Lincoln – The Blackshirts put up an impressive defensive performance, and quarterback Heinrich Haarberg moved the Husker offense effectively in his first career start to lead the Big Red to a 35-11 win over Northern Illinois in Head Coach Matt Rhule’s home debut at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
Haarberg finished with 256 total yards to guide a Husker attack that rolled up 382 yards of total offense, including 224 rushing and 158 passing. The Blackshirts held Northern Illinois to just 26 rushing yards, while limiting NIU starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi to 11-for-28 passing for just 73 yards and an interception. Lombardi also managed five carries for minus-17 yards.
Haarberg completed 14-of-24 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-5, 215-pound sophomore from Kearney, Neb., added 21 carries for a game-high 98 yards to lead Nebraska’s rushing attack as well, including a 20-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run.
Nebraska improved to 1-2 on the season, while Northern Illinois slipped to 1-2.
The Huskers jumped on top early, following an opening stop by the Blackshirts that set Haarberg and the offense with its first possession at the NU 45. Six plays later, Haarberg connected with Billy Kemp IV on a 10-yard touchdown strike to put the Huskers up 7-0 with 9:39 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska continued to lead 7-3 until late in the second quarter, when the Huskers again took advantage of a short field that was created by a stout Blackshirt defense and a low snap that was momentarily mishandled in the end zone by NIU’s punter.
The Husker offense started its second scoring drive at the NIU 36, and four plays later, 6-6, 250-pound sophomore tight end Thomas Fidone was celebrating his 16-yard touchdown reception from Haarberg that put Nebraska in front 14-3 with 3:15 left in the half. Fidone finished with team highs of four receptions for 42 yards in the game.
Nebraska took a 14-3 lead to halftime, as Haarberg completed 8-of-12 passes for 75 and two touchdowns, while adding 11 carries for 39 yards on the ground. The Huskers outgained the Huskies 138-58 in the half, limiting NIU to just three rushing yards on 15 carries.
Midway through the second half, Nebraska put together its most complete drive of the game with a 14-play, 76-yard march that consumed 7:10 to push the Husker lead to 21-3 with one minute left in the third period.
Gabe Ervin Jr. capped the march with his three-yard touchdown blast up the middle. The sophomore running back finished with 14 carries for 67 yards on the night.
Haarberg led another sustained drive in the fourth quarter, moving the Big Red 65 yards in nine plays capped by his own 20-yard touchdown run to put the Huskers up 28-3 with 8:19 left.
Nebraska, which notched its first win of the season, held Northern Illinois to just 149 total yards in a dominant defensive performance. NIU gained 60 yards of total offense on its final drive that resulted in a short scoring pass and a two-point conversion with four seconds left.
NIU backup Ethan Hampton led the Huskies on their only sustained drive by completing 6-of-8 passes for 50 yards, including a four-yard touchdown pass to Chris Carter with four seconds left.
The only other points surrendered by Nebraska came on a 30-yard first-quarter field goal after the Huskies started at the NU 5 following a Husker fumble. That scoring drive covered minus-eight yards for NIU.
The Blackshirts then contributed a Javin Wright interception to set the offense up with another short field at the NIU 35. Five plays later, Anthony Grant capped the scoring for the Huskers with his 11-yard touchdown run to make it 35-3 with 3:23 left. Grant finished the night with seven carries for 46 yards.
Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium next Saturday to take on Louisiana Tech. Kick-off is set for 2:30 p.m. (CT) with live television coverage by the Big Ten Network.