Well, that couldn’t have went any worse in Ireland this past weekend. Week 1 hasn’t even started for most college football teams, yet Nebraska is not only 0-1, but already lost a division game within the B1G. Many of the things we previewed in our ‘Northwestern Preview’ came to fruition, and we will go over those. But while we were pretty spot on with everything we talked about, the most important part of the preview we couldn’t have been more off on, and that was the final score. While I mocked people for saying “we beat them 56-7 last year we ain’t losing” I at least agreed that Northwestern wasn’t a very good football team.
It’s only one game, but for fucks sakes it looked like the same song and dance over and over.
While we still have plenty of time to get where we need to go (we will rattle off two straight here), we are 0-1 in our division before week 1 even starts for other teams. We continually put ourselves in these holes/situations.
Ugh… enough, let’s get into it.
Nebraska offense vs Northwesterns defense
As we talked about on the preview, I have heard from multiple coaches on staff the change for Nebraska this year compared to what Frost did in the past is that we were going to throw the ball to set up the run. Seasons prior, we used to run the ball to set up the pass. Nebraska’s first offensive possession started of with a bang, ending in a touchdown. With 6 passes on that drive and 5 completions, things were clicking.
And that was about how the entire game went. Nebraska threw the ball 42 times and ran it 31, despite being up by double digits two separate times in the game. We talked in the preview about how if Nebraska wasn’t going to be able to run on Northwestern, it was going to be a long season. But our inability to run on the Wildcats turned it into a long game and even longer plane ride home with an ‘L’. Nebraska only ran the ball 31 times for 111 yards. And i’m not a “take away this play” kind of guy, but you kind of have to do it here. If you take away Grants run where he broke a tackle 3 yards past the LOS, and Palmers jet sweep, Nebraska only ran for 53 yards (1.8 ypc) against a front 7 that Phil Steele ranked 14th on the DL and 13th at LB preseason. Northwestern had to grab even more transfer portal players on DL and LB than Nebraska did just to get a respectable situation going.
But I can’t blame Whipple entirely. What do you do as an OC if you are calling runs and it is going for 1.8 yards each time you call it, unless your RB breaks a couple tackles to take it to the house? If he would have kept calling those then we would be pissed because it wasn’t working, but when we couldn’t run on Northwesterns awful DL, I knew we were going to be in trouble despite being up 11 (more on that when I go over Northwesterns offense).
And another thing that is going to take some getting used to, is we just aren’t a QB run team (spare me the QB touchdown run for half a yard). Thompson rushed 3 times for -18 yards. I’ll be curious how we move forward with that, for example, look at this play:
While the DE was there to take care of Thompson, a faster and more athletic Martinez pulls that all day for a massive gain. I will be interested to see if we do some QB run the next two games in preparation for Oklahoma. Or are we going to work it a bit and wait to unleash it against the Sooners when they see we have basically never done it. Or, this may just be who we are and we don’t run our QB unless it’s a scramble?
Again, i’m not really mad about our offense schematically, it’s just weird and different. We had 466 yards, and you could see glimpses of what Whipple did to be successful at Pitt. He got the ball to his best wideout (Palmer) early and often just like he did with Addison last year. And he got the ball to his athletic TE early and often as Vokolek had 5 receptions for 63 yards. You could really see us drop off once we lost him (he will be fine just rolled his ankle). None of our other scholarship TEs could step up, and we started playing our 2 walk-ons Boerkircher and Brewington. A concern early in the season, depth at TE, had a huge impact on us offensively.
Another change in philosophies from Frost to Whipple is the lack of motions. I spoke the last few years about how Frost would use motion to not only try to confuse the defense, but make them show their hand early in regard to what coverage they are in for our QB to figure out where he wanted to go before the snap in most cases. With Whipple, that was largely gone.
