Indiana battled back from a 17-0 first quarter deficit but a 72-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Armstrong to Stanley Morgan Jr. in the fourth quarter lifted the undefeated Cornhuskers to a 27-22 victory on Homecoming Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
How it Happened
Nebraska (6-0, 3-0) moved down the field right away after taking the opening kickoff, taking 10 plays to cover 52 yards. On 3rd-and-9 from the Indiana 23, UN signal-caller Armstrong Jr. escaped a sack and threw into the end zone where he had an open receiver but linebacker Marcus Oliver broke the pass up at the last moment and Nebraska had to settle for a 40-yard field goal from kicker Drew Brown and a 3-0 lead.
After an Indiana punt, Nebraska began moving again. The big play of the drive was a pass down the right side in the direction of wideout Brandon Reilly. IU cornerback Marcelino Ball was in good position in coverage and tipped the ball into the air but as both players fell to the ground, the ball bounced off the corner's facemask and into the hands of Reilly for a circus catch and a 45-yard gain. Four plays later, running back Terrell Newby busted a run right up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown and a 10-0 Cornhusker lead with 4:47 to play in the first quarter.
Indiana (3-3, 1-2) got the ball back but the on the very first play of the drive, disaster struck. Quarterback Richard Lagow looked to throw an out route to the sideline but his receiver ran inside and the pass ended up directly at Nebraska's Chris Jones, who picked it off and returned it all the way for a 33-yard touchdown. The extra point gave UN a 17-0 lead just over 10 minutes into the game. The first quarter ended that way with Nebraska having controlled the ball for over nine minutes.
Early in the second quarter, Indiana finally had something go its way. The defense forced a big stop inside the Nebraska 10-yard line, making the 'Huskers punt from their own end zone. On the punt, the Hoosiers broke through and Chase Dutra smacked the kick away almost directly off the punter's foot. The ball bounced away and eventually rolled out of the end zone for a safety, IU's first points with 12:29 to go in the first half.
The Hoosiers got the ball following the safety and began moving it for the first time all afternoon. They got a spark from backup quarterback Zander Diamont, who entered the game on 3rd-and-2 at the Nebraska 49 and ran for 9 yards on each of the next two plays to move his team into scoring position. The drive ended with a 36-yard field goal from kicker Griffin Oakes, cutting the deficit to 17-5 with 7:23 left in the half.
Late in the first half, Armstrong Jr. rolled to his right on a 2nd-and-11 from his own 17 and threw downfield in the direction of tight end Sam Cotton. The throw was high, however, and bounced off Cotton's hands and up into the air. IU defensive back Jonathan Crawford grabbed it out of the air and returned it to the Nebraska 28, giving Indiana a golden opportunity before halftime.
The offensive wasn't able to move the ball after the turnover but Oakes nailed another field goal, this time from 45 yards away, to close the gap to 17-8 heading into the locker room at halftime. Despite trailing, Indiana had more first downs and held the ball longer than the Cornhuskers in the half.
The defenses dominated the game, with the teams trading punts until late in the third quarter. Then, Indiana began driving with short- and medium-length gains. A 14-yard reception from wideout Mitchell Paige moved the ball into Nebraska territory and from there the Hoosiers moved inside the 35. On 4th-and-3 from the UN 32, Diamont came back into the game and kept the ball on a read-option play but he was stopped a yard short of the line and a good scoring opportunity went by the boards for IU.
As they had since the first quarter, however, the IU defense stepped up in a big way and forced a three-and-out and a punt for the 'Huskers. On the punt return, Paige fielded the ball and broke a tackle before racing upfield thanks to a couple of key blocks. He was eventually brought down but not before he'd returned the kick 39 yards to the UN 33.
Just two plays after Paige's big return, running back Devine Redding took a handoff and ran around the right end. He faked a reverse to Paige coming the opposite direction and cut upfield. The respect the 'Huskers had for Paige showed as they were completely out of position after the fake and Redding had nothing but green in front of him in the secondary for a 33-yard touchdown. The play was Indiana's longest of the day and Oakes's extra point pulled IU within 17-15 as the third quarter ended.
Armstrong threw a bad interception early in the fourth quarter but Indiana's offense was unable to capitalize and later in the quarter, Nebraska's offense finally broke through for the first time since the opening quarter. On 3rd-and-9 from the UN 28, Armstrong rolled to his left and looked for wideout Morgan Jr. The pass was complete near midfield but there were a couple of tacklers in the area and the play looked about to end there. Once Morgan Jr. had the ball, however, two Indiana defenders ran into each other, opening the field for the Nebraska receiver who raced untouched the rest of the way for a back-breaking 72-yard touchdown. The extra point made it 24-15 with 9:57 left.
Indiana wasn't done yet, though. Lagow came out firing on the ensuing possession, completing passes of 24 and 11 yards to move the ball into Nebraska territory. From there, the junior QB looked deep down the left sideline for receiver Ricky Jones Jr., who had beaten his man badly off the line of scrimmage. The ball was slightly under-thrown so Jones Jr. had to fight off the corner draped all over him but he came down with a great catch at the Nebraska 4 for a 36-yard gain. Two plays later, Lagow faked a handoff and rolled right, eventually hitting Redding, who raced into the end zone to get the Hoosiers right back into the game, 24-22. The drive covered 75 yards in just 1:31, exactly what Indiana needed.
Nebraska got the ball back and began marching down the field on the back of running back Newby, who carried four straight times for 19 yards to move the ball near midfield. From there, Indiana stuffed a run on a 3rd-and-1, forcing a fourth down at the Indiana 48. The 'Huskers left their offense on the field for that play and ran a quarterback sneak to Armstrong Jr., who got the first down by the length of the football, giving UN a fresh set of downs with under four minutes to go.
The rest of the drive was the Newby show, as he shredded Indiana's defense, eventually allowing the 'Huskers to nearly run out the clock on a victory. Nebraska ended the drive with a 39-yard field goal to extend the lead to the final margin of 27-22. The drive took a remarkable 7:41 off the clock, covering 60 yards in 15 plays.
Lagow threw an interception on the final drive to seal a Nebraska win.
Player of the Game-Mitchell Paige
The 5-foot-7 Indiana wideout had one of his finest games has a Hoosier, catching a career-high nine passes for a season-high 101 yards, his first 100-yard effort of the season. He was a safety net for Indiana quarterbacks all afternoon, as Diamont and Lagow targeted him a whopping 13 times out of 37 throws. All of that is not to even mention his huge punt return in the third quarter to set up Indiana's first touchdown.
It was the first time the conference foes met since 1978, a game Nebraska won 69-17...IU was without All-American offensive lineman Dan Feeney (concussion) for a fourth consecutive game; the Huskers played sans top receiver Jordan Westerkamp and running back Devine Ozigbo...Nebraska was ranked in the top 10 of this week's polls for the first time since 2011...Indiana's offense entered the game 81st in the country in 3rd-down conversion percentage while UN's defense ranked 7th; in this contest, the Hoosiers were 5-for-15 on third downs...Nebraska committed nine penalties for 53 yards while Indiana was flagged once for just 10 yards...The Cornhuskers entered the game leading the country in point differential in the fourth quarter at +72; they outscored IU 10-7 in the final stanza...Newby finished with 102 yards on 22 carries.
The Hoosiers are back in action next Saturday on the road in Evanston, Illinois against the Northwestern Wildcats (3-3, 2-1). The game will kick off at 12 p.m. EST and the broadcast is to be determined. The Wildcats will be coming off a big 54-40 win against against Michigan State.