Five minutes left, Nebraska up 10, Northwestern has the ball and it’s fourth-and-10. One play. Just make a play. Get a stop, get off the field, give the ball back to the offense to bleed clock. Instead, Northwestern gets 10 and then some. It scores three on the drive, forces a Nebraska three-and-out and… well, you know the story.
Seven minutes left, Nebraska up 17, Minnesota has the ball at the Nebraska 13-yard-line after an 87-yard kickoff return. One play. Just make one play. Keep them out of the end zone, get off the field, give the ball back to the offense to bleed clock.
This time, Nebraska got its play.
Corner Dicaprio Bootle swiped at a slant pass and knocked it in the air. Senior linebacker Dedrick Young II high-pointed it, brought it into his body and fell in the end zone. “I was hyped, I almost killed him, honestly,” said Mohamed Barry, Young’s partner in the middle of the defense. The Huskers run tip drills at the start of every practice repping that exact play. Against Troy on Sept. 15, they almost got one. Against Minnesota on Saturday, Young had no interest in “almost.”
One play. One massive play in context of a game filled with huge plays for a Nebraska (1-6, 1-4 Big Ten) team that finally earned its first win of 2018 by way of a 53-28 thumping of Minnesota (3-4, 0-4 Big Ten).
“It hurt so bad, the Northwestern game, because we felt like we should have… I’m not going to say it but y’all know what I want to say. It hurt me the entire week, but we came out here and dominated them for the first two quarters and that’s what we wanted,” Barry said. “We didn’t just want to win this game. We wanted to dominate this opponent because of that last loss.”
And Nebraska dominated.
It was 28-0 to open the game. The 53 total points were the most scored by NU since joining the Big Ten.
The 659 yards of offense was the best single day since Aug. 30, 2014. Quarterback Adrian Martinez missed only four of his 29 pass attempts en route to a 276-yard, three-touchdown day through the air and a 125-yard, one-score day on the ground. Senior back Devine Ozigbo had 152 yards and two scores on 12 carries. Freshman back Maurice Washington had 109 on 14, marking just the fifth time in program history NU had three 100-yard rushers in a game. Senior wideout Stanley Morgan Jr. had 163 yards receiving on a career-high 10 catches.
“They played really, really good football,” Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck said. “They’re very dangerous on offense, which everybody got a chance to see. We talked about No. 2 [Martinez], we talked about the two wideouts and the running back, and we didn’t stop them tonight at all. We didn’t come close to stopping them.”
The defense gave up yards, but it got stops when it needed to. Like Young’s interception. Like a fourth-and-goal forced incompletion from the 3-yard-line on Minnesota’s previous drive.
“Really that’s what a defense is,” Frost said. “There are good offenses in this league, you’re going to give up some plays, but if you can find a way to make one or two plays and make a stop, it changes the game. We did that enough times today.”
When Frost got into huddles with his team, he didn’t see “oh no.” When Minnesota ripped off 22 unanswered points in the second and third quarters, he felt a little bit like “I’ve seen this movie before” but there was none of it from his team. He saw a team ready to finish.
“We just came out there today and we weren't taking losing for an answer. We weren't going to take that 'L' today. Not today. It's a certain point where you just have got to go out there and get that win,” Morgan said. “We have freshmen on this team that never experienced a win this year.”
Frost got a Gatorade bath after the game. A little inappropriate, he called it, because there are days coming soon where the Gatorade bath will come for bigger things, but it showed a team excited not only to just win a football game, but to win for something bigger than themselves.
“Every player just felt like we owe it to our coaches, we owe it to this fanbase not only to win but to win the way we did,” Barry said. “This win was for the fans, the loyals, the people that never naysayed us. It's crazy. I'm happy they stuck with us. The whole stadium was still packed. They were hyped the entire game. This is for them, because they deserve this. They deserve to be happy tonight."
Safety Tre Neal, who was with Frost at UCF last season, said Frost’s emotion after his first Nebraska win rivaled that of his emotion after his 13th UCF win in the Peach Bowl last season. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander handed Frost the game ball in the locker room. Frost said he almost left the field with tears in his eyes.
When offensive line coach Greg Austin walked up to The Landing in South Stadium to get his postgame meal, he was handed a grilled chicken sandwich and immediately pushed it away. “I want fried,” he said, rather adamantly. He was half-joking, of course, but left with a Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich that, in his words, doesn’t fit into his diet.
So what? The thing that has kept postgames sour around Lincoln this season has been a play here and a play there. Make a play, change the game. Nebraska didn’t put together a complete game Saturday but it made plays when it needed to make plays. Nebraska earned itself a night to feel good about.
“It’s long overdue,” Frost said. “This feels great. This is what it’s supposed to feel like.”
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.