Things were going quite well for Nebraska on Saturday, but it took just one decision from coach Scott Frost to cause all of those good vibes to vanish.
After falling behind Northwestern 17-14 at halftime, Nebraska scored twice in a 28-second span to flip that three-point deficit into a 28-17 lead with 9:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Nebraska’s defense had already forced a punt and a fumble in the early part of the second half, so surely the Huskers would kick it deep and let the defense go back to work, right? Wrong.
Perplexingly, Frost called for an onside kick. It was a decision that completely changed the trajectory of the game.
Northwestern easily recovered the attempt and regained possession at the Nebraska 44. Gifted with excellent field position, Northwestern needed just five plays to reach the end zone and cut Nebraska’s lead to 28-24.
All of a sudden, Northwestern was given a much-needed jolt of energy and never looked back. Nebraska, meanwhile, went into a turtle shell.
Northwestern controlled play the rest of the way and would go on to win 31-28 as double-digit underdogs. After the onside kick, the Nebraska offense turned it over twice and managed to gain only 85 yards the rest of the way.
The end result was the 21st one-score loss in Frost’s head-coaching tenure at his alma mater. The onside kick was a clear turning point.
After the game, Frost took responsibility for the decision and said he wishes he could take it back. He said Northwestern’s kickoff team presented “a look that was really good for” the onside kick try.
“In hindsight, it didn’t work. Anytime something doesn’t work you want it back,” Frost said. “We had a couple things we wanted to be aggressive in. We had one earlier where we wanted to see if we got the look we wanted. We got a look that was really good for it. I made that call. It’s on me.”
Frost said he felt like his team had the momentum at its side at that point in the game. If the Huskers could recover the onside kick, he felt that they would go win the game.
“At that point in the game I thought all the momentum was on our side. I thought if we got it, we could end the game,” Frost said. “The way we were playing, I felt at that point that we had a really good chance of winning the game and I felt like maybe we were the better team. You can’t really foresee them scoring 14 straight and us sputtering after we played well to start the second half on offense. Again, those are excuses. If I had it over I wouldn’t make the call.”
With the loss, Nebraska is 15-30 under Frost and has now lost seven consecutive games dating back to last season. All seven of those losses came by a single-digit margin.
Illinois overwhelms Wyoming
Elsewhere in Week 0 action, Illinois took care of business at home against Wyoming.
Wyoming was actually within striking distance, down 17-6 early in the third quarter. However, the game quickly changed when Wyoming decided to punt on fourth-and-2 just inside Illinois territory. From there, Illinois closed out the game with 21 unanswered points to win 38-6.
In the win, Chase Brown rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Tommy DeVito, who threw for 192 yards and two scores in his Illinois debut.
Utah State gets scare from UConn
Utah State is the defending Mountain West champion, but got a scare from lowly UConn on Saturday.
The Huskies, in their first game under Jim Mora Jr., surprisingly jumped out to a 14-0 lead in Logan. The Aggies stayed composed, however, and fought back. USU would take a 24-14 lead into halftime and ended up pulling out a 31-20 victory.
Utah State's Logan Bonner threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Vanderbilt shows rare dominance in Hawaii
The Commodores ran all over Hawaii and stormed to a 63-10 victory in Honolulu. It was the most points Vanderbilt has scored in a game since 1969.
Vandy ran for 403 total yards, and that charge was led by quarterback Mike Wright, who had 163 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while also passing for 146 yards and another two scores. He didn't play in the fourth quarter.
Taking care of FCS opponents
After a weather delay, Florida State cruised to a 47-7 win over Duquesne. FSU, which started 0-4 in 2021, rushed for 406 yards in the win.
North Carolina put up 608 yards of offense in a 56-24 win over Florida A&M. UNC's lead was only 35-24 entering the fourth quarter but the Tar Heels scored 21 straight points to close out the game.
Western Kentucky had just a 21-20 lead entering the fourth quarter but was able to pull away and beat Austin Peay 38-27. West Florida transfer Austin Reed threw four TD passes in the win.
UNLV took care of Idaho State with ease, 52-21. The Rebels put up 45 points in the first half.