A host of nightly games at Memorial Stadium remained undeterred as the third quarter ended, setting the stage for what was in store for the start of the final quarter. Nebraska put out two flamethrowers in each end zone and began their long-awaited light show.
The stadium lights were flashing and the crowd roared as if the light show was a winning touchdown, the icing on the cake of an impressive performance by the Huskers.
In the annual Nebraska-Northwestern rivalry, every game under the direction of head coach Scott Frost advanced to the finals. Fan reaction to the light show gave what appeared to be an energetic reaction to a close game and a decisive fourth quarter ahead.
“Yeah, it was amazing,” Frost said after the game. “This thing at the end of the third quarter. Wow. And I can’t believe with the score there that many fans were there at the end.
The Nebraska starters were already on the sidelines when the fourth quarter extravagance began and so enjoyed the spectacle that celebrated their game. The build-up of flashing lights came early on.
Junior quarterback Adrian Martinez slipped out of the pocket in the first game of the game, trying to buy some extra time to create some magic. With Martinez’s escape, someone finally caught his eye 50 yards from the pitch.
Martinez, throwing off from the right on his own 25-yard line, threw a ball down the field to senior wide receiver Samori Toure. The ball wasn’t the most accurate, with a few Northwestern defenders also converging on Touré, but the elder won the duel and was dragged down to Northwestern’s 5-yard line.
“When I got the look I wanted I tried Samori on,” Martinez said after the game.
Toure’s run-and-catch put Nebraska firmly in goals-to-go territory. Two games later, Nebraska took a 7-0 lead in a 50-second practice with Martinez’s one-yard dive. Quick workouts that combined explosiveness and descent summed up Nebraska’s offensive for the remainder of the night.
With the buzz of the stadium after such a quick touchdown, the Blackshirts amplified the crowd of 87,364 by allowing seven yards in six games. Husker’s offense and defense were finally in sync against a Power Five squad, opening the doors to the game that was expected by so many as the season approached.
At halftime, Nebraska was leading 35-7 over the Wildcats. The Huskers racked up 405 yards in the first half and unlike previous high-profile games, Nebraska converted scoring opportunities into touchdowns in the red zone. Nebraska went 4-for-4 for red zone touchdowns in the first half, a welcoming spectacle from previous games.
The red zone offense improved on the Nebraska front, particularly due to a massive overhaul of the offensive line during the week, with previous freshman left tackle Turner Corcoran moving to right tackle. On the left, rookie Teddy Prochazka took the left tackle spot while Colorado State transfer and second-year offensive lineman Nouredin Nouili took the left guard spot.
Prochazka and Nouili shone together on the left side of the line.
“There are a few scenes… where the cameras caught us celebrating together. We have been training together for some time together, ”Nouili said after the match. “We just kept doing our thing.”
In the first half, Nebraska ran the ball 10 times in the red zone and failed to pass a pass. There was also not a single negative play despite the 10 points, with freshman Rahmir Johnson scoring two touchdowns while Martinez himself had two scores.
The ground game flourished, but neither Johnson nor Martinez were the biggest stars in the ground game. Having secured his first runs of the season and not being listed on the depth chart at the start of the game, first-year running back Jacquez Yant has had one of the best games of any running back in Nebraska. this season.
According to Frost, Yant had managed to come back from a 25-pound excess weight at fall camp and therefore found his way back into the roster against Northwestern.
Defeated 7-0, Northwestern’s defense returned to the field and held Nebraska in their first non-positive game of the day. A second and 10 of its own 32s, the Wildcats’ defense could finally put the new offensive line in a dangerous situation.
The Huskers chose not to pass the second and 10, giving Yant the ball instead. Yant bounced off the right side of the field before cutting through the field and past several northwest defensemen, running 64 yards to the Wildcats’ four-yard line.
“‘Haul Yant ‘, that’s what I said. It’s just crazy. “Yant’s comeback,” I was saying all kinds of things on the sidelines, ”Martinez said.
Yant’s run was the longest of any Husker in 2021, and like the previous one, Nebraska’s red zone offense completed the big game. With a 14-0 lead with 9:19 remaining in the game. first quarter, the Wildcats offense failed to come up with another answer.
