Nebraska football came into Saturday’s game against Maryland on a four-game losing streak and seemed to find new ways to lose every week. Even against a 3-7 Maryland team that had lost six of its last seven, a win on the road was no guarantee.
However, the Huskers came out and dominated the Terrapins, winning 54-7.
Nebraska’s defense and special teams, which have struggled recently, were a huge factor in the victory. The Blackshirts forced and recovered four fumbles, including one on a kickoff. They also held the Terrapins to 206 yards while racking up six sacks.
Sophomore place kicker Matt Waldoch, who started in place of injured sophomore kicker Barret Pickering, made all three of his field goal attempts and all six extra points. Senior place kicker Harrison Martin also added on a field goal in the fourth quarter. Senior punter Isaac Armstrong punted just twice, but he pinned both inside the 10-yard line, including a 60-yard punt in the second quarter.
Despite a good overall showing, the Nebraska offense came out slow. On the very first play, sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez threw a bubble screen which was stuffed for a loss of four.
The Huskers got two first downs on that drive, but the possession ended with two straight incompletions and a Martinez scramble that ended short of the first down marker.
Maryland started its first drive at its own 7-yard line, and its first play represented what was to come for the rest of the game. Junior running back Javon Leake took the first carry and rushed for about 14 yards before he was hit and the ball popped up into the hands of junior safety Marquel Dismuke, who returned it to the 13-yard line.
Nebraska junior running back Dedrick Mills had a huge game against Wisconsin, and he continued that momentum against Maryland. Mills ran the ball on two consecutive plays following the turnover, rushing for seven yards on the first play and following that up with a 6-yard touchdown carry.
Maryland ran five plays on its next drive before being forced to punt. The Huskers then went three-and-out, and it seemed their drive was over. However, on the punt attempt, a Maryland player attempted to leap over a Nebraska blocker, an illegal move which resulted in a 15-yard penalty. The Huskers took advantage of the second chance, and Martinez scored on a quarterback sneak to put Nebraska up 14-0.
Then, the strangest play of the game took place. Nebraska’s first kickoff landed at about the 25-yard line, and so did the second. However, Leake couldn’t corral the kick, and Nebraska recovered it at the Terrapin 22-yard line. Nebraska couldn’t get in the endzone on this drive, but Waldoch knocked in a field goal to extend the lead to 17.
In the second quarter, Nebraska continued its dominance, while the Terrapins seemed unable to do anything. The Huskers went up 24-0 with a 25-yard touchdown pass to junior wideout JD Spielman, where Martinez’s throw bounced off two Maryland defenders before landing in the hands of Spielman.
The Terrapins made a quarterback change on their first drive of the second quarter, as true freshman Lance LeGendre came in the game, replacing junior Josh Jackson. He didn’t fare any better than Jackson did, being sacked on third down to end the possession.
Nebraska’s biggest highlight on the day came two plays after Maryland punted. Martinez handed the ball off to Mills, who pitched it on a reverse to freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey, who was in at wide receiver on the play. McCaffrey then threw a pass to Spielman off of the reverse for a 28-yard gain. However, the drive ended with Martinez throwing an interception in the endzone.
There wasn’t as much action on the next three drives, as the Blackshirts forced a LeGendre fumble and then went three-and-out. LeGendre was hurt on the play he fumbled on, so junior Tyrrell Pigrome came in at quarterback on the next drive. Pigrome’s first drive ended with him taking a sack on fourth down in his own territory.
Martinez hit Spielman for his second touchdown of the day on the next drive, and Waldoch tacked on another field goal before halftime to put the Huskers up 34-0 going into the break.
The game had already been decided by the start of the second half, but Nebraska continued to pile it on as younger players got more opportunities. True freshman running back Rahmir Johnson received 18 carries in what will likely be his last game of the year, as he can’t play in another game without burning his redshirt. Johnson took full advantage of the opportunity, rushing for 13 yards on one carry and then scoring a 1-yard touchdown on the very next play to put the Huskers up 44-0.
“I thought Rahmir took advantage,” head coach Scott Frost said postgame. “Really close to popping a bunch of runs, there was a couple that I thought he was going to break and just barely got tackled, but I think it’s a good sign for the future to get his feet wet the way we did today.”
In the fourth quarter, McCaffrey got on the board with a 3-yard touchdown run, and redshirt freshman cornerback Braxton Clark recovered Leake’s third fumble of the game. Leake was able to salvage his performance with a 58-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to break the shutout.
Maryland used four different quarterbacks in the game. Jackson, Pigrome, LeGendre and redshirt freshman Tyler DeSue all threw at least one pass, but the Terrapins ended with seven completions and 57 total passing yards.
Despite missing freshman all-purpose back Wan’Dale Robinson and senior wideout Kanawai Noa, Nebraska’s offense had a strong showing, putting up 531 total yards. Martinez threw for 194 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 94 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
“I was really happy with the team, just having the enthusiasm they had and playing for each other and playing together and I think that was the difference,” Frost said.
The win was a big one for Nebraska, as it now sits one win away from bowl eligibility with as many games remaining. The Huskers will now head into a Black Friday showdown with Iowa with bowl eligibility on the line.
That matchup will take place on Friday, Nov. 29 at Memorial Stadium at 1:30 p.m. and television coverage will be provided by the Big Ten Network.