It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy, but Nebraska (2-2, 1-0 Big Ten) seems to have gotten its season back on track with a 27-17 win over Rutgers (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten) on Saturday.
The Huskers took their largest lead of the season into halftime against the Scarlet Knights with a 14-10 advantage, but a pick-six thrown by quarterback Tanner Lee – his second of the game and ninth of the season – on the opening drive put Nebraska in an all-too-familiar situation. Against Northern Illinois a week ago, Lee tossed three interceptions, with two of them being returned for touchdowns.
But a three-and-out forced by the defense on Rutgers’ next possession and a 17-play, 97-yard drive that milked 8:10 off the clock in the third quarter gave the Huskers the lead back. Safety Antonio Reed picked off Rutgers quarterback Kyle Bolin in the waning moments of the third quarter and Nebraska was able to add a field goal.
Another field goal in the fourth quarter and an interception from linebacker Luke Gifford on Rutgers’ final drive – a little bit of karmic retribution for Nebraska given the way the last two games ended – was all she wrote for Rutgers.
For the second straight week, the Blackshirts had a strong showing. Nebraska’s defense surrendered just 194 yards on the day, with only 68 coming on the ground. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s squad held the Scarlet Knights to a paltry 3-of-12 on third downs – with two conversions coming on the first drive of the game.
The Huskers didn’t register a sack, but Diaco was able to successfully dial up pressure all afternoon long that made Bolin uncomfortable in the pocket.
On offense, Lee struggled, completing 13 of his 26 attempts for 109 yards, two scores and the two interceptions. After his second interception, Lee heard boos rain down from the stands at Memorial Stadium, but head coach Mike Riley stuck with the junior transfer from Tulane and kept redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien on the bench. Lee wasn’t great, but he didn’t lose Nebraska the game against Rutgers as he’d done with final-drive interceptions against Oregon and Northern Illinois in the two weeks prior.
Instead, Nebraska’s running game took over.
Despite the Huskers missing starting tailback Tre Bryant for a second game, the Huskers toted it 47 times for 197 yards. When it took over on downs, up 10 with just over four minutes left, the Nebraska run game was able to bleed the clock under two minutes.
Junior Mikale Wilbon finished with 14 carries and 78 yards, sporting a shining 5.6 yards-per-carry average. Junior Devine Ozigbo, who had just two carries on the season heading into the game, received a career-high 24 carries, and ripped off 101 yards, his most since Sep. 17, 2016, and just two off a career-high 103 yards in last season’s opener against Fresno State.
The Huskers will hit the road next week to face Illinois in a Friday night contest in Champaign, Illinois, at 7 p.m.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.