COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Adrian Martinez’s pass zipped into a triangle of Terrapins like a plane headed into a Bermuda storm. One Maryland defender tipped the ball to another with a finger roll, only to watch it bounce off his buddy’s helmet.
JD Spielman was, well, JD-on-the-spot. The Nebraska receiver, in the end zone, grabbed the ball with two hands for a gift touchdown and proceeded into a celebration.
Tip, tip, hooray.
Martinez, watching the scene, shook his head a little. Yeah, it was lucky. But the Huskers were owed some luck — especially when they were this good Saturday in a stunning 54-7 rout of the Terrapins.
“I thank JD for that play,” Martinez said of the second-quarter score that put NU up 24 points. “Great concentration on his part. Some things did go our way, but also I think our guys did a great job of coming out this game with some energy and being focused on the job we needed to accomplish.”
“We’re due for some things to slide our way,” coach Scott Frost said.
The job was simple. Win. Break a four-game, six-week losing streak. Head into the Iowa Black Friday game with a chance to make a bowl that many fans and media saw as a birthright at the start of the season.
NU’s largest margin of victory in a Big Ten tilt came in a half-empty stadium against a foe playing four — yes, really, four — equally ineffective quarterbacks. The evening in the chilly rain doubled as Nebraska’s most dominant, complete performance of the Frost era.
The numbers in all three phases — offense, defense and special teams — were gaudy. Four takeaways, six sacks, 305 rushing yards, 40 minutes time of possession, nine scores in 10 red-zone trips, four field goals from walk-ons, waves of reserves making plays in the fourth quarter. It served as a picture of what NU used to be, and what it might consistently be again, one day, when all of the young players who logged snaps Saturday grow up a little.
“Honestly, I’ve seen this coming for a long time,” Frost said. “When you get on a roll and you get some momentum and you get winning, it seems like it just keeps going in that direction. I think our guys need a few of these to have the confidence that these kinds of things can happen.”
Frost typically brushes aside statistical breakdowns and zeroes in on the intangibles. His pregame message, he said, focused on sharing and generating energy by physically celebrating with teammates. He wanted more helmet taps, more group joy. The team had battled injuries and illnesses during the week — Dedrick Mills and Spielman didn’t practice, while offensive starters Wan’Dale Robinson, Kanawai Noa and Barret Pickering didn’t make the trip — and, moreover, the Huskers had battled losing, a virus all its own. So Frost asked for something else he believes is contagious.
“He showed us the difference between, ‘Hey, man, good job,’ and actually putting your hands on them and sharing energy with one another,” defensive tackle Darrion Daniels said. “I think that played a huge factor in this game.”
In front of 34,082 at Maryland Stadium, Nebraska (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) had plenty of energy to share. Success was contagious.
The Terrapins (3-8, 1-7) aided Nebraska considerably. UM running back Javon Leake fumbled on his team’s first offensive play; Carlos Davis and Dicaprio Bootle caused it and Marquel Dismuke recovered it. Mills punched in NU’s first touchdown two plays later.
The Huskers’ second touchdown was facilitated by a Maryland personal foul for leaping over the punt shield. On Nebraska’s ensuing kickoff, Maryland’s return unit failed to field a pooch kick to the 22-yard line. Collin Miller gobbled it up, setting up the first of three field goals from sophomore Matt Waldoch, one of two walk-ons who took over kicking duties for the injured Pickering.
From there, the Huskers rolled. Spielman’s clutch grab came 50 seconds into the second quarter. Frost said he was kicking himself for a red-zone play call on NU’s next drive — in which a throwback pass from Martinez was intercepted — but the Huskers forced a fumble by Maryland’s second quarterback, Lance LeGendre, on the Terrapins’ only play in NU territory for three quarters.
Maryland’s offense appeared insistent on playing to its weakness — passing the ball — and Nebraska was game to crash the Terrapins’ pocket for a season-high six sacks. NU’s defense wanted to take away Maryland’s heart early, inside linebacker Mohamed Barry said. It did, holding UM to 206 total yards, the lowest total in nearly two years.
NU led 34-0 at halftime. It tied its largest halftime lead in a Big Ten game, and opened the door for a second half full of reserves. Redshirting freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey — who moonlighted at receiver, as well, and even caught a pass — rushed for 83 yards. Redshirting running back Rahmir Johnson rushed for 55 yards. Seven Huskers carried the ball. Ten Huskers caught a pass. Twenty-one made a tackle. Waldoch and Harrison Martin, a senior walk-on from Lincoln Lutheran who joined the team a few weeks ago, made kicks.
By game’s end, Maryland’s crowd had cleared out and all that remained, on either side, were poncho-wearing Nebraska fans yelling “Luuuuuke” for each McCaffrey carry and “Go Big Red!” to punctuate the victory. Testudo, Maryland’s turtleoid mascot, was hugging Husker cheerleaders and taking selfies. NU hasn’t had a road win this painless in years. Even players with illnesses — other than Spielman, the team’s quiet man — were happy to stand out in the rain and chat with reporters.
Nebraska’s staff had a few players stand under a small tent near the path to the buses. Huskers wore postgame smiles instead of pained looks. Barry, for one, was ready to point to rival Iowa, the Black Friday foe that stands in the way of a bowl berth NU wants and needs to keep developing.
“Everything sets up,” Barry said.
Saturday’s win, Daniels said, gives him more confidence Nebraska can pull off the upset.
“Everybody just wants to be around each other and make the best of what’s left,” Daniels said.
And even if Frost saw this kind of win around the bend — he’s continued to insist Husker football will “turn” in a big way soon — it was still gratifying to him to see, in a week and season full of uncertainty, that Nebraska had this kind of dominating performance in it. One game, one Saturday, against a team with four bad quarterbacks. But 54-7 is 54-7.
“This team could have shut it down, turned it off, stopped caring, stopped playing hard, and they’re not doing that,” Frost said. “There’s a lot of guys in that locker room that care and want it to be what everybody in Nebraska wants it to be. It says a lot of their character — the guys on our team — that they can still come out at this point in the season and play the way they did today.”
|Yards per carry||4.8||5.4|
Nebraska is 2-0 all-time against Maryland.
|South Alabama||Aug. 31|
|Northern Illinois||Sept. 14|
|Ohio State||Sept. 28|
Nebraska has played 23 games on Nov. 23. See them all »
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