While schematically I didn’t get too mad, there are things that are going to be issues moving forward. First, if you can’t run against Northwestern you aren’t running against Oklahoma, Michigan, Iowa, or Wisconsin. Second, you can’t turn the ball over 3 times. Lastly, with how thin we are on defense, you can’t have the ball for 25 minutes while the other team gets it for 35 minutes. That is going to spell disaster not only in games, but for the entire season wearing us down even quicker.
Thompson did really well for 2.5 quarters throwing the ball, then things just became unraveled a bit. While I don’t blame him for the interceptions, there were times where passes he was hitting in the first half just started becoming incompletions and misses. We talked about it in our preview, but how fast the offense gels is a huge part of things. And while we looked good early, learning how guys start running routes later in games is part of the learning curve. What Whipple could rely on early started fading away late in the game. Thompson wasn’t completely accurate and WRs had to start reaching a bit more to get balls and it would go off their fingertips.
On a positive note, Nebraska only had one penalty for five yards. But the fumble and 2 interceptions unfortunately outweigh the positivity there. Also, Nebraska only had 4 first downs rushing the football (16 throwing the ball), that’s an almost unheard of stat in Lincoln. It’s just a different era for Nebraska right now, and we are riding this train to the end of November so buckle up.
Nebraska Defense vs Northwestern Offense
In my season preview I talked about how our defense was going to take a step back this year, and boy did they ever first game in. With that said, I told everyone that’s ok as long as our offense and special teams take steps forward. As I talked about in the portion up top, once our OL had trouble moving a putrid Northwestern front 7, I knew our defense was in for a long day. We heard all through fall camp that the OL and DL were battling it out, which means they were equals essentially. If we struggled with a bad Northwestern front 7, what would our new DL do against a very good Wildcat OL?
We also made mention in our preview about how much more difficult it was going to be for our ILBs to play well without the likes of Daniels, Stille, Rogers, etc., keeping the OL off of them. Others started mentioning it in game as well:
What is meant by my preview and this tweet, is that at minimum our DL last year would keep those ILBs clean so they could make tackles away from “the trash”. The more our DL gets pushed back, the more clean climbs to the LBs the OL gets, the more “trash” there is to play in. And it showed. Here’s a great angle of what i’m talking about.
You see on the right side, their tackle completely take our only returning DL with more than 26 snaps off the screen. Our NG gets turned. The ‘h back’ washes Nelson down. But where things get tricky is the tackle that combos down on Feist barely has to touch him and gets a completely clean release up to Henrich. Feist in this scenario with no downblock from the tackle absolutely has to make the play in that gap, this really isn’t on Henrich here. But you can see what we miss not having a guy like Rogers or Stille there. If they aren’t blocked, they make that tackle last year. Or they make that tackle block them which frees up Henrich. That’s going to happen all year. They can single block our interior guys like Feist and Hutmacher so they can get right up to our backers.
We also spoke about how Northwestern would come out in 2 TE sets to try and keep us in our odd front with a NG, and we saw that as well. But Northwestern threw a bit more than I thought they would early on. Hilinski at one point was something like 20 for 22 passing the ball, and was extremely efficient. But Northwestern saw what we all did, and our front 7 started getting gassed, especially when Reimer went to the lockerroom and Henrich had to stay out there.
What was interesting to me is that early in the game we did a good job playing one high safety to stop the run. We had the one coverage breakdown when Farmer went out, but other than that it was a great scheme. All of a sudden when Northwestern starts running the ball we were in a 2 high shell for whatever reason, that didn’t make a ton of sense to me, and the announcer even made mention of it.
For the first time in a while, it was nice to see our special teams not lose us a game. Our punter averaged over 45 yards per kick. Fieldgoal kickers looked good. Kickoff specialist was putting it through the endzone. I could have done without a couple of Palmers decisions to take it out of the endzone, but overall it looked good.
But let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the onside kick. Again, that’s a coaching decision, that’s not on our special teams in my opinion. It was executed as well as it could be, it just didn’t make any sense. I’m all for being aggressive, but that just made no sense, and we are getting absolutely drilled on social media for it.
