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Huskers unable to hold lead late

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson rushes for a touchdown on Nov. 4, 2017 against the Huskers (KHGI)

LINCOLN --- Tanner Lee's pass across the middle on 4th-and-12 in the first overtime was deflected by Northwestern safety Kyle Queiro to give the visiting Wildcats their third consecutive overtime win with a 31-24 victory over Nebraska on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The Huskers, who slipped to 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten, led 24-17 after three quarters, but Clayton Thorson's seven-yard touchdown run with 5:32 left in regulation capped a 13-play, 84-yard drive that took 5:03 and tied the score at 24.

Both teams had a chance to win in regulation, with Nebraska moving more than 50 yards on the ensuing drive before stalling near the Northwestern 40. Thorson and the Wildcats, who improved to 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten, moved near the Nebraska 40 but his Hail Mary pass was batted out of the back of the North end zone as time expired.

Moments later, Northwestern was back taking aim at the North end zone after Nebraska won the overtime toss and elected to defend. Seven plays later, Thorson plunged over the right side of his offensive line on 4th-and-inches at the goal line to give the Wildcats a 31-24 lead on the opening possession of overtime.

Nebraska had a chance to respond, but Lee was sacked on second down to put the Huskers at 3rd-and-20 from the 35. After an eight-yard completion to Tyler Hoppes, Lee's final attempt was batted away to give Northwestern its fourth consecutive victory, including its third straight in overtime.

Northwestern finished with a 475-337 edge in total yardage, but Nebraska held the advantage in time of possession, 31:40-28:20. The Huskers finished with just 112 rushing yards on 31 carries, led by 72 yards on 23 carries from Devine Ozigbo. Lee completed 21-of-38 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw three interceptions. The first two did not result in points for the Wildcats, but his third came with Nebraska knocking on the door at the Northwestern 19 with just under 11 minutes left in the game.

Numbers

49 –– Senior linebacker Marcus Newby recorded his first career interception in the third quarter, returning it 49 yards for a touchdown to give Nebraska a 21-17 lead. The 49-yard interception return for a touchdown was the longest by a Husker since Larry Asante had a 74-yard interception return against Louisiana-Lafayette in 2009. It was the longest interception return of any kind by an NU player since Nate Gerry had a 54-yard interception return against Illinois in 2014. Newby finished the game with a career-high tying 10 tackles, including eight solo stops.

8-4 –– In the loss Nebraska fell to 8-4 all time in games decided in overtime, including 2-1 at Memorial Stadium. Today was Nebraska’s first overtime game since Oct. 29 last season when Nebraska lost, 23-17, at Wisconsin. Nebraska last played an overtime game at home on Sept. 30, 2006, when it beat Kansas, 39-32. Nebraska’s other overtime game at home was a victory over Iowa State, 27-20, on Oct. 1, 2005.

7 –– Northwestern’s seven-point victory was the largest margin of victory between the two teams in a game played in Lincoln since Nebraska joined the Big Ten. The last three meetings in Lincoln were determined by a total of eight points, including margins of 3, 3 and 2 points.

100 –– Stanley Morgan Jr. caught four passes for 38 yards in the game, increasing his career receptions total to 101. Morgan is the 10th Husker with 100 career receptions. Morgan also moved into the top 10 on the NU career receiving yardage list. With his 38 yards today, Morgan has 1,447 career yards to rank 10th in school history. He passed Maurice Purify (1,444 yards) in the game. Morgan has caught a pass in 23 consecutive games, tying for the fifth-longest streak in school history.

1,000 –– Junior I-back Devine Ozigbo rushed 23 times for 72 yards. With his 72 rushing yards this afternoon, Ozigbo increased his career rushing total to 1,052 yards and became the 65th Husker player with 1,000 career rushing yards.

7 –– Senior safety Joshua Kalu intercepted a first-quarter Northwestern pass and returned it 32 yards. It marked Kalu’s seventh career interception and his second in 2017.

2 –– Quarterback Tanner Lee connected on two touchdown passes, marking the seventh time in nine games Lee has thrown for at least two touchdown passes. Lee has thrown for 17 touchdown passes this season, nine shy of the school record of 26 set by Zac Taylor in 2006. With his 225 passing yards today, Lee now has 2,365 yards on the season and moved from 10th to eighth the single-season passing chart. He passed Zac Lee (2,143 – 2009) and Tommy Armstrong Jr. (2,180 – 2016). Lee has thrown for at least 200 yards in eight of nine games this season.

