By Steve Beideck
LINCOLN – Going with the tried-and-true offensive formation that Nebraska all but trademarked in its glory years helped show the way Saturday for a hard-fought victory over Louisiana Tech.
After being stymied most of the first half by the feisty Bulldogs, the Huskers (2-2) went with power running out of the I-formation to break free from a 7-7 halftime tie on the way to a 28-14 win at Memorial Stadium that thanks to a 55-minute rain delay ended with a score that made the game appear closer than it was.
Officially, 87,115 fans showed up, but only about 15,000-20,000 were there after the second-half delay that started with NU up 28-7 and in full control in the fourth quarter.
Lightning strikes recorded within eight miles of the 100-year-old stadium forced the delay, clearing the stadium of fans and sending both teams to their locker rooms.
By then quarterback Heinrich Haarberg and running back Anthony Grant had taken over the game offensively for the Huskers, who finished with 419 total yards on 66 plays.
After the delay, Louisiana Tech began its 10th drive of the game and scored an all but meaningless touchdown to make the final score 28-14.
Haarberg, the Kearney Catholic graduate who was making his second start, led all players with 157 yards rushing on 19 attempts. That total included a 72-yard TD run with 11:13 remaining in the fourth quarter that sealed the Husker win.
Those 157 yards are the most by a Nebraska quarterback since Adrian Martinez had 157 yards against Rutgers in 2020. Haarberg’s performance was the 18th 150-yard rushing game in school history by a quarterback.
Grant gained 135 yards on 22 carries and scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter. The Huskers finished the game with 312 rushing yards while the Blackshirts limited the 2-3 Bulldogs to 46 rushing yards.
The Blackshirts now have held their first four opponents to less than 60 yards rushing. The last time the Huskers held four straight opponents under 60 yards on the ground in the same season was during the first four games of 1999. That’s also the last time the Huskers won a conference championship.
Until its final 54 seconds, the first quarter had all the excitement of a log-sawing competition with the two teams combining for just 99 yards of offense on 30 plays for an average of 3.3 yards per play.
Things got better for Nebraska on the first play of its third drive when Haarberg moved to his left and turned an option keeper into a career-long carry of 43 yards down the west sideline.
A pair of rushing plays by Grant totaling 11 yards got the Huskers to the Louisiana Tech 25 before the end of the scoreless first quarter.
Grant opened the second quarter with an 8-yard run, but the Bulldog defense hung consecutive 1-yard losses on the Huskers, setting up a fourth-and-4 from the Louisiana Tech 19.
Nebraska lined up for a 37-yard field goal, but went into its bag of tricks with holder Timmy Bleekrode hustling up the middle for 10 yards and a first down.
Two plays later, receiver Billy Kemp went the final nine yards around left end for Nebraska’s first touchdown with 11:31 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs tied the game with 6:07 remaining in the half. Freshman running back Jacob Fields went 14 yards around left end, shedding one tackle and reaching paydirt for the second touchdown of his career.
Nebraska missed a chance to take the lead going into halftime when a 41-yard field goal attempt by Tristan Alvano slid wide left, keeping the score an uncomfortable 7-7 at intermission.
With an emphasis on power running, the uneasiness disappeared quickly in the second half even as two long Husker runs that would have produced touchdowns were called back by penalties. Still, NU scored three touchdowns that did count.
The first came on the opening drive of the third quarter. It was a nine-play, 85-yard march that ended with Grant’s 2-yard TD run through the right side of the line.
All the plays came out of the I-formation as Husker blockers overpowered the Bulldogs defense. Grant had runs of 14, 34, 7 and 19 yards in the drive, and the Huskers overcame two fumbles, including one on the opening kickoff by Tommi Hill that he recovered himself.
Nebraska started its third scoring drive in the final minutes of the third quarter and scored a touchdown on the first play of the fourth. Again, primarily out of the I-formation, Grant carried twice, and after the Bulldogs were hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Haarberg hit tight end Thomas Fidone on the left side of the field for a 29-yard touchdown pass, making it 21-7.
Fidone, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound sophomore, jumped to snare the pass with his fingertips and then evaded a pair of Louisiana Tech defenders to reach the end zone. The grab made Fidone the first Husker tight end to have a receiving touchdown in three consecutive games since Mike McNeill accomplished that feat in the final three games of the 2008 season.
Haarberg put the game out of reach on NU’s next drive. Following runs of 7 and 3 yards by Grant, Haarberg went to his left on an option keeper out of the I and ran away from Bulldogs defenders for 72 yards.
Louisiana Tech’s final touchdown came after the weather delay on a 20-yard pass from Jack Turner to Cyrus Allen for 20 yards with 5:17 remaining. The Bulldogs had another drive into Nebraska territory with
time ticking away that ended in a tipped-ball interception by NU’s Isaac Gifford.
Nebraska hosts No. 2 Michigan Sept. 30 at 2:30 p.m. The game is scheduled to be televised nationally by Fox.