As his head coach wore black, Bob Diaco spoke of mourning Saturday afternoon.

In the wake of one of Nebraska's most disappointing home losses in years, the Blackshirts took little solace in piecing together a solid performance that kept NU in the game.

Northern Illinois scored 21 points Saturday. Just seven of them came from the Huskies' offense.

But they came at the game's most critical juncture.

"These moments are really hard. And they're even harder to talk about because there's incredible disappointment, incredible mourning, and that's very present," Diaco told a group of reporters after Nebraska's 21-17 loss. "And at the same time, I'm proud of the way the players were resilient for four quarters, and strained, and did what we asked them to do on defense, and played one play at a time, focus on the call, the alignment, some very basic, elementary things as we're developing as a defense.

"And they did that. They really did. They were in the positions they were supposed to be in."

Northern Illinois' first eight possessions ended with zero points. None of those drives went farther than 58 yards, and only one, a 10-play jaunt late in the first quarter, went more than 20. That ended with a missed field goal.

Going back to the second half of the Oregon game, that marked 15 consecutive drives the Husker defense took the field and didn't give up a point.

"We had our backs against the wall last week. We didn't play well in the first half, and came out and responded well, and I think we carried that over to today," senior linebacker Chris Weber said. "We were just trying to stack stops, keep giving the ball back to our offense, keep getting three-and-outs, keep trying to force a turnover."

The defense was successful in that regard, despite playing from behind most of the game thanks to a pair of first-quarter interceptions returned for touchdowns that put Nebraska in a 14-0 hole.

The Huskers allowed 32 yards in the first quarter, 56 in the second and 28 in the third.

But finally given a lead in the fourth quarter, there was a crack.

It came in the form of a 47-yard pass from Daniel Santacaterina to Christian Blake on the first play of NIU's game-winning drive. There was a 16-yard pass from Santacaterina to Blake on a second-and-11 later in the series.

Nebraska's defense allowed 97 yards in the fourth quarter, 75 of which came on NIU's decisive drive.

"The bottom line is, we had a lead, had an opportunity to leave the field, and we didn't make it happen," junior defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg said. "So we've still got a lot of work to do. (But) I thought we were pretty resilient through the game and really we just have to get back to working."

The Huskies finished with just 213 total yards to Nebraska's 384.

"Players are going to give up a play here or there, and that's part of the course of the game. But they really, really played hard," Diaco said. "And they did what they were supposed to do, for the most part. And executed our defense appropriately and never got exacerbated or anxious.

"They just played one play at a time; didn't look at the scoreboard. And I'm really proud of that."

But when the Huskers looked at the scoreboard Saturday afternoon, it said plenty. 

"I’m not a big picture person, I’m a process guy, and they’re (the players) that way to. And defending is that way," Diaco said. "You cannot focus on the big picture. Because the big picture will not help you. There is no past other than learning from it, there is no future that is going to help you in this moment. There is only being in this moment and that time will come again on Monday."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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