Nebraska entered the weekend in a six-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West Division and it will exit the weekend, no matter what happens, in a tie for first place in the division after the Huskers rallied from a scoreless first half to pitch its own shutout in the second and beat Rutgers 14-13 at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
After managing just 134 yards of offense in the first half, the Huskers put up a slightly better 170 in the second to beat the Scarlet Knights, dressed all in black, despite being out-yarded 348-304.
Quarterback Casey Thompson bounced back from a rough first half to complete 67% of his passes and threw a pair of touchdowns to offset two interceptions. The Huskers’ run game was woeful––2.8 yards per carry (72 total) on 28 attempts––as leading rusher, Anthony Grant, was limited to just 47 yards on 19 carries.
But the defense, after its own rough start, did enough in some tough situations to keep Rutgers scoreless over the final 30 minutes. The win, following last week’s win over Indiana, marked the Huskers’ first back-to-back conference wins since 2018.
On to some thoughts, notes and observations from the game.
- Rutgers offered Nebraska a dose of its own medicine, getting on the board first with a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Vedral completed a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Shameen Jones and capped the drive with a 21-yard touchdown run to put his former team in a 7-0 hole. The Scarlet Knights gave up a first down on the Huskers’ opening drive, but forced a punt after that to hold Nebraska scoreless on its first drive for just the second time in 2022.
- Explosive plays for Rutgers, field position and drive-killing mistakes were the story of the first half. The Knights entered Friday hitting an explosive play (passes of 15-plus yards, rushes of 10-plus) on 12.1% of snaps. In the first half, it hit one on 19.5% of plays. More than 90% of Rutgers first-half passing yards (191) came on an explosive pass. It was perhaps the one thing Nebraska’s defense couldn’t have happen, though the defense did do a good job of limiting the damage. Forcing two field goals on three more scoring opportunities in the first half.
- Thanks to a sputtering Husker offense, two interceptions and a blocked punt in Husker territory, the average Rutgers drive in the first half started 17 yards closer to goal than Nebraska’s.
- Nebraska’s typically strong offense wasn’t thanks to a handful of self-inflicted wounds in the first 30 minutes. The drive with the best field position of the first half (66 yards from goal) started with a 10-yard run from Jaquez Yant. He was then flagged for a false start, gained 4 yards on the ensuing first-and-15 and the drive stalled from there. Next drive, a big pass to Trey Palmer is negated by an offensive pass interference, followed by a false-start penalty to make it first-and-25. It’s basically a dead drive at that point, and it was as Nebraska went three-and-out.
- Thompson threw his second interception of the first half late in the second quarter on the Huskers’ only drive that entered Rutgers territory. Entering the game, Thompson had thrown four interceptions, but none of those were in the first half.
- The story of the second half, however, was one of takeaways for Nebraska, strong defense and Thompson turning around a poor start.
- Cornerback Brandon Moore, a late addition as a transfer, recorded his first interception as a Husker, which ended a Rutgers drive that had entered Husker territory. Safety Myles Farmer’s pick in the fourth quarter, grabbed at Rutgers’ 44-yard line and returned to the 27, led directly to the game-winning score. True freshman cornerback Malcolm Hartzog, picked on all game, ended it with a pop-fly pick.
- Those were the splash plays for the defense, but after allowing the Knights to zip down the field on the opening drive the Nebraska defense held up pretty well. The alarming explosive-play rate in the first half? Nebraska gave up just three big plays (11.1%) in the second half, holding Rutgers to 85 total yards (3.1 per play).
- After throwing two first-half interceptions, Thompson went 14-for-19 (73.7%) with two touchdowns in the second half. Entering tonight, Thompson was completing 52% of his passes in the second half this season with three touchdowns to four interceptions.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.