Northwestern vs. Nebraska Football: How Will Cornhuskers Respond to the Upset?

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIINovember 7, 2011

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 05: Quarterback Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers dives for the end zone against the Northwestern Wildcats defense during their game at Memorial Stadium November 5, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Northwestern beat Nebraska 28-25. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

It's amazing how quickly a football season can change.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers' season took a sharp turn for the worse this weekend. One week after wresting control of their own destiny, they put it right back in the hands of their fellow conference mates—particularly the Michigan State Spartans, the team they had just taken it from.

Just as quickly as the Cornhuskers took control of the Big Ten Legends division with a 24-3 win over Michigan State, they gave it back the very next week with a 28-25 loss to the upset-minded Northwestern Wildcats.

There was a silver lining or two to be found in the Huskers' loss, but what will ultimately define the rest of the season is, as always, how they will respond.

The storied Blackshirt defense seemed to have finally found their groove against the Spartans, but after giving up an astounding 468 yards to the talented Wildcat offense, they proved that they still have a lot of work to do before a conference championship becomes a reality.

Nebraska's offense didn't fare a whole lot better. Although they racked up 411 yards and 25 points, that isn't so impressive when you take into account Northwestern's 88th-ranked scoring defense.

The Huskers came out flat at almost every position, giving up big chunks of yards both on the ground and through the air while failing to move the ball consistently and giving the ball away on fumbles when they got into scoring position.

The offensive line couldn't drive what should have been a severely overmatched Wildcat defensive line off the ball, the receivers dropped passes and even Rex Burkhead had a less-than-stellar game. Much of Burkhead's performance can be blamed on the offensive line, but his fumble inside the 5-yard line was a game-changing play. Superman certainly wasn't himself this week.

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 05: Running back Rex Burkhead #22 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers tries to avoid defensive back Ibraheim Campbell #24 of the Northwestern Wildcats during their game at Memorial Stadium November 5, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Northwester
Eric Francis/Getty Images

But as I said, there was a silver lining or two. One of the only positives of Saturday's game was Taylor Martinez.

The sophomore quarterback has continued to improve throughout the season, and he showed it on Saturday. He completed 28-of-37 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns, and I counted at least three drops.

Nebraska's running game wasn't working all day (the team finished with a season-low 122 rushing yards), but when the coaches put the game on Martinez's back in the second half, he nearly led them back for the win. Had the defense buckled down and stopped Northwestern's offense, the team would have won the game on Martinez's arm.

The defense also had its moments on Saturday, forcing the Wildcats into three three-and-outs in a row during the second quarter, during which time the offense couldn't capitalize. The defense also collected three turnovers, which ended up yielding only 10 points.

The bottom line is, the Huskers have a lot of potential that has yet to be fulfilled. Nebraska's youth and continued improvement offers hope for the future, and yet with continued inconsistency and the losses of seniors like Brandon Kinnie, Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard, it's hard to know how the team will look next season.

But with three games left to play and a division still wide open for the taking, let's hope the Huskers refocus and re-dedicate themselves to this season and what the team can still accomplish.

The next two weekends, both away games at Penn State and Michigan (Denard Robinson is looking pretty scary right now), will go a long way in determining Nebraska's mettle.

If history has anything to say about it, the Huskers might be able to bounce back and make a late push.