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Nebraska makes itself at home in win over Northwestern

Nebraska's Brandon Reilly is tackled by Northwestern's Jared McGee on Saturday at Ryan Field. | David Banks/Getty Images

You could put out a Welcome Wagon for Nebraska. But there’s really no need.

The No. 20 Cornhuskers brought their own huge entourage to Ryan Field on Saturday, turning Evanston into Lincoln East. They gave Northwestern a crowd of more than 40,000, its biggest of the season, and gave the local economy a boost. They also brought its terrific band, which put on a marvelous halftime show.

The Cornhuskers even gave away two first-half touchdowns on goal-line fumbles, enhancing the Wildcats’ chances to earn a much-needed victory.

In the end, though, there was just one thing Nebraska wouldn’t do: Give Northwestern a win.

Down 7-3 late in the first half, the Cornhuskers got serious and pulled away from the Wildcats 24-13 despite their giveaways in this Big Ten opener.

Three Nebraska players chose to kneel during the national anthem. At the same time, four of their teammates helped hold the over-sized American flag that was unfurled for the anthem.

None of Northwestern’s players opted to make statements while the anthem was played.

This was a tough loss for the Cats, who fell to 1-3, 0-1 despite playing their first four games at home. Their lone win came against Duke, which shocked Notre Dame Saturday in the crazy world of college football.

NU hits the road for its next two games. Iowa and Michigan State will not be sympathetic.

Nebraska (4-0, 1-0) opened a 17-7 lead with nine minutes left in the third quarter. A four-yard pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. to Cethan Carter completed a methodical 80-yard, 10-play drive. Armstrong passed for 245 yards and ran for 132 more as Nebraska torched the NU defense for 556 yards.

Nebraska botched a chance for a touchdown just four plays into the game, when running back Terrell Newby lost control of the ball as he tried to extend it over the goal line. The ball slipped out of his hands and through the endzone for a touchback, spoiling what might have been a 50-yard touchdown run—or worst case, a 49-yard run to the 1 yardline.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson gave the Wildcats a 7-3 lead on a 42-yard run with9:09 left in the second quarter. Thorson, who cut back after starting to run right, was sprung by good blocking from center Brad North and right guard Tommy Doles.

Nebraska’s second goal-line gaffe came on a run by Devine Ozigbo, who was trying to punch in a TD after a 37-yard run by Armstrong to the NU 2 yardline.

Stood up at the 1, Ozigbo had the ball stripped by Cats safety Godwin Igwebuike. Linebacker Joseph Jones recovered Nebraska’s second goalf-line fumble in the endzone with 3:24 left in the half.

In their first three games, the Cornhuskers had fumbled eight times, but had only lost one of them.

The Wildcats had their own problems. After kicker Jack Mitchell missed a 27-yard field goal wide right in the first quarter, coach Pat Fitzgerald tried some trickery with 19 seconds left in the half.

Lining up for a 40-yard field goal, Mitchell instead spun around and took a pitch from holder Matt Micucci, then completed a two-yard pass back to Micucci that came up five yards short of a first down.

After NU closed to 17-13 on a 24-yard TD pass from Thorson to Austin Carr, the kicking woes continued. Mitchell‘s extra-point attempt hit the left upright and caromed left.

The Huskers opened up a 24-13 lead on a 10-yard end-around for a TD by receiver Jordan Westerkamp. It was a nice call for the junior from from west suburban Montini Catholic, who twice had been open in the endzone for possible TDs, only to be overthrown by Armstrong.

Follow me on Twitter @HerbGould and at TMGcollegesports.com.