It was cold, away from home, and a week before Christmas. Senior Day was a week ago and this game was being played on a Friday night without even families in the stands to offer a muted atmosphere. Nebraska was 2-5, Rutgers 3-5. What Nebraska team was going to take the field in New Jersey?
This was supposed to be a banner slate of games—Championship Week—for the Big Ten conference that began with the Huskers and Scarlet Knights. If you just watched the first half, you probably wanted to bleach your eyeballs and yell at the league for subjecting you to the play. If you just watched the second, you saw the progress Coach Scott Frost regularly talks about.
Frustrating? Sure. Wild way to end the year? Absolutely. In the end, Nebraska walked away with hugs and smiles and its third victory of the season, a 28-21 win over Rutgers, thanks to a rushing attack that was as good as its been all year.
It really was quite the Jekyll and Hyde performance from Nebraska.
The Huskers salted away the fourth quarter (Nebraska had the ball for 11:42 of the fourth) with their ground game and won the second half for the first time all year, 21-7, but that was after a first half that featured three turnovers, three sacks allowed and seven penalties called.
Let’s just lay this out drive-by-drive.
The first drive of the game for the Husker offense featured eight plays and three fumbles.
The second saw NU gain 31 yards on the first two plays before stalling out and punting away at midfield.
The third drive ended after just one play because of a fumble.
The fourth drive went three-and-out.
The fifth went 75 yards for a touchdown to take a 7-6 lead. Life!
And the next possession ended in a red zone interception, quarterback Adrian Martinez’s third turnover of the half.
Now to the second half.
Nebraska went 90 yards in eight plays for a touchdown.
Then it saw the drive end on the third play because of an interception, Martinez second of the day and his fourth total turnover.
But after that Nebraska had touchdown drives of eight plays/90 yards, 11 plays/96 yards, and nine plays/92 yards. Nebraska used the gameplan many probably wanted to see a week ago: it pounded the football right down Rutgers’ throat.
NU finished with 56 runs against just 28 passes. Martinez had a career-high 157 yards and two scores on 23 carries. Senior running back Dedrick Mills had 191 yards on 25 carries. As a team, NU ran for 365 yards while holding the Scarlet Knights to just 252 yards total.
Nebraska’s offensive day was either a long scoring drive or a premature end by way of turnover or penalty, but it really looked like the script flipped in the second half.
In the final 30 minutes, Martinez was 10-for-11 throwing the football and Nebraska ran it 32 times for 258 yards with just one turnover and two penalties committed. Rutgers had the ball for 8:18 of game clock in the entire second half.
Nebraska absolutely melted away the clock and willed a victory into being.
And at midfield, facing a fourth-and-2 with under two minutes to play in the game, Frost didn’t hesitate. Nebraska went for it, kept the ball on the ground, and Martinez picked it up, all but ending the game. No fear of failure.
If that’s how the season comes to a close, a 3-5 year, Nebraska will feel like it has something to build on.