fourth-and-7, hoping he could knock home his 12th straight this season.
"With no wind in the building, we felt pretty good with Jeff from about 55," Fitzgerald said.
Budzien did have the leg from 53 yards out, but his kick sailed a few feet right.
Northwestern fell to 6-2, 2-2 in the Big Ten, and the losses played out similarly.
The Wildcats led Penn State 28-17 in the fourth quarter. Against Nebraska (5-2, 2-1), it was 28-16 with 8 1/2 minutes to play.
And in both cases, it was NU's offense that deserved the blame.
NU ran 75 plays, and only a handful were truly successful. Siemian hooked up with Dan Vitale and Tony Jones for scores; otherwise he completed 13 of 33 passes for 80 yards.
Venric Mark, before he had to leave the game with an undisclosed injury (Fitzgerald declined to elaborate), ran for an 80-yard score early in the third quarter. His other 15 carries produced 38 yards.
NU's famed no-huddle spread went three-and-out 10 times in 17 full drives — against a defense that Ohio State and UCLA toyed with.
"Our offense is all about getting in a rhythm," Colter said, "and you can't get in a rhythm when you're not converting first downs. It's something we have to fix.
"We put a lot of burden on our defense; now they have to go and save us again. The way we played was not acceptable to our standards."