LINCOLN, NE — Sometimes a fast start is just a start.
Rutgers’ offense was brilliant on its first drive, but fizzled thereafter in a 27-17 loss Saturday at Nebraska.
“More games are lost than they are won, and that’s the case again today,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash said.
“We made too many mistakes.”
Rutgers’ went 75 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown on its first possession. The drive was sustained on a play that was likely an internet sensation long before the game was over. Jerome Washington caught a deflected pass using the back of his legs to convert a third down.
Nebraska’s Dedrick Young crossed in front of Washington a split-second before the ball arrived, deflecting it slightly. Washington then trapped the ball against the back of his calves, then rolled forward, eventually sitting on the ball. The initial call was incomplete, but a review restored the once-in-a-lifetime grab and continued what would become the Scarlet Knights’ only offensive touchdown drive.
After that series, the Scarlet Knights gained 119 yards on 42 plays.
“We dropped some balls, and they put some pressure on the quarterback, they blitzed more today than they had in the past,” Ash said. “The biggest thing that we struggled to do was get the running game going. There were plays there to be made but we didn’t make them.”
Rutgers’ in ability to run the ball was never clearer than on third-and-1, then fourth-and-1 at midfield. Gus Edwards got the ball both times, but never had a chance to surge forward.
“Those are the moments where, as an O-line, we’ve got to covert,” offensive lineman Dorian Miller said.
The Scarlet Knights held the ball for 7:10 in the second half, and were 3-of-12 on third down.
“Third down was the main thing. We’ve got to be able to protect better,” Miller said.
Rutgers (1-3) finished with 194 total yards compared to Nebraska’s 306. Quarterback Kyle Bolin threw two interceptions and finished with 126 passing yards.
“It’s hard to win a game with less than 200 yards of offense,” Bolin said.
Two plays unrelated to the offense hurt Rutgers’ chances for a program-defining win. The Scarlet Knights led, 10-7, with five minutes left in the second quarter when De’Mornay Pierson-El returned a punt 63 yards to the Rutgers’ 4-yard line. Pierson-El caught the deep punt near his own sideline, but evaded tackles from Damon Hayes and Bo Melton at the beginning of his near-touchdown return.
“We had two guys unblocked at the point of attack that missed tackles,” Ash said. “It wasn’t a bad kick at all.”
Nebraska scored on the next play to take the lead. Rutgers had a similar letdown in its first game; leading Washington, 7-3, in the second quarter, the Huskies returned a punt 61-yards for a score.
The Scarlet Knights led, 17-14, in the third quarter when it appeared to have stopped the Cornhuskers. A blitz forced Nebraska’s Tanner Lee to throw behind a receiver, but defensive back Kiy Hester hit the receiver well after the ball hit the ground.
“I thought he had it in his hands, and then I hit him, and then I saw the ball (on the ground),” Hester said. “Foolish penalties cost us the game.”
That turned fourth down into first, and moments later Lee hit Pierson-El for an 8-yard touchdown pass. That capped a 97-yard, 17-play drive, and gave Nebraska a lead it would not cede.
“That drive broke our back. I felt we were playing really good football until that drive,” Ash said.