The game unfolded exactly how we laid it out in the preview, it just turns out Northwestern knows who they are, and we still don’t. I have to agree with Fitzgerald here:
How many times did you listen to Huard questioning Fitzgerald running the ball 3 straight times but you sat in your recliner with your beer thanking a higher power he did so? He knew his team, he knew what their strengths were, but he also got a feel for what we were going to do. That game was a perfect example of a team with an established culture going against a coaching staff still trying to find themselves in year 5.
I also thought that was the most gassed i’ve ever seen our football team. I hate our S/C platform/staff currently, but I can’t fully blame it on them (they get some blame). Between an Ireland trip with jet lag and lack of depth, it was bound to happen. But us being on the field 10 more minutes than Northwesterns defense proved insurmountable. While I gave our edge rushers props earlier, look how tired we get here. This is a captain up top at the DE/Edge spot, and our most seasoned DL at DT next to him:
Teams know that if they just keep it close, that is what the fourth quarter is going to look like running the football against us. We lost our best guys on the DL, we have no depth, and And that does not bode well with the toughest part of our schedule being on the back half.
Further, Henrich looked absolutely drained towards the end. He spent all day trying to shed blocks, so he missed tackles and then couldn’t cover anyone.
And i’m not sure this was a factor, but us in space again was an issue. Kolarevic, who won basically every Husker Power weight room honor when he transferred here couldn’t get a Northwestern player down in space to save his life. When we would sub Gifford in for him, they’d just run at us because we were 30 pounds lighter.
We have a lot of issues ladies and gentlemen. I think we will look pretty good against North Dakota and Georgia Southern. Many people will state how we have things figured out, but it will be back to reality against Oklahoma, who is a much more talented team than what we just lost to this past weekend.
Join us on Thursday when we do a preview of North Dakota!
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23 thoughts on “Northwestern Full Game Recap 2022”
The end result was an unmitigated disaster…it played out similar to how you said it would (concerns with both our lines). After the first drive, I thought we were going to roll..then the tides changed, Northwestern comes back, but we come right back in the 3rd and go up 11..as soon as the onside kick failed, I knew we were done. It was like watching a train wreck on repeat…for the last 4 plus years…new coaches, new players, and same result. One play rarely makes or breaks a game in the 3rd quarter, but I bet lots of people were like here we go again…..I also thought the same thing when Brock kept saying they should be more aggressive later in the game…I knew Fitzgerald knew exactly what he was doing and as you said, they have the culture built up and they absolutely knew they were going to win that game in the 2nd half. Sad state of affairs and honestly, I cannot see Frost surviving this (barring an upset of the Sooners)
I hope there is a way to beat Oklahoma, go 6-6, and still fire Frost. I hate how much I have grown to dislike that man.
I really struggle with us beating Oklahoma after what I saw, but maybe we were preparing for them in Ireland lol
Hopefully the season doesn’t just drag us along with false hope. Go one way or the other, figure things out and fix them for 9-3, or go 4-8.
Was crazy to hear how frustrated Huard was with the playcalling, but I like you just knew exactly what was happening. Fitz knew his team, what they could handle, and he let the chips fall where they may if they got it or not. Because if they got it great, if not he was completely fine leaning on his defense.
Great stuff SSO.
Man…my three keys for the season really stood out right off the bat.
1. Special teams – they have improved but then Frost decides to call one of the most idiotic, mindbendingly stupid calls in the history of NU football. Just insane.
2. Turnovers – upside down again. Horrendous stat that continues to impale this team.
3. Running game – abysmal
I know there is a lot of football left to be played this season but In my humble opinion Frost is now a dead man walking. This is the same picture with different moving parts but the bottom line is we just continue to blow ourselves up and lose and I don’t see it changing. Like Trev said there isn’t much precedent that this will work but he felt like it was necessary to see if Frost could somehow turn the corner. For me I’m circling October 1 on the calendar when the buyout drops and then we’ll see what happens after. I think by then it will be more than apparent it’s time to move on.
