Nebraska v Northwestern score: Scott Frost’s Cornhuskers take double-digit lead, Wildcats win in Ireland

For the second consecutive season, Nebraska gave up a season opener against a Big Ten opponent in excruciating fashion, blowing not one, but two double-digit leads in a 31-28 loss to North West in Dublin, Ireland. Regularly on the wrong end of close games, the Cornhuskers are now down to 5-21 in one-score affairs under fifth-year coach Scott Frost.

Nebraska showed great promise early in the third quarter, but that all changed once Frost called a weird kick after rising 28-17. Northwestern quickly sniffed the kick and converted with a 44-yard drive capped by a 3-yard Cam Porter hit to reduce the lead to four.

So, Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson threw his first interception in a Cornhuskers uniform. Northwestern responded with a six-play, 42-yard drive culminating in a four-yard run from running back Evan Hull give the Wildcats the edge for good. Northwestern ran the ball 12 straight times to kill the clock in the fourth quarter, using a four-minute drive to bring the clock just outside the two-minute mark. Thompson then threw another grueling receiver finger interception on the next possession to end the game.

A lot was asked of Thompson in his first start; the transfer threw 41 times for 355 yards with two total touchdowns. However, one pass was placed slightly high and another was deflected by a receiver for two frustrating interceptions. Come back Anthony Grant posted 101 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but the Cornhuskers averaged just 2.2 yards per carry off a 46-yard touchdown run.

Northwest Quarterback Ryan Hillinski played one of the best games of his long career, however, completing 27 of 38 passes for two touchdowns with no interceptions. Hull and Porter also combined for 213 rushing yards and two scores.

What did we learn from Saturday’s Week 0 game in Dublin? Here are three takeaways from the Big Ten’s 2022 season opener.

The new era looks like the old

After a disappointing 3-9 campaign last season, Frost signed a new quarterback (Thompson), a new offensive coordinator (Mark Whipple) and a number of new players and assistants. In many ways, it was billed as a new program that earned a fresh start under a beleaguered head coach.

The second Northwestern didn’t apply any pressure, however, the Huskers returned to the mistakes of old.

“I think we’re going to learn as an offensive team that you have to be a bit creative in this league,” said Frost. “It’s difficult for me, there’s not just one way to do things. I think we can cooperate a little more.”

Despite announced workouts from new offensive line coach Donovan Raiola, Nebraska was a complete non-factor in the trenches. When things started to get uncomfortable, Thompson’s receivers quickly regressed. The fact that tight end Travis Vokolek left with an injury didn’t help matters. The final drive of the game ended with a receiver drop followed by a pass bouncing off a receiver’s fingers for an interception. Naturally, turnover ended up being a deciding factor.

Frost had incredible bad luck in close games during his tenure. At some point, there is simply no more excuse.

It’s an even year

The Wildcats have staged their best even-numbered campaigns in recent seasons, including a Big Ten West title in 2020 and 21st place in the AP Top 25 in 2018. After a miserable 3-9 effort last season, Northwestern looked more impressive in almost every facet than anyone might have expected.

The offensive line was by far the most impressive unit on the field, leading the way for a group that posted 528 total yards on 6.4 yards per play. More impressively, the Cornhuskers had no sacks and a only pressure credited by the quarterback.

Admittedly, it’s hard to know exactly what to read into things with an inconsistent Nebraska team on the other side, but Northwestern won the game on its own terms. While there’s still a lot to prove before the middle of the Big Ten schedule, the Wildcats have legitimately elite talent pools with advantages even against the best in the Big Ten West.

Bowl eligibility just got harder

Nebraska hasn’t seen a bowling game since 2016, and Frost needs to achieve that feat in 2022, at least, in order to keep his job. Unfortunately, losing a season opener in which the Cornhuskers have been favored for the second year in a row makes the way even harder.

Nebraska heads home for a game against a tough FCS team in North Dakota and will face Clay Helton’s Georgia Southern team the following week. Then it’s a battle with Oklahoma’s No. 9 Lincoln in a game that could make or break Frost’s career.

There are winnable matches on the horizon – but are there as many as against Northwestern? Without a week off before September 24, there’s not much chance of settling down. And don’t count on Frost leaving on his own if the results don’t come in 2022.

“Nope,” said Frost when asked if he would quit after the loss, “I like guys.”

Leave a Comment