LINCOLN — Nebraska and Northwestern were tied at 10 late in Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers had just punted to the Wildcats, who were taking over on their own 20 with 2:13 left.
The Blackshirts knew what they needed to do.
“We all got together and said, ‘Let’s make it happen,’” cornerback Dicaprio Bootle said. “We just put the responsibility on our shoulders.”
Senior cornerback Lamar Jackson took care of the rest.
Jackson picked off an Aiden Smith pass and returned it 11 yards to the Northwestern 49 with 1:00 left on the clock.
“The first thing about it was just the pure fact of time and place,” Jackson said. “I was able to catch that pick, but I want to be better where it comes to returning and actually getting some positive yards out of it.”
That led eventually to Lane McCallum’s game-winning field goal on the final play for a 13-10 Nebraska win.
Jackson just did what he had to do on the interception.
“I knew the game was on the line, either way,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, I second guessed it a little bit. I was happy that I was able to secure it and that we were able to get it done, and Lane was able to knock the field goal down for the win.”
It was a pretty good day for the Nebraska defense. Northwestern was held to 293 yards of total offense, although it did grind out 157 yards on 41 attempts on the ground.
“Each time we go out there, we’re expecting to win,” Jackson said. “We never expect to give anything up, but plays happen. At the end of the day, in this one we were able to get it done. There are going to be plenty more situations, but each time we’re going to step out there and try to put out the fire regardless of who it is.
“I was just a blessing that we were able to get this one. It felt good. We needed this one.”
Jackson’s interception was the only turnover of the day for either team, but the Husker defense was ready whenever it was called on. Safety Cam Taylor-Britt said that’s different than a year ago.
“We were ready to go back on the field,” Taylor-Britt said. “I think that was a big difference from last year when it was, ‘Ah, we have to go back on the field.’ It’s ‘let’s get back on the field. Let’s get the ball back, let’s get a turnover.’ That’s what happened.”
Bootle said the Huskers won’t give up this season. They showed that when two straight penalties — a horse collar call on JoJo Domann and a roughing the passer penalty on Carlos Davis — moved Northwestern all the way to the Nebraska 23.
“Just keep fighting,” Bootle said. “Regardless of whether the calls are going our way or not, just keep fighting. That’s all we had to do. Don’t worry about the last play. Once that play is over, then (onto) the next play.”
Two Northwestern running plays and a short pass netted just seven yards, and Northwestern’s Charlie Kuhbander missed a 34-yard field goal wide right to keep the game tied at 10.
“The whole game, we just felt like from the first snap, that we just need to do our job,” Bootle said. “We need to hold them to minimum yards possible, the fewest points possible.”
Northwestern had to go with Smith at quarterback because Hunter Johnson, listed No. 1 on the depth chart, was out with an injury.
Smith led the Wildcats with 64 yards on 16 carries and was 19-for-32 passing for 136 yards.
“They kind of split time at quarterback,” Jackson said. “We kind of just knew, we kind of focused on the receivers and schematic-wise. One guy took more shots than the other, but there was no dramatic difference. For the most part we didn’t focus on them too much, we focused on the overall scheme and what they do with receivers and how they try to get guys open.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost said nothing the Wildcats did came as a surprise.
“They are a really well-coached team, and they don’t beat themselves very often, and they kind of did today at the end,” Frost said. “They threw the interception that made the difference. Last year we had the strip sack that probably made the difference (in a 34-31 overtime loss). When you’re in a tight game, special teams and turnovers are the difference and I think that last pick we got probably was the play of the day.”
Nose guard Darrion Daniels said defensive coordinator Erik Chinander told them a turnover would make the difference.
“Coach Chinander told us that in the fourth quarter, and as the clock kept ticking, he said the first team that gets a turnover is going to win the game and that was the position we were in,” Daniels said. “Lamar got them with a great play and the offense drove the field and special teams ended it.”