Ya, I hesitate to call us dead in the water here, but as I said in my preview if we can’t run on Northwestern we may be in trouble the rest of the year when we play good front 7s. We will get some things corrected but will it be enough to get us to 6? That’s tough.
This is the first time I really noticed a S&C issue. More of how tired the team was at the end of the game. CT looked tired and started missing throws, WR started doping passed = the turnovers. Defense was playing on there heels and started missing more tackles. All the problems and issues you stated is true but they all multiplied once Neb started getting tired. If Neb had the same energy as NW in the 4th qt, Neb wins. It would be close and still the same issues you stated but they are the better team for one quarter, not 4 quarters.
That was the most gassed i’ve ever seen us. It was crazy. Again, could have been depth and jet lag, but I refuse to believe S/C isn’t at least part of the problem at this point which is a tough pill for some Husker fans to swallow since it’s ‘Husker Power’.
Another big stat was loosing the field position battle, with the time of possession, as you noted. Neb seemed to always have to go the length of the field but NW was half that distance. That is why that onside kick was not a smart move. I get being aggressive but you needed to flip the field. Make them go the length of the field and waste some time being up two scores. That is what I was hoping Frost would notice being a CEO type coach. He needs to feel how the game is going. That is why Fritg’s is so good at. That is what the good head coaches are good at.
Great write up like always. A couple thoughts i have is how do you think the Defense did tackling? Also it looked like CT was throwing the ball downfield but it didn’t look like he ever dumped it off to the RB, maybe he was pressing to hard? And do you have any thoughts why they brought Smothers in for only one play?
This was what I wondered. I hate boring offensive strategy. this just seemed to be run the back up the middle and throw the ball 15 to 35 yards downfield and that was mostly it. Screen passes? swing passes? reverse? 5 yards out? RPOs? Just very little. And we dont have the Oline to line up and just be vanilla and win games. As much as Im not a Frost fan, he was accurate when he said the plays needed more creativity.
I’d agree there. It is funny though, many fans got mad at the swing passes and RPOs when it was the WR or TE bubble screens. Now we are pressing it down field and there’s not enough of it (not you just what I hear). But the overall point is the same, we can’t push teams around in the B1G if we couldn’t push Northwestern around, so we are going to have to go +1 running the ball and that’s with the QB.
The tackling was really bad… I think conditioning played a part in that, but also heard that we didn’t even put pads on in Ireland so roughly a week before the game, no live tackling. That and having the OL all over us early with a non-veteran DL spelt disaster.
He did have some trouble dropping the ball off. I think Northwestern decided they were going to give those passes up and make the tackle, but to your point we were throwing down field a ton.
That Smothers play, any Nebraska fan knew what was going to happen. And since it worked I was a little surprised to not see it again. I think against Oklahoma there will be much more QB run. Curious if they show it with Smothers/Thompson against North Dakota or Georgia Southern, or if they save it.
Are there rules in practice for how many can be with pads? I get that tackling will get better as they play more but that was a bad way to come out of the gate. And yes everyone knew what Smothers was going to do and they don’t want to show much before Oklahoma, but we need all the wins we can get.
No, your entire roster can be suited up for practice. Though, i’m not sure if Ireland changed that rule, I would assume not. The only restriction is how many suited up for the actual game.
I guess one positive I hadn’t thought is there were few penalties, which normally we would come up with some really stupid ones at inopportune times. We’ll see if that’s a trend or a blip.
I personally don’t buy the jet lag excuse theory (not saying that is what is being proposed here). I know they got there at different times, but still doesn’t ring true to me. That last NW run posted that I asked about in the other thread, I was pretty adamant on poor lifting/conditioning, but also agree with poor depth factoring into that.
I literally just remember watching the running back run, and something just looked strange and realized it looked like our whole DLine was just a wall that was being pushed back and ‘keeping up’ with the camera as it was following the RB.
If that is going to be the trend going forward, I feel like they’re going to have to decide ‘are we better off playing guys we trust who have no energy left, or substituting more often players apparently we have no confidence in’?
