EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern was moving.
Pass plays of 12, 8 and 17 yards helped the Wildcats maneuver down Ryan Field before halftime of Saturday’s game against No. 20 Nebraska.
Then Kevin Maurice changed things in a hurry. The senior defensive tackle sacked Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson on back-to-back plays. The end result was zero points after the Wildcats attempted a fake field goal.
It was that kind of night for the Huskers, who gave up 388 total yards, but also made key stops and forced two turnovers in a 24-13 victory.
“That’s real good,” said Maurice, who came into the game with 1½ career sacks. “We made mistakes. But the most important thing is we bowed up, and did what we had to when it was time.”
Case in point: The Wildcats were driving on the first drive of the second half, nearly sniffing the red zone. But Husker sophomore Aaron Williams picked off a Thorson pass in the end zone, and the Huskers scored on the ensuing drive.
“(Williams) was out of shape on the route, really, but just burst back in,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. “That comes from film study.”
Joshua Kalu also picked off a pass late in the fourth quarter. And twice, the Blackshirts stopped drives immediately following turnovers by the Husker offense.
“We didn’t freak out,” senior linebacker Josh Banderas said. “We didn’t panic. And that’s something that last year we might have had a little more (of).
"We're more calm. We know what we can do and we know the situations that we're in, so that was a good sign."
Nebraska gave up drives of 53, 42, 57, 40, 52 and 50 yards. A 42-yard touchdown in the second quarter came on the legs of Thorson, who entered the game with minus-2 yards rushing.
Ask Banker what play sticks out, and it’s Thorson’s touchdown run.
“The thing that upsets us the most was the sweep we gave up to him,” Banker said of Thorson, who had runs of 68 and 49 yards last year in Lincoln. “It shouldn’t have happened.
“By and large, we’re happy with the fact that we didn’t humiliate ourselves like we did last year by letting a quarterback run out of the pocket like he did.”
Thorson, in fact, was held to 43 yards on 10 carries. He was sacked four times.
“We made the correction and they never really came back to it, for whatever reason,” Banderas said.
Banker couldn’t be too upset. He pointed out the Huskers are “winning right now.” But he was quick to point out that there is plenty of room for improvement.
He would like to see better run defense. The Wildcats rushed for 137 yards on 32 carries (4.3 per carry). Justin Jackson, Northwestern's primary back, had 79 yards on 20 carries. His longest run was 13 yards.
“As happy as I am that we’ve gotten better understanding, and we’re doing a better job in pass coverage, our run defense has to improve,” Banker said. “In this conference, if you can’t stop the run, you’ll get run over, literally.”