Huskers blow lead, lose 31-28 to Northwestern

New season, same Nebraska.

Nebraska’s miserable 3-9 record in 2021 included an impressively poor 0-8 mark in one-score games. To start the 2022 campaign, the Huskers added another one-score loss to Scott Frost’s resume.

In a brutal 31-28 loss to Northwestern on Saturday in Ireland, Nebraska blew two double-digit leads. The Huskers led 14-3 in the first half and then led again by 11 in the third quarter.

But Frost’s team never scored again as Northwestern came back for a big upset.

The turning point was an inexplicably called onside kick by Nebraska.

After a Northwestern punt, Nebraska went up 28-17 at the 9:09 mark of the third quarter. On the ensuing drive, the Huskers curiously tried to surprise the Wildcats with an onside kick. It didn’t work, giving Northwestern the ball inside Nebraska territory.

Just five plays later, Northwestern was in the end zone and within four points, 28-24, with 7:53 left in the third. The Wildcats, led by a dominant running game and an opportunistic defense, controlled things from there on out.

Although the offense had a missed opportunity in the red zone on the ensuing drive, the Northwestern defense intercepted Nebraska quarterback Casey Thompson early in the fourth quarter to set up the field goal.

That score came via a four-yard run by Evan Hull, who was part of a dynamic pairing with Cam Porter in the Northwestern backfield. Hull and Porter combined for 213 yards on 41 carries, helping Northwestern’s offense amass 527 yards of offense.

The Nebraska offense, meanwhile, came to a screeching halt. The Huskers, with Thompson looking sharp, came out firing in the first half, but put up 85 total yards on just 3.7 yards per play after the botched punt.

It was just the latest in a string of heartbreaking losses for the Huskers, who are now an incredible 5-21 in one-score games during Frost’s tenure.

Frost entered the season on weak ground, and after such a loss, his hot seat managed to get even hotter.

Northwestern running back Evan Hull (26) runs by Nebraska defensive end Isaac Gifford, left, during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Nebraska got off to a hot start, but couldn’t hold onto the lead

After four turnover-filled years with Adrian Martinez as the starting quarterback, Thompson was brought in from Texas to give Nebraska’s offense a jolt. Mark Whipple, the new offensive coordinator, was hired by Frost to turn things around as well.

That combination looked good for the Huskers early. On the team’s opening drive, Thompson hit Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda for a beautiful 32-yard touchdown. Thompson later scored on a goal line drive to put the Huskers up 14-3.

Northwestern, though, managed to keep up. The Wildcats averaged just 13 points per game in Big Ten play in 2021, but looked much improved. The offensive line was particularly impressive, and quarterback Ryan Hilinski had his best game in a Northwestern suit.

Thanks to two touchdown passes from Hilinski, Northwestern rallied to take a 17-14 lead into the halftime locker room. Hilinski completed 27-of-38 passes for 313 yards and those two touchdowns.

While Hilinski played well, the game at Northwestern led most of the second half. Hull had 119 yards on 22 carries, while Porter had 94 yards on 19 attempts. Both scored a touchdown, including Hull’s game-winner early in the fourth.

Northwestern’s defense, meanwhile, brought back Nebraska’s penchant for turnovers. In the first half, Nebraska’s Garcia-Castaneda was stripped deep in Northwestern territory. In the second half, Thompson was intercepted twice.

His first INT came early in the fourth quarter and led to Hull’s touchdown. His second sealed the win for the Wildcats. After Northwestern was able to drain a significant chunk of the clock, Nebraska took over deep in its own territory with 2:12 to play. Four plays into that drive, Thompson’s pass bounced off the hands of his receiver and into the arms of Xander Mueller for the game-clinching game.

What does this mean for Nebraska?

It was the same old story for Nebraska. Frost’s tenure has been plagued by losses like this. He is now 15-30 as the head coach at his alma mater with 21 of those losses coming by a single possession.

Despite the losing streak, school leadership decided to bring Frost back for the 2022 season under a restructured contract that includes a significantly reduced buyout (the buyout drops in October).

It’s only one game, but what evidence is there to suggest these close losses will turn into wins at some point? The upcoming schedule is manageable, but traveling back across the Atlantic to play next Saturday will be a challenge, even if the opponent is North Dakota, an FCS program.

And after a show like this, it’s going to be a long flight back to Lincoln.

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