Nebraska vs. Northwestern Football Photo No. 10

Nebraska’s Zavier Betts (15) runs the ball down the field during their game against Northwestern at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

A night game crowd in Memorial Stadium remained, undeterred, as the third quarter ended, setting the stage for what was in store for the beginning of the final quarter. Nebraska trotted out two flamethrowers in each endzone, and commenced its long-awaited light show.

Stadium lights were flickering and the crowd roared as if the lights show was a game-winning touchdown, the cherry on top of an impressive performance from the Huskers. 

In the annual Nebraska-Northwestern rivalry, every game under head coach Scott Frost had gone down to the final play. The fans’ reaction to the light show gave what seemed to be a spirited reaction to a close game, and a decisive fourth quarter ahead. 

“Yeah, that was incredible,” Frost said postgame. “That thing at the end of the third quarter. Wow. And I cannot believe with the score there that many fans were there at the end.”

Nebraska’s starters were already standing on the sidelines when the fourth quarter extravaganza commenced, and so basked in the show that was celebrating their play. The build-up to the flashing lights came right from the start.

Junior quarterback Adrian Martinez escaped the pocket on the first play of the game, trying to buy just a little bit more time to create some magic. With Martinez’s escape, someone finally caught his eye 50 yards down the field.

Martinez, throwing from the right at his own 25-yard line, launched a ball down field to senior wide receiver Samori Toure. The ball wasn’t the most accurate, with a couple of Northwestern defenders also converging on Toure, but the senior won the duel and was dragged down at Northwestern’s 5-yard line. 

“When I got the look I wanted, I gave Samori a shot,” Martinez said post game.

Toure’s run-and-catch put Nebraska firmly into goal-to-go territory. Two plays later, Nebraska took a 7-0 lead on a 50-second drive with Martinez’s one-yard plunge. Fast drives that combined explosiveness and downhill running summarized Nebraska’s offense for the rest of the night.

With the stadium buzzing after such a quick touchdown, the Blackshirts amped up the 87,364 crowd by giving up seven yards on six plays. The Husker offense and defense finally were in sync against a Power Five team, opening up the doors for the game that was anticipated by so many coming into the season.

At halftime, Nebraska was up 35-7 on the Wildcats. The Huskers put up 405 first half yards of offense and unlike previous high-yardage games, Nebraska was converting scoring opportunities to touchdowns in the red zone. Nebraska went 4-for-4 for red zone touchdowns in the first half, a welcoming sight from previous games.

The red zone offense improved on Nebraska’s front, particularly due to a massive offensive line rehaul during the week, with previous freshman left tackle Turner Corcoran moving to right tackle. On the left side, freshman Teddy Prochazka took the left tackle spot while Colorado State transfer and sophomore offensive linemen Nouredin Nouili took the left guard spot.

Prochazka and Nouili shined together on the left side of the line.

“There’s a couple of scenes...where the cameras caught us celebrating together. We’ve been practicing together for a while as the twos,” Nouili said postgame. “We just kept doing our thing.”

In the first half, Nebraska ran the ball 10 times in the red zone and passed zero times. There also wasn’t a single negative play despite the 10 runs, with freshman running back Rahmir Johnson scoring two touchdowns while Martinez had two scores himself.

The ground game thrived but neither Johnson nor Martinez were the biggest stars of the ground game. Getting his first carries of the season and not listed on the depth chart coming into the game, freshman running back Jacquez Yant had one of the best games of any Nebraska running back this season.

According to Frost, Yant had worked his way back from being 25 pounds overweight coming into fall camp, and so found his way back into the line-up against Northwestern.

Down 7-0, Northwestern’s defense trotted back on the field and had held Nebraska to its first non-positive play of the day. A second-and-10 from its own 32, the Wildcats’ defense could finally put the new-look offensive line into a dangerous situation.

The Huskers opted to not pass on second-and-10, instead giving the ball to Yant. Yant bounced to the right side of the field before cutting up field and zooming past several Northwestern defenders, going 64 yards to the Wildcats’ four-yard line.

Haul Yant’, that’s what I said. It’s just nuts. ‘Yant’s homecoming,’ I was saying all kinds of things on the sidelines,” Martinez said.

Yant’s run was the longest for any Husker running back in 2021 and, like the previous drive, Nebraska’s red zone offense complemented the big play. Up 14-0 with 9:19 left in the first quarter, the Wildcats’ offense failed to muster another response.

