NIU offense comes up short for second week in a row

Nebraska's Billy Kemp IV (1) celebrates a touchdown with teammates Rahmir Johnson (14) and quarterback Heinrich Haarberg (10) against Northern Illinois during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

LINCOLN, NE - After failing to get a ground game going in a loss to SIU last week, the Northern Illinois Huskies suffered a familiar fate against Nebraska in a 35-11 loss before 86,875 fans at Memorial Stadium.

The telling stat was 26 yards rushing on 17 attempts. Passing wasn’t much better with only 73 yards gained until 2 minutes remained in the game and NIU down 35-3.

”I thought it would be a physical contest,” NIU coach Thomas Hammock said. “We didn’t do enough offensively.”

The Huskie defense held its own for much of the game against a Big 10 opponent, forcing six punts. But, being on the field for 36 miuntes took its toll.

For nearly the entire game, the NIU offense could only muster one first down at best, on drives. In the first half, they had three 3-and-outs.

“I think being on the field for extended period of time hurt,” Hammock said.

Already up 14-3 at halftime, the Cornhuskers continued to stifle NIU’s offense the rest of the game until NIU reached Nebraska territory for the first time with less than 2 minutes in the game.

Back-up quarterback Ethan Hampton came in for Rocky Lombardi and drove the team 75 yards on 6-for-8 passing.

With 10 seconds left, Hampton found Chris Carter in the end zone for a 4-yard score. Billy Dozier caught the PAT pass for the final points of the game. That was the only substantial movement the Huskies could muster. They did have one other chance to score a touchdown on a defensive gift, but couldn’t convert in the first quarter when trailing 7-0.

A George Gumbs strip sack on Haarberg and fumble recovery by Skyler Gill-Howard set the Huskies up at the Nebraska 5-yard line. Lombardi tripped and fell while scrambling on third down and the Huskies had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Jake Seibert, who got a boost of confidence after missing two attempts last week.

“We talked about scoring opportunities in the red zone. That hurt,” Hammock said.

Still, the Huskies were holding their own defensively early into the second half. To their credit, they shut down the Cornhuskers’ first two drives and forced a third-and-14 situation deep in Nebraska territory on the next one. With Haarberg forced out of the pocket, he threw a desperation pass to Thomas Fidone for 20 yards to keep the drive alive.”The quarterback broke contain and the kid made a play,” Hammock said. “I thought maybe it was out of bounds.”

Eventually, Nebraska would score to go up 21-3 and effectively put the game away. Haarberg led all rushers with 98 yards and had 158 yards passing.NIU returns home this Saturday to face Tulsa.

Nebraska moves to 8-1 against MAC opponents and 4-1 against NIU in its 390th sellout, an ongoing NCAA record dating back to 1962.

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