Final: Northwestern 30, Nebraska 28

Key play: Dan Vitale 37-yard TD catch to take fourth-quarter lead

Once again, Clayton Thorson hit Dan Vitale down the sideline for a big touchdown. The Northwestern super back made an incredible play just to keep his balance and dive into the end zone. The score capped a drive in which Thorson racked up 66 passing yards, which was more than he had in the entire Iowa game. He made a lot of rookie mistakes on Saturday, but when the Wildcats needed to come up with a long scoring drive, the freshman hung in the pocket and delivered.

Telling stat: Northwestern has nearly half the time of possession, still loses

It was basically the story of the Huskers’ disappointing season. They controlled the game for most of the day, but fell apart on a handful of plays and lost. Nebraska sustained more drives and looked like the aggressors. Still, it found itself behind at the half. That was a credit to Thorson, who ripped off two long runs in the first half while the Wildcat offense was sleeping. Usually if you look at Northwestern and see that it got crushed in time of possession, it meant that the running game couldn’t do anything. That was true with the exception of Thorson’s long runs. But the Wildcats found a way.

Worth noting:

Nebraska receivers drop five passes

Tommy Armstrong was nowhere near perfect on Saturday. He had an awful pick six to Nick VanHoose that put the Huskers in a hole early. The third-year starter wasn’t accurate for much of the afternoon. Still, he needed more help from his wideouts. Brandon Reilly, Jordan Westerkamp and De’Mornay Pierson-El all had drops. That can’t happen, especially when Terrell Newby can’t get anything going in the running game. Even though the Huskers nearly racked up 300 yards passing, it was a day to forget for the usually reliable receiving core.

-Dean Lowry was an absolute menace

The Northwestern defensive end probably learned a lot about Tommy Armstrong on Saturday. It seemed like Lowry was in Armstrong’s ear every time he dropped back to pass. He finished the game with a whopping six (!) tackles for loss, two of which were sacks. He also batted down a pass to help stall a Nebraska drive. If not for an obvious uncalled holding penalty, Lowry would’ve had himself another sack. He and Anthony Walker did a lot of the heavy lifting for a Northwestern defense that desperately needed to rebound after two games of getting its teeth kicked in. A veteran effort it was.

What it means: Northwestern is back on track, Nebraska is still searching for consistency

The Wildcats are far better than the product we saw in the last two weeks. On Saturday, they responded in a must-win game to stop the bleeding. Credit the Wildcats for plugging away on offense when they couldn’t move the ball unless Thorson busted loose. They are now bowl eligible for the first time in three years. That means something in Evanston. The Huskers, on the other hand, are looking more and more like a team that will find itself on the outside of the postseason looking in. That’s a scary thought for Mike Riley’s short-term future in Lincoln. You can bet Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst is sweating right now, too.