By Steve Beideck
LINCOLN – Nebraska continued its charitable ways Saturday in an ugly 13-10 loss to Maryland that did serious damage to the Huskers hopes of ending its bowl drought.
In one of their roughest overall performances of the season, the Huskers increased their national lead in giveaways, lost to another team that came into the game with a long losing streak, and couldn’t beat a hobbled opponent that committed 10 penalties while NU was flagged just one time on a pass-interference call.
It was those five turnovers – four interceptions and a lost fumble – that cost NU the game in another low-scoring battle before a crowd of 86,830 at Memorial Stadium.
The 5-5 Huskers still have two more chances to qualify for a bowl game with matchups at Wisconsin and the regular season finale against Iowa on Nov. 24 in Lincoln. But it sure feels like the best two chances to get a sixth victory have been squandered with back-to-back three-point losses.
Nebraska was the tonic last week for Michigan State to end its six-game losing streak with a 20-17 victory on the Spartans’ senior day. Maryland had lost four in a row before arriving in Lincoln after winning its first five games.
This loss to the 6-4 Terps, who also were playing Saturday for bowl eligibility, was the third three-point loss the Huskers have suffered in Big Ten games this season. Nebraska lost its season opener to Minnesota 13-10 on Aug. 31.
Maryland led 7-0 at halftime after it took the Terps just two plays and 33 seconds to go 69 yards late in the second quarter for their only TD of the game. Both passes by Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa went to Tai Felton.
The first was a 53-yard strike down the right sideline, and the second was another pass to the right side for the final 16 yards that put Maryland ahead 6-0. The final seven points the Terps scored came from the leg of placekicker Jack Howes – his PAT after Felton’s TD and a pair of fourth-quarter field goals that tied and won the game.
Nebraska scored all 10 of its points in the third quarter. Nebraska’s lone touchdown was a 2-yard run by fullback Janiran Bonner after the Blackshirts recovered a fumble deep in Maryland territory. Bonner’s run capped a six-play, 27-yard drive that took 2:23.
Tristan Alvano made the extra point, then gave the Huskers their only lead just more than three minutes later with a 38-yard field goal with 8:26 remaining in the third quarter.
While Nebraska committed five turnovers, the Terps had three giveaways of their own on a pair of lost fumbles and one interception thrown by Tagovailoa. The Huskers only managed 10 points off those turnovers and couldn’t take advantage of the 92 yards in penalties that were charged to Maryland’s tab.
NU coach Matt Rhule had a succinct thought on the probability of those Maryland miscues allowing the Terps to still escape with a victory.
“That’s pretty hard to do,” Rhule said.
Nebraska’s top three quarterbacks all got playing time Saturday. Starter Heinrich Haarberg left the game in the first half with what Rhule said was an ankle injury. Haarberg left completing just one of his five passes for no
yards and had an interception. He had a second pick erased by a Maryland penalty.
Jeff Sims saw his first extended action since leaving the Sept. 9 Colorado game with an injury. While he completed eight passes for 62 yards, the Georgia Tech transfer also threw an interception and lost a fumble.
Chubba Purdy came in to replace Sims and nearly took the Huskers on what would have potentially been a game-winning drive if not for the interception he threw deep in the red zone. Purdy rushed for 33 yards on three carries and completed one pass for 24 yards in that march that began at NU’s 3-yard line.
Emmitt Johnson also had a 29-yard run to the right side in which he made three defenders miss with a trio of nifty moves before being stopped at the Maryland 16. The Huskers got all the way to Maryland’s 5-yard line before Johnson was tackled for a 2-yard loss just before Purday’s interception that
was returned 19 yards.
That’s when the Terps went on their game-winning drive, going 75 yards on 12 plays in the final 3:37 to set up Howes’s game-winning 24-yard field goal as time expired.
“On defense, we gave up too many big plays,” NU defensive tackle Ty Robinson said. “We knew it was going to be a passing game and when that happens, when you prep for it all week and it still happens, you’re shocked. I don’t know what else to say but get to film and fix it.”
Nebraska’s defense had another solid outing, but one that wasn’t quite good enough to win. After holding the Terps to zero net yards rushing on seven attempts in the first half, Maryland gained 101 yards on the ground in the final 30 minutes.
The success that Robinson referred to that Maryland enjoyed in the passing game featured numbers that Togovailoa’s older brother Tua, the
starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, would classify as a good day. Taulia completed 27 of his 40 passes for 283 yards and the touchdown to Felton.
Conversely the three Nebraska quarterbacks combined for a paltry 10-of-21 performance that produced just 86 yards to go with the four interceptions.
The stark difference between the passing games of the two teams also shows up in the quarterback rating each player posted. Tagovailoa had a robust 130.2, while the best number a Husker QB posted was the 70.8 by Sims. Purdy had a 33.9 while Haarberg’s score in limited action was a (minus)-20.
“It was pretty dominant on defense for long stretches and then an explosive pass,” Rhule said. “If we continue to minimize those things, we could be even better on defense. I thought the defense came to play.”
Robinson didn’t disagree with Rhule, but he said the defense could have been better, especially on that final 75-yard drive. He also said everyone on defense needs to remember how well they played in the fourth quarter of the 20-7 victory over Illinois.
“That’s the standard,” Robinson said. “Each week the standard is raised. I even raised it for myself. I can’t take any games off, not saying anyone does, but the D-line sets the tone of the game and going forward it will be how can we raise that standard.”