Other Notes

· Nebraska converted two Northwestern turnovers into 14 points, including an interception by a touchdown by Marcus Newby. Northwestern scored seven points following Nebraska’s three turnovers.

· The Nebraska defense limited Northwestern to 1-of-11 on third downs, including preventing conversions on the Wildcats’ first eight third-down attempts.

· JD Spielman had a 40-yard run in the second quarter, the longest rush by a Husker this season. It was a career long run for Spielman and doubled his previous rushing total for the season (7 carries, 20 yards). Spielman finished the game with 45 rushing yards, 48 receiving yards and 102 kickoff return yards, giving him 195 all-purpose yards on the game. Spielman has 1,154 all-purpose yards this season, 105 yards shy of the freshman all-purpose record of 1,259 yards by Ahman Green in 1995.

· Quarterback Tanner Lee threw an interception on his fifth attempt of the day, ending his streak of attempts without an interception at 122 passes, dating back to the first quarter of the Wisconsin game.

· Redshirt freshman safety Marquel Dismuke made his first career start in today’s game.

· Redshirt freshman tight end Jack Stoll had a 32-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. It marked the first career touchdown for Stoll on his second career reception.

· Senior kicker Drew Brown connected on a 23-yard field goal in the third quarter for his 58th career field goal. He passed his brother, Kris, for second place on the NU career field goal chart.

Quotes

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley

Opening Statement

“Very disappointing loss, probably lots of things to look back on and talk about in that game. But, had an opportunity to win and let that slip away and couldn’t respond in overtime.”

On Tanner Lee’s interception

“We actually had a max protection called, we got beat on a stunt and he was free. The hit caused the interception. It looked like we had a real good play going, but it turned into a real bad play. I just said that the field goal here makes it two scores.”

On the run defense

“They hit some seams that we didn’t quite get to, especially somewhat throughout and one near the end, but definitely early. We weren’t setting the edge and getting the width on their reach blocking, wide blocking perimeter runs out there. We didn’t do a good job out there, but except later at times we seemed to have gotten a handle on some of their run game. What we did better, second or third quarter I would say, but early on it was not good and the totals aren’t good.”

On the overtime offensive series

“The biggest play in that was the sack-screen pass that we tried to throw. When you get that far behind in an overtime deal, that’s not fun and that’s what caused the collapse of that drive.”

On getting control of the game

“I absolutely think you need to do what we did last week over time to have an identity about being able to do that and respond. I would have to just say that we’re not yet there.”

On Northwestern’s 84-yard tying touchdown drive

“When their big pass play, third down over the middle, that was an impressive play. I don’t know about people, but I thought they had a good mixture on that drive.”

On if there is any emotional attrition within the team

“No, and just like everything right now, it’s a little too early to assess that. I mean we just finished the game not long ago to know how they’re going to react in the next 48 hours so when we get to Monday’s practice or whenever that is, that’s when we’ll know more.”

On the second half of the game

“Well we’re obviously disappointed in our finish. It felt like there had been some good football, and then it kind of felt deflated, right into the overtime, now the defense did their best I think after giving up some yardage in the overtime to try and keep them out, it went to fourth down, and didn’t quite get it done, but did a good job to get it done.”

On chances to go up two scores

“That’s the deflating, disappointing part, we had our chances to take a lead that would have made them get two scores in the fourth quarter and we didn’t do it.”

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee

On missed opportunities

“One of the big things this week was to make sure we finished in the end zone and so that was disappointing, you know to go on a big drive like that and not be able to punch it in. So, have got to be better there. It takes a lot of pressure off of our defense who played well enough of win tonight. We will keep pushing there.”

On the interception

“I’m not sure about that but that particular play, it was a good time to call that play, I liked it. I think we had… I think Stanley (Morgan Jr.) did a good job, I think he was open there. I think it is tough, you know, but that’s football. Things like that happen and I think it is just tough and it is what it is. It just sucks that it happened right there. So, yeah it hurts but we’ve got to be better, just have to be better all around.”