I personally was happy with C. Thompson’s overall performance. He definitely was not accurate late in the game, and the INT I think you can put some of that on him, but also some on the WR. Regardless, I feel like the way our offense as a whole played should’ve been enough to win that game. But I guess that’s the story of our last 10 years, lots of ‘ifs’ and hypotheticals if only something bounced our way.
I’d agree, with the fewer motions we were called for less false starts but even holding penalties were down, which is a plus. Part of me thinks that is because the Northwestern DL wasn’t that good, but at the same time I won’t hold it against us.
The jet lag thing shouldn’t have been an issue considering how much time and effort we put into making it not a thing. I agree.
No idea what they are going to do defensively, while I think Northwesterns OL was pretty good, it’s not as good as Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, or possibly even Oklahomas. So we have our work cut out for us.
I really liked thompson, but i’m hoping the thumb rumor is just a rumor
Fritz did not make that comment about Nebraska and culture, which was obvious. He is a better person than that; he wouldn’t say something like that.
Year 5 and it’s the same old stuff. NU finds another way to shoot itself in the foot. After going up 28-17 and having the momentum HCSF decides to do an onside kick. It definitely changed the short term momentum IMHO. In the end the Head Coach is ultimately responsible for the record on the field.
I wonder if the North Dakota and Georgia Southern games will be rather close. They ain’t beating OU so that leaves NU 2-2 going into the Indiana game. That game will probably be a toss up. Keep in mind Frost hasn’t won more than 3 games each season against the BIG since he became HC. If history repeats itself which seems likely the best NU can hope for is 5-7 and it could be worse. My initial prediction was 6-6 but that was assuming NU would beat NWRN.
SSO was right the lines were a major concern coming into this season and the 1st game certainly highlighted that weakness. I’m curious if SSO thinks Frost should be let go after the Indiana game if they are 2-4?
I think you are right. I see people debating if the onside kick was why we lost, which I won’t go to, but at minimum it changed the tone and momentum at that time. Make them go down the field and score on you.
We have to beat the breaks off these next two. If we are in dog fights with North Dakota and Georgia Souther, that will make 3 straight games with no breaks then taking on Oklahoma.
If they are 2-4 after Indiana and his buyout gets reduced at that time, I would certainly think that is in Alberts’ wheelhouse. The problem is it’s only October 1st at that point. That’s a long season to go interim but teams have done it before. But 2-4 basically means you haven’t beat a Power 5 football team in over a year (Northwestern was Oct 2 2021). It could happen, i’m not sure it would.
Barring running the table and beating Oklahoma I wouldn’t really see a case where I’d keep him (granted I’ve been for a new coach for a while) However, I understand ACTUALLY making the decision is way more nuanced than any of us armchair quarterbacks really have to deal with. I see people elsewhere blaming Alberts for the loss…there was 0 reason they could see for keeping Frost, and Alberts didn’t have the guts to fire Frost last year so the NW loss is on him(Alberts).
I mean I definitely would’ve voted for a change to be made, but I can’t say I can’t see ANY reason he kept him. I’m like none of us have the weight of actually making that decision, we don’t know what boosters are saying, trying to deal with the economics of it, know what other coaches I could feasibly get, firing a former champion as player, etc. It’s real easy for me to say we should get someone new, and that’s what I would push for, but it’s different when you are actually running a whole program.
That being said, I really do wonder what if any threshold Alberts has in mind. It is really hard for me to fathom losing to NW, OU, and Indiana to start the year and not decide a change needs to happen. If he is looking for any reason to save him, he can probably find a way. I would just love to know what Alberts’ current mindset and thought process is.
I think if we lose to Indiana which would mean losing to every P5 team on our schedule first five games, that Alberts will pull the plug. 2-3 wouldn’t be good.
The good thing about this site is at least so far we all can have civil conversations about the team without tearing each other down. I always enjoyed SSO at the other site. I wish N2FL would post his thoughts on here from time to time. I know he focuses more on the recruiting aspect. Boy if things don’t go well the recruiting aspect will not be good either.