Nebraska put up 171 more yards of total offense than Northern Illinois, but the Huskies used three interceptions including a pair of first-quarter pick sixes to defeat the Huskers, 21-17, on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
The loss ended Nebraska’s eight-game home winning streak, knocking the Huskers to 1-2 to end non-conference play. Northern Illinois improved to 2-1 with its only setback coming in a 23-20 loss to Boston College in its season opener.
Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee completed 25-of-47 passes for 299 yards on the day, but he threw a trio of interceptions and was sacked three times. His first interception came on the game’s opening drive. After Nebraska drove quickly down the field, NIU’s Shawun Lurry jumped a wide receiver screen and raced 87 yards for a touchdown to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead with 11:24 left in the opening period.
Later in the quarter, Jawuan Johnson picked off another Lee pass and scampered 25 yards into the end zone to give the Huskies a 14-0 lead with 1:13 left in the quarter.
Nebraska trailed 14-0 after one quarter, despite outgaining NIU, 115-32 in the period, while running 22 plays compared to just 10 for the Huskies.
The Huskers’ first-half offensive struggles culminated with Drew Brown’s 37-yard field goal attempt being blocked on the final play of the half.
While the offense was unable to get untracked, the Blackshirts played solid on defense to keep the Northern Illinois offense off the board in the first half. In fact, Nebraska outyarded NIU, 201-88, in the half and ran 43 plays compared to just 25 for the Huskies.
The Huskers narrowed the gap in the third quarter, finding the end zone on Lee’s first-ever collegiate touchdown run. Lee’s four-yard plunge with 8:05 left in the quarter capped a two-play, two-yard drive that followed a fumbled punt by Jalen Embry that was recovered by Nebraska’s Marquel Dismuke at the NIU 2.
Nebraska cut the margin to 14-10 with 15 seconds left in the third quarter on Brown’s 36-yard field goal to finish a 15-play, 71-yard drive.
In the third quarter, Nebraska produced 81 yards on 22 plays, compared to just 28 yards on 11 plays by the Huskies to take a 282-116 edge in total yardage to the fourth quarter.
The Huskers then took their first lead of the day on Lee’s one-yard touchdown run with 11:14 left in the game to cap a six-play, 63-yard march by the Big Red.
However, Nebraska’s lead was short-lived, as Northern Illinois quarterback Daniel Santcaterina moved the Huskies 75 yards in just six plays to put NIU back in front 21-17 with 8:52 remaining.
Nebraska had two chances to answer down the stretch, the first drive ended with an incomplete pass on 4th-and-7 at the NIU 33 with 5:31 left. The Blackshirts got another stop with 3:09 left, but Lee was intercepted for the third time on 4th and 14 from the Nebraska 16 with 1:36 left.
Northern Illinois ran out the clock to secure the win, despite Nebraska’s 384-213 edge in total yardage. Both defenses did a good job at the line of scrimmage, as Nebraska managed just 85 rushing yards on 36 carries, while the Huskies produced 85 yards on 31 totes. I-back Mikale Wilbon led the Nebraska backs with 90 yards on 24 carries.
De’Mornay Pierson-El led Nebraska’s receivers with 101 yards on a career-high eight receptions, including seven catches for 83 yards in the first half. Stanley Morgan Jr. added six catches for 94 yards to go over 1,000 yards receiving in his career.
Jordan Huff led the Northern Illinois running game with 105 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries, while Santacaterina threw for 128 yards on 15-of-22 passing to improve to 2-0 as a starter for the Huskies this season.
Bobby Jones led the Huskies defense with 14 tackles, while Kyle Pugh and Mykel Williams added double-digit tackles. Luke Gifford led the Huskers with eight stops.
Nebraska opens Big Ten Conference play next Saturday at Memorial Stadium against Rutgers.