By Steve Beideck
While there is still so much to fix, the big dose of success Nebraska eventually earned Saturday helped calm the collective nerves of an anxious Husker Nation.
Tied 7-7 at halftime with FCS foe North Dakota one week after coughing up a pair of 11-point leads in a gut-wrenching loss to Northwestern, a few boo-birds began chirping from the Memorial Stadium stands.
It was not near the extent of the 2007 boos, nor to the level that rang down near the end of the Mike Riley experiment in 2017, but it was noticeable from the crowd of 86,590. Still, In the end, the Huskers overwhelmed North Dakota 38-17 to even their record at 1-1.
Nebraska coach Scott Frost said that while the overall performance produced a mixed bag, the Huskers did snap a seven-game losing streak dating back to last season, the benefits of which outweigh the negatives.
“A lot of good and a lot of bad,” Frost said. “We had a lot better rhythm in the second half. It’s better to learn with a win than a loss. There are a lot of things we can fix and become a better football team.”
The outlook wasn’t good heading into the intermission, especially with the Fighting Hawks having their way against the Nebraska Blackshirts on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that tied the score just 13 seconds before the break.
That march by UND gave the Huskers one of the most lopsided time-of-possession deficits they have faced in a single half – 20:38 to 9:22. The Huskers only had four offensive possessions in the first 30 minutes.
And remember, this was an FCS foe, which has a limit of 63 “equilivancy” scholarships – which means they can be divided up between more than 63 players – compared to FBS schools that can offer 85 full rides.
Things got tense when Nebraska stumbled after taking a 17-7 lead early in the third quarter and allowed the Fighting Hawks to rally and tie the game after NU QB Casey Thompson threw an interception deep in Nebraska’s own end which led to UND’s second touchdown.
After that, Nebraska began to dominate on both sides of the ball. The NU offense responded with a five-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 46-yard touchdown run by running back Anthony Grant.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior from Buford, Georgia, was Nebraska’s steadiest weapon throughout the entire game. Grant, who also scored Nebraska’s lone first half TD on a 19-yard run, led all players with 189 rushing yards on 23 carries.
Nebraska secured the victory with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns; one by running back Ajay Allen on a 14-yard run and the other on a 5-yard pass from Thompson to tight end Chancellor Brewington with 2:07 remaining in the game.
The Huskers finished with 437 yards of total offense. Thompson was 14-of-21 for 193 yards and two touchdowns. His other TD pass was a 1-yard toss to Nate Boerkircher that came on the sixth play of NU’s opening drive of the second half.
“Overall I thought the defense hung in there, but we can be better,” Frost said. “(There were) some dumb plays on special teams that I know are getting coached in the meetings. I’m listening to them.”
Still, Frost saw plenty of things to believe things will get better.
“My message to the team, I don’t mind sharing with you, it’s been an interesting campaign,” Frost said. “We have a lot of new guys on the team and on the staff. We’ve got some old guys who have battled through a lot of adversity and been a good team before and haven’t won.
“This team can be a great team, it’s not right now, and that was my message to them. That puts us in a perfect position to have the potential to be good but know that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to fix.”