LINCOLN, Neb. – Louisiana Tech was knotted up with Nebraska at halftime, but the Cornhuskers used the ground game to pull away from the Bulldogs for a hard-fought 28-14 decision in front of 87,115 fans on Saturday inside Memorial Stadium.
Louisiana Tech (2-3) and Nebraska (2-2) went scoreless in the first quarter and then traded touchdowns in the second quarter to make it 7-all at the midway point. However, the Cornhuskers scored 21 unanswered points in the second half, 14 in the fourth quarter, to subdue the upset-minded Bulldogs.
Nebraska finally broke through after a fake field goal to pick up a first down. Two plays later, a jet sweep went nine yards for the first touchdown of the game with 11:31 to go in the second quarter.
Cyrus Allen appeared to tie the game with a 94-yard kickoff return, but a holding penalty erased the touchdown and put the Bulldogs back at their own 12. The flag was one of 12 marked off against the visitors for 100 yards.
The plucky visitors overcame that cancelled TD to tie the game on the ensuing possession and it was a big third down version from midfield that made it happen. Making his first career start at quarterback, Jack Turner dropped in a dime to Allen up the left sideline for 28 yards. The completion set up a 14-yard Jacob Fields touchdown run off left tackle, making it 7-7 with 6:07 remaining in the half.
The Bulldog defense stood tall again late in the second quarter, and when a 41-yard field goal attempt missed the score stayed deadlocked at halftime.
After the Cornhuskers recovered their own fumble on the second-half kickoff, they drove 85 yards on nine rushing plays to retake the lead, 14-7 five minutes into the third period.
A pivotal moment came later in the period.
A questionable spot on a potential first down catch by DeColdest Crawford was not changed by a replay and made it 4th-and-1 from the Nebraska 28-yard line. The Bulldogs attempted a quarterback sneak but did not pick up the first down, and were spurned in a bid to draw even.
The Cornhuskers cashed in a short field later in the quarter, resulting in a 29-yard touchdown pass from Heinrich Haarberg to Thomas Fidone II early in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs looked primed to slice into the deficit, getting a 35-yard Smoke Harris catch and run, one of his game-high 10 receptions. Harris then drew a pass interference on a third-and-long, but the flag was waved off to the justifiable dismay of Tech coach Sonny Cumbie and the Bulldogs were forced to punt.
“It wasn’t a great explanation,” Cumbie said. “They thought both guys were going up for the football at the same time. That was a tough one. If we get a first down (by penalty), it’s 21-7 with a chance to make it 21-14. (Instead) it’s 28-7 pretty quick, so that part was disappointing.”
Three plays later, Haarberg shook off an ankle tackle at the line of scrimmage and dashed 72 yards to put Nebraska up 28-7.
After a 55-minute lightning delay midway through the fourth period, the Bulldogs found the end zone on another Turner-to-Allen connection, a 20-yard grab in the corner of the end zone with 5:17 remaining.
Nebraska outgained Louisiana Tech, 419-338, with 312 Cornhusker yards coming on the ground. Turner finished with 292 passing yards with his two favorite targets being Harris – 10 receptions for 73 yards – and Allen – six catches for 102 yards.
While the Bulldog offensive line allowed no sacks, the Bulldog defense racked up nine tackles-for-loss, including three sacks. Nebraska entered the contest third nationally in making QB sacks.
“I was really proud of our offensive line. It did a nice job of protection, and Jack did a good job of extending plays late,” said Cumbie.
Asked what he will take forward into the return to league play, which comes on the road next Friday night at UTEP, Cumbie had a short hit list.
“The penalties, and execution on offense was sloppy today. Special teams, we knew we had a chance to impact the game, and the penalty hurt us. We had a touchdown. Defensively, we’ve got to stop the run. We gave up three plays for 150 yards. We’ve got to eliminate the explosive plays.”
He had a message he shared with his players before kickoff, and reinforced it afterwards.
“We started the day 1-0 in Conference USA, we finished the day 1-0 in Conference USA. We have seven (CUSA) games ahead of us, everything that we want to accomplish,” said Cumbie. “I think they should take a lot of confidence from this game. We have to apply it in the right way as coaches and as players.”