DeKALB — The NIU football team committed a multitude of errors on its way to a blowout 44-8 loss Saturday against the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Head Coach Thomas Hammock took responsibility for the loss, saying his team didn’t play well enough to compete with the talent of Nebraska.
“This game is on me, completely,” Hammock said, according to an NIU Athletics press release. “I take full responsibility for the way we played. It wasn’t good enough. We played a good Nebraska team, and they capitalized on some things we knew going in. We knew they had guys on their team that can be dynamic and explosive in space.”
Nebraska sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez hurt NIU in the air and on the ground. The Cornhusker finished with 257 passing yards, two touchdown throws and a touchdown run.
Junior running back Dedrick Mills ran for 116 yards, becoming the first player NIU allowed to rush for over 100 yards since 2017. The Huskies rushed for 74 yards combined.
The worst of NIU’s issues came on special teams, with two punts being blocked by Nebraska. Hammock said the game highlighted the team’s need for improvement on special teams.
“We’ve got to continue to keep working to get better,” Hammock said. “We had some young guys in there, especially on special teams, and we knew that. We tried to give ourselves the best possible chance.”
On the other hand, the Huskies can boast two blocked field goal attempts. Redshirt senior linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis and redshirt sophomore cornerback Jalen McKie prevented scores.
Following a field goal on their first drive, Nebraska looked to be on their way to another score before a fumble recovery by redshirt senior Marshe Terry.
NIU ended the ensuing drive with its first of many special teams’ miscues. Junior punter Matt Ference botched a punt from deep in NIU’s own territory, giving Nebraska the ball just outside the redzone.
On the next play, Martinez found sophomore running back Maurice Washington for a 21-yard touchdown pass. Nebraska took an early 10-0 lead.
Down by 10 early, the Huskies tried to catch the Cornhuskers off guard with a fake punt, but a run by Ference didn’t net the yards needed for a first down.
The Huskies’ defense kept Nebraska from scoring, despite good field position, thanks to a blocked field goal attempt by Jones-Davis.
The Cornhuskers wouldn’t be stopped in the second quarter, with Washington racing away from Huskie defenders on a 60-yard rushing touchdown.
The point-after attempt by Armstrong was blocked, keeping the score 16-0.
Senior quarterback Ross Bowers completed passes to redshirt senior receiver Spencer Tears and redshirt senior tight end Daniel Crawford on the Huskies’ first scoring drive of the night. First-year kicker John Richardson converted on a 45-yard field goal attempt to make it 16-3.
NIU tried to keep possession with an onside kickoff, but a kick out of bounds gave Nebraska the ball at midfield. Four plays later, Mills ran for a 24-yard touchdown to give Nebraska a 23-3 lead.
Special team woes continued for both teams shortly after.
NIU allowed Nebraska to block a Ference punt for the second time, only for Nebraska to allow McKie to block another Armstrong field goal attempt.
With the punting team struggling, Hammock opted to have Bowers punt quickly on a fourth and 1 to pin Nebraska at their own four-yard line. NIU redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Cole made a tackle in the endzone on the next play for the first safety, making the score 23-5.
Nebraska got control of the ball with just 44 seconds until halftime, and it was enough for Martinez to find senior wide receiver Kanawai Noa for a 27-yard touchdown completion. The Cornhuskers finished the first half up 30-5.
NIU scored on the opening possession of the second half with a 27-yard field goal by Richardson. It would be the only score of the third quarter until Martinez scored on a 10-yard run to put Nebraska up 37-8.
The Huskies offense was inches away from its first touchdown, but junior running back Tre Harbison was stuffed at the goal line on a third down. On fourth down, Bowers had a pass broken up, and NIU turned the ball over on downs.
Bowers had his last pass of the game intercepted by redshirt first-year cornerback Braxton Clark, finishing 25-for-44 with 247 passing yards.
Nebraska sophomore backup quarterback Noah Vedral scored a three-yard touchdown on the following drive for the eventual 44-8 final score.
The Cornhuskers record improves to 2-1 ahead of conference play. The Huskies record now stands at 1-2 as they enter a bye week.
After a week off, the Huskies will head to Nashville to play the Vanderbilt University Commanders on Sep. 28. Kickoff time for the game is scheduled to be announced this week.