Huskers eat clock, control ball in win

Nebraska defenders celebrate after forcing a Rutgers turnover, Sept. 23, 2017 (KHGI)

LINCOLN --- Nebraska utilized three running backs to gain 197 yards rushing and control the clock in a 27-17 victory over Rutgers (1-3, 0-1 B1G), Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Devine Ozigbo was the top workhorse for the Huskers, rushing 24 times for 101 yards (4.2 YPC). Mikale Wilbon certainly added a strong effort with 14 carries, 78 yards, and a touchdown. True freshman Jaylin Bradley also got six touches for 16 yards, half of them coming on one carry.

The defense was the other big story for Nebraska, as the Blackshirts were able to hold the Scarlet Knights to a season-low 194 yards of offense, 19 fewer than Northern Illinois could accumulate a week earlier.

This is the fifth straight game at Memorial when Nebraska's opponent was unable to top the 100 yard rushing barrier. Rutgers was held to 68 yards on 24 carries, an average of 2.8 per rush.

There were cries for junior quarterback Tanner Lee to be benched after throwing an interception in the third quarter, his second of the day. Rutgers' Kiy Hester returned it 33 yards for a touchdown, Lee's third interception for an opponent touchdown in the last two games, and his ninth of the season (most in FBS).

Lee was able to bounce back and lead the Huskers on a 17-play, 97-yard drive, eating up 8:10 and capped with an 8-yard touchdown pass to De'Mornay Pierson-El. Lee finished his day going 13-for-26 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Linebacker Luke Gifford sealed the victory late in the fourth quarter win an interception.

Nebraska (2-2, 1-0 B1G) has a short week to work with, playing at Illinois Friday night.


4 –– Nebraska improved to 4-0 all-time against Rutgers, including 3-0 as members of the Big Ten and 2-0 at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska also improved to 5-2 in Big Ten Conference openers and won for the ninth straight time on Homecoming Saturday in Lincoln.

5 –– True freshman offensive tackle Brenden Jaimes is the fifth true freshman offensive lineman to start a game at Nebraska since freshmen regained eligibility in the early 1970s. Jaimes joins Matt Slauson (OG, 3 games, 2005), Jacob Hickman (C, 1 game, 2006), Javorio Burkes (OT, 3 games, 2007) and Tyler Moore (OT, 4 games, 2011). Jaimes is just the 11th Husker offensive lineman to play as a true freshman.

63 –– Senior De’Mornay Pierson-El had a 63-yard punt return to set up a Nebraska touchdown in the second quarter. The 63-yard return to the Rutgers 4 was the 12th return of at least 25 yards in Pierson-El’s career. Pierson-El added a touchdown reception in the third quarter for his third TD reception of the season and the ninth of his career.

194 –– Rutgers gained 194 yards of total offense in today’s game, the fewest yards by a NU opponent under Head Coach Mike Riley after Northern Illinois was held to 213 yards last week. The Huskers have posted the top two total defense efforts under Riley in the past two weeks.

100 –– Nebraska has held five straight opponents at Memorial Stadium to 100 or fewer rushing yards, including Rutgers’ 68 rushing yards today. NU also limited Arkansas State (82) and Northern Illinois (85) to less than 100 yards this season, and also Purdue, Minnesota and Maryland last season. The six Husker opponents have averaged 71 rushing yards in those six games.

17-97-8:10 –– Nebraska had a third-quarter touchdown drive that covered 17 plays, 97 yards and 8:10. The scoring drive was the longest of the season for Nebraska in terms of plays, time and yards. The previous longer drive was an 18-play scoring drive against Illinois last season that lasted 10:42. The 97-yard scoring drive matched a 97-yard scoring drive against Wyoming last season.


· Nebraska ran for 197 yards in today’s game, while holding Rutgers to 68 yards on the ground. The Huskers improved to 16-3 under Mike Riley when out-rushing the opposition, including 14 straight wins.

· Four Huskers made their first career starts in today’s game. In addition to Brenden Jaimes at right tackle, center Michael Decker, receiver Gabe Rahn and linebacker Sedrick King also made their first career starts in the game.

· Redshirt freshman JD Spielman caught his first career touchdown pass on an 18-yard reception in the first quarter. It was Spielman’s second touchdown overall, adding to a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Arkansas State.

· Spielman finished the day with a team-high five receptions for a team-high 46 yards, setting a career best for receptions.

· Mikale Wilbon scored on a four-yard touchdown run one play after Pierson-El’s punt return. The one-play drive was Nebraska’s first since last season at Purdue when Tommy Armstrong Jr. scored on a 22-yard run.

· Devine Ozigbo rushed a career-high 24 times for 101 yards, two yards short of his career-high 103 yards against Fresno State last season. It’s the third 100-yard rushing game by a Husker this season, as Tre Bryant topped 100 yards in each of the first two games of the year.

· Nick Gates made his 21st straight start at left tackle. That is the longest streak by a Husker at that position since Richie Incognito started 22 straight games at the position in 2002-03.

· Junior Antonio Reed had a third-quarter interception to set up a Nebraska field goal, marking Reed’s first career interception.

· Nebraska held the ball for 22:50 after halftime, following Rutgers controlling the ball for 17:29 in the first half.

· Caleb Lightbourn has a career-long 64-yard punt in the fourth quarter. His previous long was 58 against Oregon last season.

· Senior Drew Brown connected on a pair of fourth-quarter field goals, giving him 52 career field goals.

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley

Opening Statement

“Well obviously it was really good to win. I am very proud of these kids. You know there was a lot of new faces and some of them first time out there today. They made some plays and then what was great was when adversity snuck up on us again. The guys just kind of came back and stuck to it and won the game. That was pretty special. That part of it was outstanding.”

