Grinding to a halt on the ground

Tommy Armstrong and Husker backs found little room to run against Northwestern. End Dean Lowry, left, was one reason. Another was middle linebacker Anthony Walker (13 tackles). “The MIKE linebacker was just flying out there,” a Husker assistant said.

LINCOLN — No matter what Nebraska tried, nothing seemed to work in the run game Saturday against Northwestern.

Stretch plays didn’t get around the edge. Inside power showed promise and then dried up. The quarterback run game made a few plays, including two touchdowns by Tommy Armstrong, but not enough.

And the final number in the 30-28 loss was no fluke: a season-low 82 rushing yards in 38 carries.

“We just had a hard time with it,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said.

Nebraska will look at some adjustments this week after running for 105 yards less than in any of the previous four games.

Nowhere did the Huskers lose worse than up front, with Northwestern making nine tackles for losses — and only two were sacks.

Langsdorf knew the Wildcats had speed at the edges, and said it gave the Huskers problems. “Any stretch runs had a hard time getting past that,” he said. Inside creases that were there for a second closed in a hurry.

“We kind of tried to spread them out. We tried to stretch them. Tried to go inside. We tried to action them with some phantom stuff, some fake sweep,” Langsdorf said. “Even the sweep that we ran, they were all over it (a De’Mornay Pierson-El carry that lost a yard).

“The MIKE linebacker was just flying out there. We had no chance to pick him off with the tight end. I think they played us well. It just made it overall tough to run.”

Along with trying to grind away from carry to carry, the Huskers also failed to break anything of substance. They went 34 carries before getting anything longer than 9 yards, with Armstrong starting the Huskers’ final series with a 14-yard scoot.

Armstrong’s other notable runs were his two TDs — on a 4-yard option keeper in the third quarter and a 3-yard bootleg in the fourth.

“Coach Langsdorf told us to keep forcing it, keep forcing it, keep running the ball,” Armstrong said Saturday. “I guarantee when we watch it on film we’re probably one block away, one cut away. We’ve just got to trust in the process.

“Sometimes where certain guys just got to understand that you’ve got a guy there to block for a reason. We’ve got to understand that on third-and-short we’ve got to get first downs … we’ve got to have that consistency each and every drive, each and every play.”

Nebraska didn’t abandon the run in a close game, despite going to halftime with 58 yards on 21 rushes. It just didn’t get any better in the second half: Five of its 15 runs in the final two quarters, not including sacks, resulted in no gain or negative yardage.

The Huskers finished with 48 passes and 38 runs. I-back Terrell Newby was the leading rusher with 52 yards, but averaged 3.2 on his 16 carries.

“We were trying to stay with it, but trying to move the ball, too,” Langsdorf said. “One thing we did is we did throw quite a few run-pass option plays, and some of those quick throws that we had were a run that could be a throw vs. a good look. And we had some good looks, but I don’t think we made enough of those plays.”

Langsdorf said a lot goes into running plays, “and not just the line,” but the Husker front five knew that it wasn’t a good afternoon against Northwestern after the Huskers had run for 203 yards on just one more carry the week before at Minnesota.

The Wildcats also looked more like the team that had stuffed Stanford on 85 rushing yards to start the season than the one that had allowed 294 the previous week to Iowa.

“We knew coming in they’re a tough opponent,” NU right tackle Zach Sterup said. “I’ll give credit to those guys. They fought, just like we fought. They were able to stop us a few plays, we hit a few plays. That’s just how the game goes.”

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