On drowning out speculations about the program

“You know, it is tough and I think that it has been alright because of the team we have. I think I have been able to rally behind my teammates and I think we’ve all been able to help each other when things like that are going on because it is tough when you’re having a tough season. You know, I always rely on those guys in every situation. Those are the guys I hang out with all week, I hang out with after games. The guys I love crying with, playing games with and the only thing that really matters to me is wanting to play well for my coaches and wanting to play well for my teammates. Because those are the guys that put in the endless hours of work with me and for me and we do it together. So just having that always in the back of my mind really drives me.”

On former players criticizing the current team

“It is disappointing, I think I would be disappointed if I were them. I think this means so much to them and they want to see their school do well and that’s understandable. So that’s my opinion there.”

On what he does after a loss

“I just want to learn from it. First of all, I want to be better because of it. I think we should be better week to week because of the things we go through during games. I enjoy this, I enjoy the process, I enjoy football. We go through tough times you just kind of got to realize that it happens but the way you respond to it is what matters. I think we will respond with joy, we will respond by coming to work every day and working hard because we have respect for everyone that puts work into this program. So that’s the reason I’ve been coming to work and working my butt off. So that keeps me going.”

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald

Opening Statement

“Another great team win for us. As we got prepared for Nebraska, we could see that they were improving, especially Tanner (Lee) since the start of the season. The way that they played last week, we knew we were going to have our hands full here not only with the way they are playing but also while we were playing in this crowd. I think our guys showed a lot of resiliency. We faced a lot of adversity, some out of our control. But our guys kept on battling and made a lot of big plays down the stretch. Obviously like I just told our guys, I mean they picked me up. We made a mistake at the end of the first half, not taking a timeout. I didn’t want that to be the reason why we weren’t successful here today. That played into the fourth down decision at the end of overtime. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. I credit the guys for that no doubt. Mike Riley is a good friend and a great coach. The Cornhuskers have a great football coach here, with Mike and his staff. To see how they are handling the outside noise and to take this talented team and get better and improve. From one coach to another, I tip my hat to Mike and his staff because I think he is doing one heck of a job. Like I told him after the game, I have so much respect for him. Love him dearly, we have been AFCA board members now for a number of years together and to listen to his moral compass when it comes to our game, to student-athletes, is second to none. I tip my hat to him and the young men for the quality battle. But we found a way to get it done, and we will take it and move forward.”

What he saw out of Clayton Thorson

“I saw a young man become the all-time leading quarterback in program history. I saw a young man with a lot of resilience and a lot of character. Not a perfect game from his throwing standpoint, but I like what Mick did after the pick. He came and said Fitz I want to throw and get that going. I said lets go, and he comes out and makes two really good throws in a row. And that just speaks to his character and the way he was raised, from a great family. He is a true competitor, that’s why I wanted to give him the opportunity to go into the game during overtime. He works his tail off and a guy that is just a winner. I am very thankful for him.”

On overtime

“I think our guys have some confidence in tight games. To see now the way we responded, to see the look in their eye when it was overtime, we are going to win this game. The way our offense went down and made a great drive together. I thought Mick called a really great overtime. There were some things there, we talked with the offensive staff, there were a couple concepts we wanted to try in overtime. Again, just going back and forth on the headset talking, to both sides of the ball, Hank and the other staff had a great plan going into overtime. Anticipating what we would say. But the credit goes to our guys, they executed. They went out and got it done, I am very thankful for that effort from them.”

On what clicked for the offense

“I think just execution. It looked like we splashed off a couple of blocks. We created some short gains in the run gain. We would get 6, 7 chunks on them. So credit Nebraska on that obviously. We lost a little bit of momentum, it is going to happen on the road. This is one of the cathedrals of college football. This is one of the best of the best you play in. There is an unbelievable fan base. We lost momentum a little bit. Godwin’s pick flipped it right around. Not sure who hit the quarterback on this one, and that was probably what caused the pick. We blew up a bubble screen so we expected we are going to get the fake bubble and go and that is what they threw.”

On the running game

“We have been trying to run the ball here for the first month. You guys can see the difference between a healthy Justin (Jackson) and Justin in the first month. It is night and day. To see a senior with the personal expectations he has on himself. To want to carry our football team and not have that success he had early because of injury. To see how tough, mentally tough and physically tough he is, and to battle through that and overcome. It is amazing to see that and it is also his leadership. He is a complete football player. Incredibly thankful and blessed to be his coach.”


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