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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Northwestern

As has been the case for a while now, Nebraska found itself on the wrong side of history.

Northwestern won its third-straight overtime game in a row, besting the Big Red 31-24. The extra period’s short field played to the Wildcats’ advantage with Northwestern running back Justin Jackson having a banner day. Not only did he tally 154 yards on the ground in total, but leaped to No. 7 on the Big Ten career rushing yardage list.

Time to dig into the guts of this game:

1.) It’s a shame to see Tanner Lee have such a poor game after going 122 consecutive passes without a pick. He made some incredibly poor reads, though one interception was the result of horrific pass blocking and an elite defensive back having his head on a swivel. While the interceptions were a pain, Lee still made NFL-quality throws and showed that when he has protection, he can excel. Unfortunately, today was not one of those days.

2.) I wasn’t expecting to see as much of Devine Ozigbo as we did. Nebraska attempted 31 rushes with Zig getting 23 of those. However, the Huskers’ inability to open lanes for a running back was evident as No. 22 only gained 72 yards for his trouble. This was a game in which a back like Jaylin Bradley could’ve drastically helped the Huskers’ chances of winning, but unfortunately, he was — and perhaps will be — on the shelf for a while along with a few other difference makers.

3.) Stanley Morgan was targeted nine times, but the stars didn’t align today. He did manage some great snags off of Lee’s darts and nearly had a huge gain, but couldn’t drag a foot in-bounds. De’Mornay Pierson-El continues to disappoint and Keith Williams let him hear about it on the sideline today. Props go to Bryan Reimers for his touchdown catch (on his second reception of the season, no less) and Jack Stoll for his first scoring snag. J.D. Spielman is one of — if not the — most exciting young members of this team.

As a redshirt freshman, his future successes appear limitless as both a receiver and on special teams. Morgan is still the leader of the pack, but when the chips are down, Spielman’s stepping up in a big way.

4.) With Michael Decker possibly out for the year, Nebraska’s center spot is simply in a bad way. Cole Conrad has shown to be a major step down and I can’t help but think it might be worth seeing what John Raridon can do running with the ones. When it comes to pass protection, it’s always a 50/50 shot that Conrad can hold his own.

Guard play was spotty and Nebraska’s tackles had some whiffs at critical junctures such as the sack on Lee in overtime. No doubt Brenden Jaimes will be down on himself for that. However, he’s shown so much talent and ability as a guy fresh out of high school that it’s difficult to come down on him too hard.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see some shuffling on the line again, but having Farniok and Jaimes hold down the right side is a solid plan moving forward. I’m curious to see what Boe Wilson could do running with the ones in place of Jerald Foster as well.

5.) I wasn’t surprised that Jackson got the yards he did against the defensive front seven. If you would’ve told me he would rack up 150-plus yards, I wouldn’t have blinked. However, I would expect that most of those would be on one or two chunk plays. Nebraska’s inside linebackers appear to be feast or famine as we head down the stretch. The young guns continue to provide optimism for the future. Insert Ben Stille love here.

6.) Joshua Kalu had one of his better games, snagging an interception and playing Northwestern’s Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation perfectly. While he seems lost at times, it doesn’t help that he isn’t assisted by struggling cornerbacks.

Speaking of cornerbacks, Lamar Jackson appears to finally be playing with some physicality. That said, he still looks to be on skates at times. I do expect him to continue to improve as the season winds down, but how quickly he starts to be more reliable at locking down his side remains a mystery.

7.) Drew’s Brown still good and what can I say about Caleb Lightbourn that hasn’t already been said? I do have a big gripe about special teams this week because it may have cost Nebraska the game. It was a freshman mistake, but Spielman’s hesitation-turned-kickoff return was an absolute killer. As mentioned earlier, he’ll do great things in that role, but it wasn’t one of his finer moments and damn, did it sting.

Next, Nebraska travels to TCF Stadium to take on the Fightin’ Flecks in the Battle for the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy. Minnesota is 4-4 as of this writing which is disappointing as I felt P.J. Fleck would be a better influence. Apparently, his act is wearing a bit thin. It’s like when you take in a bunch of sugar and eventually crash.

I expect that tilt to be another back-and-forth and since it’s at Goldy’s Palace, look for Nebraska to be a slight underdog in opening lines. Prepare to be outraged, if you must.

This is a game Nebraska really needs to pick up for some positive momentum before heading into Happy Valley. Perhaps the worst news I can relay is that it’s an old-fashioned Big Ten 11:00 a.m. kick.

Comment below or keep up with the author by following Brandon on Twitter at @eightlaces

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