Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Look For Answers After Historic Defensive Lapse

September 11, 2022

Saturday night was an all-time forgettable evening for Nebraska fans. When the feelings subside, the history books will long reflect what Georgia Southern was able to do.

The Eagles accrued 642 yards in the 45-42 shootout win over Nebraska. That’s the third-most in program history, behind only Oklahoma (656) in 1956 and UCLA (653) in 2012. Both of those were also losses.

Georgia Southern quarterback Kyle Vantrease was 37 of 56 for 409 yards. He threw for 224 against Nebraska when he was at Buffalo 364 days earlier. In head coach Clay Helton’s air-raid offense, Vantrease led the Eagles for seven drives that went over 70 yards on Saturday. The Eagles scored on all those drives.

“They pretty much almost all did quick games,” Nebraska edge rusher Garrett Nelson said afterwards. “(Kyle) Vantrease did a good job getting the ball out of his hands. When he does drop back you saw what happened but when you get it out quick it’s tough to get that rush and get that pressure on him to affect that throw.

“As the defensive line you got to get your hands up. We knew that coming in so it’s got to make him nervous but he did a good job getting the ball out of his hands and getting to his playmakers.”

Despite all the yardage, Vantrease threw just one touchdown pass. That’s because the Eagles’ run game also slashed through the Nebraska defense. Eagles lead back Jalen White ran for 85 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns. Gerald Green broke multiple big plays against the Blackshirts and finished with 132 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. Of course, there was also Vantrease’s 8-yard run on the Eagles’ game-winning drive.

“We have to watch the tape and understand why we missed today and where we are at,” Nelson said. “Our coaches do a good job at getting us right. So we just need to be honest with ourselves and be the hardest critiques.”

Meanwhile, the Nebraska offense scored 42 points. Casey Thompson threw for 318 yards (23 of 34) with a touchdown. Anthony Grant (27 carries, 138 yards) and Ajay Allen (eight carries, 76 yards) each scored touchdowns on the ground. Thompson also carried the ball 10 times, three times for touchdowns. He leapt over the goal line for the last Huskers’ touchdown after hobbling off the field for a play.

Thompson stood at the podium during post-game comments with sores and blood stains on the right knee of his white pants.

“I play offense. I play quarterback,” Thompson said. “Our job is to move the football and to take care of the ball. We had no turnovers, which was a positive. Scoring the most points we’ve had all season, it’s a positive. We stayed together. We ran the ball well, it was positive.

“At the end of the day, the team that wins scores the most points. We’ve got to score more points. There’s a couple of things that we could have cleaned up, of course, but we took the lead in the fourth quarter. Then we had a chance to tie it up as well, when we were down. I’m just trying to focus on doing my job and leading the offense. That’s all I can control. A loss is a loss. It’s a team loss, and it’s always tough.”

Allen scored his rushing touchdown from 7 yards out with 3:18 left in the third quarter. That tied the game at 35. Going into the game, Nebraska was 214-0 when scoring 35 or more points inside Memorial Stadium.

By 10:15 p.m. it was 214-1.

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said in post-game comments he thought about going for it on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter as the Huskers were at their own 34. He said, ultimately, the team wouldn’t win unless it got a defensive stop anyway. So they opted to punt. The ensuing drive ended in Georgia Southern’s only punt of the game.

Coaches talked about defensive strength in fall camp. Frost said the edge rusher position was maybe the team’s strongest this year. With two team captains still out with injury (tight end Travis Vokolek and linebacker Nick Henrich), edge rushers Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor were left to anchor the team. By the end of the third quarter they had just one tackle between them. Instead, for the second game in a row, Isaac Gifford led the Huskers in tackles.

“Felt really good about our defense going into the season. Felt good about our offense,” Frost said. “I knew it would take a while as an offense to start clicking. I thought they did pretty well tonight. I thought the defense made a lot of progress last week. That was a major setback.”

No. 7 Oklahoma comes to Lincoln for a game Saturday, Sept. 17.

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