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By Mike Motz
Sports Reporter 

Huskers Top Scarlet Knights 28-21

 

December 23, 2020 | View PDF



Nebraska’s Cornhusker Football team closed their regular season with a second half surge to outlast the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 28-21 at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. Friday night. The game was played in chilly conditions, with a 23 degree temperature at kickoff in a stadium filled with snow from a recent winter storm in New Jersey.

A banged-up Huskers squad squared off against an even more banged-up Scarlet Knights team coming off an overtime win against Maryland last week. Nebraska transfer and Rutgers starting quarterback Noah Vedral sustained an ankle injury in the victory over the Terrapins, and was unable to play against his former team, forcing Rutgers to go with backup quarterback Art Sitkowski mixed with running quarterback Johnny Langan to lead the offense.

The game started with Nebraska moving the ball down the field briskly until quarterback Adrian Martinez fumbled as he dove for a first down to end the drive. Rutgers’ defense had been excellent all year forcing turnovers, and this was the first of Martinez’s two fumbles and two interceptions on the night. Rutgers forced the two fumbles in the first quarter, but were only able to manage two field goals, giving the Scarlet Knights a 6-to-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Huskers defense did a great job shutting down the Scarlet Knight’s running game, forcing passes and ultimately punts.

The Huskers finally got on the scoreboard early in the second period on a Wan’Dale Robinson short blast into the endzone off the quarterback option. But the excellent Rutgers’ special teams kept the Scarlet Knights in the game, with punter Adam Korsak repeatedly pinning the Huskers inside the 5 yard line, and catching the Huskers’ special teams napping with a fake punt to keep a Rutgers drive going. On a 4th and 1, Rutgers running back Isiah Pacheco blasted through the Nebraska line and kept going for a 33 yard touchdown run. A quick two point conversion caught the Huskers unprepared for the snap, and was successful despite a blatant holding penalty that was missed by the referees. Rutgers took a 14-to-7 lead into the half.

Nebraska regrouped and started to have their way offensively, as the Scarlet Knights piled up injuries through the second half. Led by a career-high 191 yards by running back Dedrick Mills, the Huskers tore through the Rutgers middle for big gains alternating between Mills and Martinez. Mills eventually found a big hole up the middle and trucked 41 yards for the touchdown to tie the game at 14-to-14. But again the Rutgers’ special teams struck back, with the ensuing kickoff returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Aron Cruickshank to again put the Scarlet Knights back on top 21-to-14.

However, it became clear that the Scarlet Knights could not keep up the pace with the talent disparity and the continuing injuries to their remaining players. The Huskers defense bore down and shut down Rutgers’ offense for the rest of the game while the Huskers went ahead in the fourth quarter 28-to-21 on a Martinez 1-yard plunge into the endzone. The scrappy Scarlet Knights hung around until the Huskers gained two first downs in the waning moments of the game and ran out the clock, and Nebraska took the victory by a final score of 28-to-21, ending their regular season with a 3-and-5 record. Martinez went 24-of-28 for 255 yards passing and carried 23 times for 157 yards and a touchdown, but had two fumbles and two interceptions in the win.

Nebraska Head Coach Scott Frost said after the game, “We failed miserably on that in the first half, made way too many mistakes. That’s just been too common in our program. We’ve got to get all that fixed. It was better in the second half. They played smarter in the second half and I was really impressed with the fight.”

Final statistics like Nebraska’s 620 total yards to Rutgers 252 and Nebraska’s 27 first downs to Rutgers’ 9 show that Rutgers should never have been in this game. But Nebraska’s mistakes and the Scarlet Knights’ opportunistic playing style coupled with some smart coaching choices made the contest close. On Saturday, the Huskers players voted to opt out of a bowl game. I doubt the Rutgers players would do the same if given the opportunity. For two rebuilding teams, it’s a clear indicator why Scott Frost, in his second year, is behind schedule in his rebuild of the program while first-year Rutgers’ Head Coach Greg Schiano is ahead of schedule.

 

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