Nebraska 35, NIU 11: Five takeaways from the Huskies’ blowout loss

Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi (12) passes the ball against Nebraska during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

LINCOLN, Nebraska – The NIU offense dried up for the second week in a row, and the Huskie defense gave up three late touchdowns as Nebraska picked up its first win of the year, 35-11.

After opening the year with a win at Boston College, the Huskies lost to Southern Illinois 14-11 last week. They’ll look to get back on track in their final nonconference game next week, a home match against Tulsa.

Here are five takeaways from the loss:

Scoring for the first time

After being shut out in the first half in losses to Minnesota and Colorado, Nebraska’s offense came out with a vengeance against NIU, going 55 yards in six plays for the early 7-0 lead. Back-up QB Heinrich Haarberg, filling in for injured Jeff Sims, ran four times and passed the other two plays.

The Huskies defense held tough most of the remainder of the half, with a strip sack of Haarberg by George Gumbs leading the way. Nebraska was held to 138 total yards in the first half and had a trio of 3-and-outs. Grumbs’ DL mates James Ester and Raishein Thomas also had TFLs. The Huskers took a 14-3 lead into the break.

NIU offense goes nowhere

An 18-yard reception by Kacper Rutkiewicz on NIU’s first play of the second quarter was more than their total yardage (17) in the first quarter. The only other significant gains in the first half were a 15-yard penalty against Nebraska for pass interference and a 12-yard reception by Davis Patterson on the last play of the half.

Taking up where they left off in a loss to SIU (34 carries for 63 yards rushing), the Huskies only had 3 yards on the ground in the first half. Even after recovering a fumble at the Nebraska 5-yard line, they went backwards 8 yards before settling for a field goal.

Other than that fumble recovery, NIU didn’t run a play on Nebraska’s side of the field until the last drive of the game led by backup quarterback Ethan Hampton, resulting in a touchdown.

NIU defense holds into the second half

NIU’s defense continued its strong play into the third quarter, forcing punts on the first two Nebraska possessions like they did on the final possession of the second quarter. However, a critical third-and-14 toe-tapping sideline reception by Alex Bullock on Nebraska’s third possession deep in its own territory keyed a touchdown drive. On the next play, Jaden Dolphin nearly intercepted Haarberg and the Cornhuskers needed two more third-down conversions to gain a 21-3 lead.

As the quarter ended, Nebraska held a 264-75 advantage in total yards, with NIU failing to sustain a single drive.

Nebraska offense starts cooking late

A 14-3 game into the second half, the Huskers scored on their last three possessions. They sealed the win with an 11-yard run by Anthony Grant following Rocky Lombardi’s first interception.

Nebraska finished with 364 yards, including 206 on the ground despite not having a 100-yard back.

Final offensive stats for NIU very rough

Rocky Lombardi finished with 73 yards, completing 11 of 28 passes. Playing on the last drive when the game was out of reach, backup Hampton completed 6 of 8 passes for 50 yards, including a touchdown with 4 seconds left to Chris Carter.

Antario Brown led the ground attack, carrying eight times for 16 yards. As a team, NIU ran 22 times for 26 yards.

NIU finished with 149 yards of total offense, with 75 of those coming on the final drive led by Hampton.