Evan Bland World-Herald Staff Writer
PISCATAWAY, NJ — What looked bleak at halftime became a comeback win for the Huskers.
Trailing 13-0 at the intermission, Nebraska football rallied in the second half to down Rutgers 14-13 on Friday.
The win gave the Huskers their second Big Ten win of the season and kept them undefeated against the Scarlet Knights.
Nebraska wilted early as a disastrous first quarter and nonexistent offense conspired to put the Huskers in a 13-0 halftime hole.
The first 15 minutes of game time took 50 amid a flurry of injury stoppages, penalties and possession changes. The Huskers had a punt blocked, threw an interception, drew five flags and were out-yarded 124-59 while falling behind 10-0 as Timmy Trumpet seemingly blared on loop inside SHI Stadium.
Former Husker QB Noah Vedral started for a second straight week for Rutgers but made more of an impact on the first drive than he did all of his last game, when he saw just five snaps — with no passes — against Ohio State. A deep ball to Shameen Jones for 33 yards set up Vedral for a 21-yard scoring run on a counter option keeper down the left sideline. The Wahoo native held up to let traffic pass before churning ahead for the final few yards into the end zone.
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Vedral gave way to QB Evan Simon in the second quarter after going 3-of-10 passing for 110 yards and running six times for 34 more.
Nebraska’s offense couldn’t muster anything resembling an answer, running just three plays in Scarlet Knight territory in the first half and netting 134 yards on 30 plays to Rutgers’ 263 on 41. It didn’t score a touchdown on its opening drive for just the second time this season, instead punting after five offensive plays. Its next drive stalled after six.
The Huskers didn’t get away a punt the second time as a wave of Rutgers defenders overwhelmed the Nebraska shield and Max Melton blocked the kick. Blaise Gunnerson chased down Parker Day — who recovered the ball — at the Husker 9-yard line. The play saved four points as the defense held and forced a 25-yard field goal.
The struggles continued on offense after that. Quarterback Casey Thompson was crushed on a second-down pass picked off short by Christian Braswell. Two more NU punts followed the offensive line played the role of matador against four-man Rutgers rushes. The pressure ended Nebraska’s only drive across midfield after that as Melton picked off a Thompson attempt near the goal line.
Thompson left the game after the first play of the Huskers’ final drive of the half when up-the-middle pressure laid him out near his own end zone. Chubba Purdy took the final two snaps.
NU’s defense recovered after a slow start in which it replaced 5-foot-9 true freshman cornerback Malcolm Hartzog with Brandon Moore after Rutgers targeted the first-year player for a pair of deep completions of 33 and 34 yards on its first two drives. Hartzog later returned for starting cornerback Quinton Newsome.
After holding the hosts to a field goal following the turnover, Nebraska forced consecutive punts and flashed some push at the line—Ty Robinson and Colton Feist bull rushed Vedral on one third-down pass to get an incompletion. A missed tackle on a short pass that should have gone for a loss turned into a Jones 43-yard catch and run that set up a 39-yard kick and 13-0 advantage.
Rutgers missed a 58-yard field-goal try to end the first half with a 13-0 edge.
The Huskers got on the board on their first drive of the second half.
Rutgers’ Aaron Lewis was called for roughing the passer on the Huskers’ first play, but Thompson responded by firing off an 11-yard pass to Grant. An incomplete pass to Marcus Washington still resulted in a first down after a holding call on Rutgers. Thompson then threw an incomplete goal followed it up with two complete ones, 5- and 3-yarders to Grant. Grant then rushed for a 7-yard gain. Another incomplete pass was followed by a Grant run for 3 yards and a 9-yard pass to Trey Palmer. Then a 7-yard pass (Thompson to Travis Vokolek) gave Nebraska its first touchdown of the game.
The score was Vokolek’s first in a Husker uniform and came against his former team.
The Blackshirts kept Nebraska’s momentum going. They allowed a first-and-10 on Rutgers’ first play — a 12-yard run by Al-Shadee Salaam — but kept the Scarlet Knights from another one, allowing only 6 more yards.
The Huskers offense stalled out on the next drive as the Rutgers defense forced a three-and-out.
The Scarlet Knights drove from their 39-yard line to Nebraska’s 36, but on Evan Simon’s first pass (he replaced Vedral partway through the drive) Brandon Moore intercepted the ball.
The Huskers’ response fell flat. A 28-yard catch by Washington was ruled incomplete on a review. Jaquez Yant ran for 6-yards, and Thompson threw two passes for 10- and 17-yard gains, to Washington and Chancellor Brewington respectively. An incomplete pass was followed by a 7-yarder to Vokolek and a 2-yard run by Yant. But Nebraska came up short on fourth-and-1 on a pass to Washington.
Rutgers final play of the third quarter ended with a 1-yard loss from a tackle by Caleb Tannor and Colton Feist.
The Scarlets Knights’ drive to open the fourth featured a 19-yard pass (Simon to Johnny Langan) and three runs by Samuel Brown, for 6- 3- and 0-yard gains. But the drive ended on the Rutgers 49 when the Scarlet Knights couldn’t convert on third-and-1 and then suffered a false start penalty on the next play.
The Huskers also couldn’t add to their score. Rushes by Grant (2 and 4 yards), Thompson (9 yards) and a 19-yard pass Thompson to Oliver Martin were canceled out by a holding penalty by Hunter Anthony and a sack by Aaron for a 6-yard loss.
Rutgers offense continued to falter, and the Blackshirts made the most of it. The Scarlet Knights gained 3 yards on a run by Brown before Rutgers suffered a 10-yard penalty for holding and then Simon threw his second interception (Myles Farmer) of the night.
And Nebraska’s offense carried through on the momentum. Thompson fired off a 27-yard pass to Palmer on the next play for a touchdown and to take the lead in the game for the first time.
Rutgers couldn’t answer and after Vedral was sacked by Feist and Garrett Nelson — for a 7-yard loss — the Scarlet Knights couldn’t convert a third-and 16.
The Huskers then ate up almost 5 minutes of time on the following drive, using 11 plays to drop the time from 6:02 left to 1:03.
Rutgers tried to get within field goal range, but after three plays, Malcolm Hartzog intercepted the ball to end the game
Nebraska (2-3, 1-1) will take on Purdue (3-2, 1-1) next Saturday at 6:30 pm The game will be broadcast on BTN.
World-Herald staff writer Josie Whelan contributed to this report.
The 2022 Nebraska football schedule
North Dakota Fighting Hawks
Georgia Southern Eagles
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Illinois Fighting Illini
Minnesota Golden Gophers