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Northwestern’s demise has nothing to do with luck

Chi Chi Ariguzo

Chi Chi Ariguzo

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After Northwestern’s gut-punching loss to Nebraska on a “Hail Mary,” nobody from the team had words to describe what happened.

Here’s two: Northwestern lost.

Save the “there were two winners in this game” sanctimony, which Nebraska coach Bo Pelini used in his postgame news conference as some attempt at graciousness. Losing implies that somehow you had a chance to win. Northwestern should have won.

Harsh, but true. The game Saturday wasn’t some damnation from a higher power. Luck had nothing to do with it.

Some might say Huskers receiver Jordan Westerkamp was fortunate to catch the tipped “Hail Mary” pass. But the most important aspect of defending that play is to never, ever allow a player behind the pile.

That’s where Westerkamp was standing as the ball fell into his hands.

This might seem like a boot in the back when the Wildcats are down. Call it a reality check instead. Or even homage to how talented Northwestern has become.

It wasn’t a talentless Wildcats team that gave its all against a mighty Nebraska program. The Wildcats have NFL players on their roster.

Despite a winless Big Ten season, the Wildcats have been close in every game except for the rout at Wisconsin. But championship teams win close games.

The most crucial moments of the season have been bigger than Northwestern.

Like a fourth-and-15 on the final drive of the game Saturday when the Wildcats allowed Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah to take a pass 16 yards. Stopping the Huskers would have prevented the “Hail Mary” from happening.

Or a second-and-goal at the Nebraska 1-yard line on the previous drive, on which Northwestern failed to punch the ball into the end zone.

There also was a failed fourth-and-one attempt on a potential game-winning drive to Ohio State.

Yes, the officials blew that call. But get the appropriate push on the offensive line, and Northwestern clearly gets past the maker.

Teams leave the game to chance. Luck doesn’t magically take over.

So here’s where the Wildcats stand. They need to win two of their next three games to become bowl-eligible. After their bye this week, they host Michigan and Michigan State and travel to Illinois.

It’s doable.

And for those who think Northwestern needs some luck, just say a “Hail Mary.”

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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