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Huskers' blowout win over Maryland 'says a lot about the character of the guys on our team'
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Huskers' blowout win over Maryland 'says a lot about the character of the guys on our team'

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — If the direction of Saturday’s game had not yet become clear by the end of the first quarter at Maryland Stadium, then the opening minute of the second frame supplied the definitive evidence.

Nebraska sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez, already working with a three-score lead thanks to a fast start from his offense and an opportunistic opening 15 minutes from the Blackshirts, dropped back to pass and made a bad decision, hoisting the ball down the middle into the end zone.

It caromed first off the hands of Terrapin defensive back Nick Cross, then bounded away from Jordan Mosley and landed right in the hands of Husker junior wide receiver JD Spielman for a 25-yard touchdown and a 24-0 Nebraska lead.

Rout: On. Losing streak: Over. A shot at bowl eligibility in Friday's season finale against Iowa: Coming up next.

The Huskers came to Maryland — the school and the state — for the first time in program history and laid waste to a Terrapins team that arrived at the stadium, on paper, in position similar to NU's but showed none of the kind of want-to that Scott Frost’s team put on display 1,200 miles from home in a 54-7 blowout.

“We were overdue to get some breaks,” NU coach Scott Frost said. “I know we got some tipped balls and some turnovers. Those things can happen when you’re on a roll. I was really happy with the team just with the enthusiasm they had and playing for each other and playing together, and I think that was the difference.”

The Huskers (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten), playing without freshman Wan’Dale Robinson and senior Kanawai Noa in its already thin receiving corps, had no trouble carving up a much-maligned Maryland defense. Nebraska scored on four straight drives after a game-opening punt.

Dedrick Mills rumbled in from 6 yards out, then Martinez scored on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak after a Maryland personal foul extended a drive that otherwise would have ended in a punt.

Sophomore walk-on kicker Matt Waldoch, a tryout player who began the fall semester as a member of NU’s club soccer team, made the first of his three field goals to give the Huskers a 17-0 lead, which would be extended by two Spielman touchdown catches in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Erik Chinander’s defense gave no life to a Maryland offense that has scuffled badly since a two-game scoring binge to start the season.

“They had a bye week and I’m sure they prepared for this game as much as any and they wanted this game," NU senior linebacker Mohamed Barry said. "They needed this game also. It was their Senior Day also, and they played with heart. We needed to take their heart away, we needed to take their soul away and take them out of this game as early as possible. We did that. The first play was a turnover and then three-and-outs, and from there we dominated.”

Indeed, the Blackshirts forced a turnover on Maryland's first play of the game — a fumble forced by Carlos Davis and Dicaprio Bootle on a Javon Leake rush attempt that Marquel Dismuke recovered, setting up a the Huskers’ first touchdown — then got off the field on Maryland’s first four third-down tries, forced another fumble thanks to senior cornerback Lamar Jackson and ended two more Terrapin drives on downs.

Even when the Husker offense made its one big mistake of the day — Martinez underthrew a throw-back pass to a wide open Jack Stoll in the end zone and saw it intercepted with NU leading 24-0 — the defense responded. Jackson forced a fumble at the end of a long run from Terrapin freshman quarterback Lance Legendre.

“When you get in a situation where you’re either ahead or behind early, a break one way can get the team back in the game and a break the other way can kind of seal it,” Frost said. “We got up early and then got a couple breaks. I was kind of kicking myself for trying to go for the jugular on the play that got intercepted, because I didn’t want to let them back in the game at that point, but our guys did a good job responding.”

In all, the Huskers rolled to 34 points and 313 yards in the first half, and they allowed zero on just 126 yards.

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Nebraska scored on six straight possessions again between the second and fourth quarters, and the defense carried a shutout until only 3:13 remained.

Martinez finished 16-of-25 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and added a team-best 94 rushing  yards, moving into fifth in NU history in career yardage. 

Overall, NU outgained Maryland 531-206. The Terps mustered just nine first downs, 4 yards a play, and the Huskers racked up a 2-to-1 time of possession advantage.

“It was great to have this game,” Barry said. “We needed it.”

As sure a sign of any regarding the extent to which Nebraska dominated in front of a crowd that, by the end as the rain came down, was mostly Nebraska fans chanting "Go Big Red:" The Huskers scored on nine of their 10 red-zone chances and Maryland didn’t run a single play in the red zone.

The name of the game for Nebraska on this day: Just figuring it out.

Two top receivers not available? Spielman turned in a huge day as he continues his climb through the Nebraska record books. He finished with 104 receiving yards, giving him 864 yards on the season and a chance to take aim at 1,000 for the season on Black Friday against Iowa. He became the first player in school history with a trio of 800-yard seasons to his name.

Oh, and why not throw freshman quarterback Luke McCaffrey out there for a few snaps at flanker — and let him throw a pass on a trick play?

Kicking problems continue? Waldoch stepped up.

Not sure what to do about a lack of distance on kickoffs? Senior punter Isaac Armstrong hit an array of short, well-placed knuckleballs that caused a first-half fumble recovered by the Huskers and kept Leake, among the Big Ten’s most dangerous return men, mostly at bay.

Depth issues at running back due to injury and an illness for Mills? Freshman Rahmir Johnson filled in ably in his fourth career game, finishing with 55 yards and career touchdown No. 1 on a game-high 18 carries.

Frost has maintained through a winless rut lasting 49 days that his team had not given in to the crush of a season that went from promising to disheartening over the month of October. He maintained that it still had spirit, even as its goals for Year 2 under his leadership went out the window.

And on this day, NU showed it, even if the opponent wasn’t much to write home about. It would have been easy to make this trip and show up with a lackadaisical approach. Nebraska didn’t. The Huskers traveled back to Lincoln with their last remaining big opportunity squarely in hand: A chance to play the division-rival Hawkeyes on Black Friday at Memorial Stadium for a sixth win and bowl eligibility.

“It gives me even more enthusiasm for things to come,” Frost said. “This team could have shut it down, turned it off, stopped caring, stopped playing hard. They’re not doing that. So there’s a lot of guys in that locker room that care and want it to be what everybody in Nebraska wants it to be.

“I think it says a lot about the character of the guys on our team that they can still come out at this point in the season and play the way they played today.”

The West Division title, it is not. But progress doesn’t always happen at warp speed. Sometimes, it looks like playing for something, anything, on the last day of the regular season. Sometimes it looks like snuffing the life out of a team on its Senior Day instead of allowing it to hang around and cause more weirdness in an autumn that’s already featured plenty.

 

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Husker football reporter

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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