It wasn’t pretty, there’s much to fix, but it was a win. Nebraska used a second-half surge to overcome a persistent North Dakota squad, 38-17, for the Huskers first win of 2022 and their first in their last seven games dating back to October of 2021.
Things were nowhere near comfortable through the game’s first 30 minutes, however, as the Fighting Hawks controlled the ball and clock in the first half, mounting an 80-play drive that consumed nearly 7 minutes to tie the game 7-7 going into halftime.
For the second time in two games, Nebraska’s offense zipped down the field for a touchdown on its first drive but it wasn’t a sign of things to come, particularly in the first half. For the third time in two games, the Huskers’ let a double-digit lead evaporate. After going ahead 17-7 in the third quarter, the Hawks scored 10 points in 90 seconds, aided by Casey Thompson’s third interception of the season, to tie the game.
But then, for the second time in two games, running back Anthony Grant hit for a 46-yard touchdown. Grant, a transfer from New Mexico Military Institute spent much of Saturday creating something from next to nothing, rushing for 189 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
Nebraska finally found some separation thanks to an 11-play, 89-yard drive in the fourth quarter. It featured seven runs and was capped by a 14-yard touchdown from freshman running back Ajay Allen. After putting up just 147 yards on 24 plays in the first half, the Huskers had 290 on 38 in the second, scoring the final 21 points of the game.
Here are some quick notes, thoughts and observations from the Huskers’ win.
- Linebacker Ernest Hausmann became just the fifth true freshman to start a game at linebacker for Nebraska, replacing injured starter and captain Nick Henrich.
- Javin Wright’s first-quarter blocked punt was Nebraska’s first since Levi Falck blocked a punt against Purdue in 2020.
- The Huskers ran just 24 plays to North Dakota’s 40 in the first half. Northwestern had an 85-73 edge in plays in last week’s game. The Hawks had the ball for 20 of the game’s first 30 minutes.
- Nebraska played the first six quarters of the season without a sack. It didn’t have a tackle for loss in the first half either. That changed on the same drive, North Dakota’s first of the third quarter. Nickelback Isaac Gifford delivered the Huskers’ first TFL, and, five plays later, edge rusher Garrett Nelson sacked quarterback Tommy Schuster, jarring the ball loose for a recovery by defensive lineman Stephon Wynn Jr. The Huskers would get a field goal out of the plum starting field position to take a 17-7 lead. TCU transfer Ochaun Mathis would pick up his first sack as a Husker in the fourth quarter.
- Grant became the first Nebraska running back to top 100 yards in back-to-back games since Devine Ozigbo in 2018. Ozigbo did it in three straight, rushing for 159 yards against Northwestern, 152 against Minnesota and 110 against Bethune-Cookman.
- Saturday was the first time in the last four games, dating back to the Ohio State game in 2021, that the Huskers out-rushed their opponent. Nebraska finished with 244 yards to the Hawks’ 175. It was Nebraska’s best rushing total since hitting for 427 yards in a win over Northwestern a year ago.
- Last week, newcomers (transfers and additions from the last recruiting class) scored all of the Huskers’ points, including extra points from transfer kicker Timmy Bleekrode. This week, newcomers accounted for 24-of-38 points. Walk-on tight ends Nate Boerkircher and Chancellor Brewington accounted for the other two touchdowns. Starting tight end and captain Travis Vokolek was sideline with an injury suffered last week in Ireland.
- The Huskers had a decent edge in success rate, besting North Dakota 54.1% to 40.3% Nebraska also won the big-plays battle, 15-5.
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.