With Haarberg at the Helm, Huskers Hammer Huskies With Only One Turnover, NU Wears Out Northern Illinois 

By Steve Beideck

LINCOLN – Heinrich Haarberg had one of the best first starts by a Nebraska quarterback in recent memory, and the Huskers’ defense limited Northern Illinois to 149 yards of offense Saturday in Nebraska’s 35-11 nonconference victory. 

It was the first win for Matt Rhule as Nebraska’s head coach. The Huskies (1-2) didn’t score a touchdown until just four seconds remained in the game played before a crowd of 86,875 at Memorial Stadium. 

Heinrich completed 14 of 24 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore from Kearney was also Nebraska’s leading rusher, gaining 98 yards on 20 carries as the Huskers (1-2) finished with 382 yards of total offense. 

The Blackshirts defense showed dominance with its front seven and allowed just 26 yards rushing on 22 attempts.

Quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who was sacked three times, carried the ball five times for minus-18 yards. 

Haarberg engineered a nearly perfect first drive as a collegiate starter. 

Three option keepers to his left and a quarterback sneak for a first down gave the Kearney Catholic graduate 19 yards rushing. Two pass completions, including a 10-yard TD strike to Billy Kemp, accounted for the other 36 yards on the six-play drive. 

It was the first time the Huskers scored a touchdown in the first half this season. 

Nebraska’s defense in the first half was dominant, allowing just five first downs while limiting the Huskies to 58 yards of total offense. The most impressive statistic: NIU had a net of just three yards rushing on 15 attempts by halftime. 

Even when Northern Illinois made its field goal with 3:08 remaining in the first quarter, Nebraska’s defense was the unit in the spotlight. It’s not often a drive of four plays for minus-8 yards produces points. 

That’s how Nebraska minimized the effects of its lone first-half turnover. Haarberg lost the ball under heavy

pressure when his arm was hit attempting a pass, and the ball was recovered on the NU 5 by Skyler Gill-Howard. 

The Huskers had five of their final six drives of the half stuffed by a more tenacious defensive effort from the Huskies that included four three-and-outs. 

But in the middle of that the Huskers took advantage of a short NIU punt and scored a second TD on a 16-yard pass from Haarberg to tight end Thomas Fidone. 

Nebraska put together its best and most complete drive of the season in the third quarter. It included bouncing back from an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty – the kind of mistake that stifled scoring opportunities in the first two games. 

It was an old school NU drive: 15 plays, 76 yards, ending in a touchdown. It included four third-down conversions, zero fumbles and the first rushing touchdown of the season. 

Gabe Ervin scored – his first of the season – on a 3-yard run up the middle after Haarberg converted a third-down situation with a quarterback sneak.

The two biggest gainers were both third-down completions by Haarberg – a rope down the sideline to Fidone for 20 yards and a 33-yard catch-and-run to Alex Bullock that was shortened to 18 yards because of the 

unsportsmanlike conduct call on center Ben Scott. 

Nebraska added two more TD runs in the fourth quarter. Haarberg went around right end and finished a 20-yard run just inside the pylon to put the Huskers ahead 28-3. 

Anthony Grant then took a handoff from Chubba Purdy and went around left end for an 11-yard TD run following an interception by Javon Wright. 

NIU’s lone TD came against NU reserves when quarterback Ethan Hampton completed a 4-yard pass to Chris Carter with four seconds remaining. 

The Huskers will host Louisiana Tech Sept. 23 at 2:30 p.m. (CDT). The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

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