Northwestern had three goals quickly and sophomore running back Evan Hull got his first litter of the game and didn’t do much. The Huskers offense returned, marching across the field to the Wildcats’ 25-yard line.
Still, Martinez wasn’t perfect that day. On the second and 10, Martinez was looking for another big play. Still, he knocked down junior open wide receiver Omar Manning, setting up a game that could be a game-changer on a long third down.
Northwestern’s defense could finally force Husker special teams onto the field. Instead, the Wildcats ‘defense ignored the field option on the third and long, surprising their defense as Martinez remained intact for a 25-yard touchdown to extend the Huskers’ lead to 21-0 with 4:14 to go. in the first trimester.
Northwestern’s offense got a quick response, reducing the lead to 21-7 after a less than three-minute drive where junior defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt was burned by nearly identical routes led by senior wide receiver by Northwestern Stephon Robinson Jr.
Robinson posted gains of 32, followed by a 28-yard touchdown. Still, Nebraska fell back again to take a 28-7 lead on a five-yard touchdown from Johnson with help from Yant and Manning along the way.
Northwestern did not leave, embarking on another potential touchdown try. Second-year quarterback Ryan Hilinski, the Wildcats starting quarterback, continued his streak from the previous touchdown.
Hull got several positive rushes that set up some passing play from the Northwestern 38-yard line. There Hilinski found junior wide receiver Malik Washington, who slipped behind junior outside linebacker Pheldarius Payne, for 43 yards to the Nebraska 19-yard line.
Knocking on the door to the Huskers’ end zone, Hilinski first attempted a stealthy quarterback from the Nebraska line who was denied by the junior defensive lineman tandem Deont Thomas and player from senior defensive line Ben Stille. The Nebraska defense, back to the wall, sidelined the game for good.
Northwestern attempted a quarterback, but as Hilinski was about to hand the ball over to Hull, he was hit by senior linebacker JoJo Domann. The ball rolled nine yards back into Thomas’ hands, ending Northwestern’s last menacing chances to close the game.
“It changed the game a lot. A lot of the time… when you’re at the yard line you’re supposed to score,” Thomas said after the game. “Congratulations to the 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 make another 40-yard run for the remainder of the game as Nebraska continued to hit.
After a few punt exchanges, Nebraska had the ball from its own 41-yard line with 1:52 left in the first half. Once again, the big plays were plenty before the Huskers hit the Wildcats’ defense near the goal line. Senior wide receiver Levi Falck caught an 18-yard catch, then Johnson rushed 23 yards to the Northwestern nine-yard line.
With 42 seconds left at halftime, Johnson scored nine yards to take the lead 35-7. Desperation set in for Northwestern, unsuccessfully passing all three games for the first half and relinquishing his once solid rushing game that was limited to -2 rushing yards at the time.
First-year wide receiver Zavier Betts then quickly set off an 83-yard backhand for another score, taking the game to 42-7 with just under 14 minutes left in the third quarter. The offensive starters dragged on for another practice, scoring another big touchdown.
Martinez hit Touré in stride for a 38-yard bomb. Now leading 49-7, the offensive starters ended the game in style. The Nebraska substitutes kept up the intensity provided by the starters, keeping the Wildcats scoreless in the second half.
On offense, the Huskers scored another touchdown and settled for a final score of 56-7. Overall, the offense ran for 434 yards and totaled 664 yards. Still, the highlight of the second half came from the third side of any team: special teams.
After the second string offense came to rest on its own 10-yard line, the punt unit trotted down the field. So far, the special teams hadn’t made any of the signing games, good or bad, that some had expected.
Nebraska sophomore punter William Przystup, who had missed punters earlier in the season, landed a punt from the end zone that first hit the opposing 34-yard line, but the balloon continued to roll and roll.
Przystup’s punt descended to the six-yard line, scoring an 84-yard punt and the longest punt in Memorial Stadium history. Overall, Northwestern’s 56-7 demolition was the all-around game fans, coaches and players had all been waiting for to start the season.
“I’ve never been in a game like this against a Big Ten opponent,” Domann said after the game. “II felt like if you just run on all cylinders like we’re capable of, and we do it every now and then, but putting it all together, it was great to see. “