On considering a quarterback change

“No. Just by the fact that this is a three-point game, he’s (Tanner Lee) played so much more, and we had a lot of faith that he would bring it back and he did. He made some real good throws after that. It had nothing to do with how we feel about Patrick (O’Brien) either. This guy (Tanner Lee) has been in the games and he sucked it up and made some throws.”

On if Nebraska’s identity in the running game was found

“I thought it was good, hard running. I was really proud, and we actually played differently than when we started the year. Three backs played, Devine Ozigbo played, Mikale Wilbon played, and I was excited about it. Mikale had (78) yards with a 5.6 average, and Devine had (101) with a 4.2 average. That’s pretty good for two guys playing.”

On if the three back rotation is a formula for future games

“Well, I will tell you this, that would be nice, but we are going to have to throw for more yards.”

On defense carrying the offense

“I’ve seen growth since the first week, take out the first half of the Oregon game, come to the second half, and there has been growth. Lots of good teaching, lots of good football today. I think again that it was really telling how they drove down and scored right away and then really didn’t again. There was the pick six and that was really about it. Pretty impressive. I thought the kids played sound and I thought a lot of the next-men-up had to step up. We lost Aaron Williams early, and we’re already playing without Josh Kalu. We don’t have two starters out there and Kieron Williams gets in there, Antonio Reed plays, and Marquel Dismuke goes in. There’s a lot of new faces playing a lot of ball. I think that’s pretty good.”

On Tanner Lee’s performance after throwing second interception

“I have been there, done that before with a quarterback. I never did this before, but I have seen it with the home crowd with Derek Anderson and Matt Moore. What they did was just fight back and play. So I was just impressed.”

On needing win this week

“Winning games are hard. I would suppose after last week, that game was…These kids are happy right now. They know it was hard, they know they played well, and they knew a lot of new parts played an important role. I’m pretty excited.”

On linebacker Luke Gifford

“It’s really been kind of neat to see Luke’s emergence as a well-respected, he’s always been really well-liked. He’s a great guy, But what he’s done as a football player, earning the respect of the team definitely playing the best football of his life and that came from a lot of preparation and the physical development that he made happen in the offseason was a big key factor.”

Junior Quarterback Tanner Lee

On how the running backs affected the offense

“It’s huge and I think that’s the reason we won the game. We got behind our offensive line, they wanted to take over the game, and that’s exactly what they did. So that was huge for us.”

On his thoughts after the pick-six

“That was tough. I made a dumb play there, that’s for sure. I think the biggest thing was we got the ball back inside our own five and we went 17 plays and finished with a touchdown. That was the most important thing for us right there, we got it done. So that was good for us and our offense.”

On the offensive line

“Aw man, I think they were just relentless. I didn’t really see anybody getting tired, they just wanted it. That was a huge reason why we won.”

On how important it was to be back on the winning side

“It feels great to get back on track. Got our first Big Ten win of the season and we will come in tomorrow on a short week and get ready for another one.”

On junior running back Devine Ozigbo

“He has got to be tough to tackle. I am glad I don’t have to. He is just so consistent, just a bruising back and it’s huge to have that on your team, especially in games like today where you can kind of milk the clock a little bit and just give the ball to him and pick up first downs and get the tough yards. That was big. I am happy for Devine.”

On what Head Coach Mike Riley told him after his second interception

“Coach Riley has been great with all this, especially this week getting ready to play. After that play he just told me to stay with it and stay settled in and play the game and do what those guys are teaching me. So that was good to hear.”

Junior Linebacker Luke Gifford

On his interception at the end of the game

“Pretty good. It’s been a long week. We’ve worked hard this week so it was a good way to finish it off.”

On team motivation and preparation

“I think maybe just a combination of it all, more just the way the rest of the season has gone and how much we just wanted to get better and win. That’s really the thing that’s driving us, and I thought we came to work Monday and really went at it, and the rest of the week was a good week of preparation. We played like that today.”

On giving up points on the opening drive

“It’s a lot like the last couple of weeks when we had a drive here or there and you know Arkansas State early in the game we had some problems, but it wasn’t anything big. It was just tightening down and executing at a high level. We started to do that I feel like.”

On his personal improvements as a player this season

“This defense really fits me and just my physical ability, I think I’ve grown a lot. I’ve gotten a lot bigger and stronger. The game has just really slowed down for me. Sometimes it clicks when you’re young and sometimes it clicks when you’re older. For me, it kind of started this year.”

On satisfying Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco and not giving up the lead

“We showed signs. Last week we had that one drive where we had an opportunity to shut it down and we didn’t. Then this week we give up that drive to start the game. We knew it was it. We were making sure it was the last drive that they were going to get. Then soon as we got that lead back this time, we pointed to last week and said, ‘That’s not happening. It’s not happening this week. We have to make a stop and once the offense gives us a lead, we were going to keep it.’”

Rutgers head coach Chris Ash

On what changed after the first drive

"We made some throws and dropped some balls. They were able to put some pressure on the quarterback, and put a blitz on the pass. We struggled to get the running game going. That's the biggest thing that we struggle to do consistently. There were plays there to be made, we just didn't make them. Our ability to pressure the quarterback affected his confidence to stand in the pocket and wait for some stuff to come open. We had two interceptions that were critical situations that killed us, too."

Rutgers Senior Quarterback Kyle Bolin

On why he struggled with completion on passes as the game went on

“We came out with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of momentum and it showed on the first drive, and then somewhere along the lines in those continuous drives, penalties and maybe dropped balls and just stalling out, bad throws, just momentum breakers, and it was hard to find that momentum throughout the game.”

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