Northwestern promptly went three-and-out, with sophomore running back Evan Hull getting his first carries of the game and not doing much. The Huskers’ offense walked back on, marching down the field to the Wildcats’ 25-yard line.

Still, Martinez wasn’t perfect on the day. On second-and-10, Martinez was looking for another big play. Yet, he overthrew an open junior wide receiver Omar Manning, setting up a possible game-changing play on a long third down.

Northwestern’s defense could finally force the Husker special teams onto the field. Instead, the Wildcats’ defense didn’t account for the pitch option on third-and-long, surprising their defense as Martinez went untouched for a 25-yard touchdown scamper to extend the Huskers’ lead to 21-0 with 4:14 left in the first quarter.

Northwestern’s offense got a quick response, cutting the lead to 21-7 after a sub-three minute drive where junior defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt was burned by nearly identical routes run by Northwestern senior wide receiver Stephon Robinson Jr.

Robinson had gains of 32 and then a 28-yard touchdown catch. Still, Nebraska drove right down again to take a 28-7 lead from a five-yard Johnson touchdown run with help from Yant and Manning along the way.

Northwestern didn’t go away, embarking on another potential touchdown drive. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Hilinski, the Wildcats’ starting quarterback, continued his groove from the previous touchdown drive.

Hull got several positive rushes that set up a play-action pass play from Northwestern’s 38-yard line. There, Hilinski found junior wide receiver Malik Washington, who slipped behind junior outside linebacker Pheldarius Payne, for 43 yards to Nebraska’s 19-yard line.

Knocking on the door of the Huskers’ end zone, Hilinski first attempted a quarterback sneak from Nebraska’s line that was denied by the tandem of junior defensive linemen Deontre Thomas and senior defensive linemen Ben Stille. Nebraska’s defense, with its backs to the wall, put the game away for good.

Northwestern attempted a quarterback keeper, but as Hilinski was in the motion of handing the ball off to Hull, he was hit by senior linebacker JoJo Domann. The ball rolled nine yards backwards into Thomas’ hands, ending Northwestern’s last threatening chances to make the game close.

“It changed the game tremendously. A lot of time...when you’re at the one-yard line, you’re supposed to score,” Thomas said postgame. “Kudos to Chins [Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander]”

With 9:22 left in the second quarter, Nebraska held a 28-7 lead that only grew from that point. The Wildcats failed to have another drive go over 40 yards for the rest of the game while Nebraska kept striking.

After a couple of punt exchanges, Nebraska had the ball from its own 41-yard line with 1:52 left in the first half. Once again, big plays were plenty before the Huskers pounded the Wildcats defense near the goal line. Senior wide receiver Levi Falck hauled in a 18-yard catch, then Johnson took a 23-yard run down to Northwestern’s nine-yard line.

With 42 seconds left in the half, Johnson punched in a nine-yard score to make the lead 35-7. Desperation settled in for Northwestern, unsuccessfully passing on all three plays for the opening second half drive and abandoning its once-sturdy ground game that was held to -2 rushing yards at that moment.

Freshman wide receiver Zavier Betts then promptly took a 83-yard reverse for another score, making the game 42-7 with just under 14 minutes left in the third quarter. The offensive starters hung around for one more drive, scoring another big play touchdown.

Martinez hit Toure in stride for a 38-yard bomb. Now leading 49-7, the offensive starters exited the game in style. Nebraska’s back-ups kept up the intensity that the starters brought in, holding the Wildcats scoreless in the second half.

On offense, the Huskers punched in another touchdown and settled on a final score of 56-7. As a whole, the offense ran for 434 yards and had a total of 664 yards. Still, the highlight of the second half came from the third facet of any team: Special Teams. 

After the second-string offense stalled out at its own 10-yard line, the punt unit trotted out on the field. Up to this point, the special teams hadn’t made any of the signature plays, good or bad, that some were expecting.

Nebraska sophomore punter William Przystup, who had botched punts earlier in the season, booted a punt from the endzone that first hit the opposing 34-yard line but the ball kept rolling and rolling.

Przystup’s punt rolled down to the six-yard line, marking an 84-yard punt and the longest punt in Memorial Stadium history. As a whole, the 56-7 demolition of Northwestern was the complete game that fans, coaches and players alike were all waiting for coming into the season.

“I have never been a part of a game like that versus a Big Ten opponent,” Domann said postgame. “It felt like if you just execute on all cylinders like we are capable of, and that we do from time to time, but then putting it all together it was great to see.