Sep 16, 2023; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers tight end Thomas Fidone II (24) scores against the Northern Illinois Huskies during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska stops No. Illinois in coach Matt Rhule’s first win

In his first college start, Heinrich Haarberg threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score to deliver Matt Rhule his first win as coach at Nebraska, 35-11, over Northern Illinois on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.

In the home opener for the Cornhuskers (1-2), Haarberg completed 14 of 24 passes for 158 yards and rushed 21 times for 98 yards. The sophomore was subbing for starter Jeff Sims, who suffered a sprained ankle in a loss last week at Colorado.

The Nebraska defense dominated Northern Illinois (1-2), limiting the Huskies to 149 yards and 12 first downs.

Northern Illinois’ lone score of the first half came by way of a turnover as George Gumbs forced a Haarberg fumble that Skylar Gill-Howard recovered at the Cornhuskers’ 5. Four plays later, Jake Seibert kicked a 30-yard field goal.

Aside from that possession, Northern Illinois didn’t cross midfield until the closing minutes, when backup quarterback Ethan Hampton directed a touchdown drive.

Nash Hutmacher had 2 1/2 tackles for a loss to lead the stingy Nebraska defense. Javin Wright added an interception for the Cornhuskers, which set up an 11-yard touchdown run by Anthony Grant in the fourth quarter.

The Cornhuskers limited Huskies quarterback Rocky Lombardi to 11 completions in 28 attempts for 73 yards. Northern Illinois gained 26 yards on 22 rushes.

Nebraska scored on its first possession as Haarberg accounted for all 55 yards of a six-play march, rushing for 19 yards and throwing twice for 36 yards, including 10 on a touchdown pass to Billy Kemp IV.

In the second quarter, Nebraska took over at the Northern Illinois 36 after pinning the Huskies deep in their own territory and forcing a punt. Four plays later, Haarberg found Thomas Fidone II open across the middle for a 16-yard touchdown pass.
The Cornhuskers increased their lead to 21-3 in the third quarter with a 76-yard, 14-play drive, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Gabe Ervin Jr. Haarberg was clutch on the drive, converting four third-down plays, three with passes and one with a run.

Ervin finished with 67 yards on 14 carries. Grant added 46 yards on seven rushes.

– Field Level Media

Aug 31, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Jeff Sims (7) looks on during the third quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Huntington Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska looks to end struggles at home, hosts Northern Illinois

Nebraska will try to win its first game at home in nearly a year when it hosts Northern Illinois in a nonconference matchup on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb.

The Cornhuskers (0-2) last won at Memorial Stadium, where they have sold out 389 consecutive games, on Oct. 1, 2022, when they beat Indiana. They have yet to play at home this season, opening the year at Minnesota and Colorado, leading to the latest home opener since 1981.

“We’re excited to play at home, excited to play in front of our fans,” first-year Nebraska coach Matt Rhule said.

Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims lost two fumbles and threw an interception in a 36-14 loss to the Buffaloes after getting picked off three times in the season opener. But Rhule said Sims will under center if an ankle sprain that he suffered against Colorado isn’t too serious.

“Jeff is our starting quarterback,” Rhule said. “That being said, we can’t keep turning the ball over.”

If Sims can’t go, either Heinrich Haarberg or Chubba Purdy will start.

Northern Illinois (1-1) turned it over three times in a 14-11 home loss to FCS Southern Illinois last Saturday, wiping away all the momentum that came from winning at Boston College in the season opener.

The Huskies outgained Southern Illinois 360-217 but only managed to score twice on six possessions that ended up at or inside their opponent’s 35-yard line.

“We just couldn’t get anything going as a team,” NIU coach Thomas Hammock said. “I thought our defense played phenomenally, gave us a chance to win.”

NIU is 7-40-1 all-time against current Big Ten schools, including a win at Nebraska in 2017.

Nebraska has lost to a Group of Five opponent three times since 2017, falling at home to Georgia Southern last September. That defeat led to coach Scott Frost’s firing the next day.

–Field Level Media

Sep 24, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Tayvion Robinson (9) receives a pass during the first quarter against the Northern Illinois Huskies at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Will Levis helps No. 8 Kentucky avoid upset against NIU

Will Levis threw four touchdown passes, one in each quarter, as No. 8 Kentucky pulled away from upset-minded Northern Illinois for a 31-23 victory on Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.

Levis completed 18 of 26 passes for 303 yards without a turnover. He had two touchdown passes to Tayvion Robinson and two to Barion Brown as Kentucky (4-0) tuned up for a Southeastern Conference clash next week at No. 16 Mississippi.

Robinson hauled in seven passes for 147 yards, while highly touted freshman Brown added four receptions for 102 yards. Kavosiey Smoke added 85 yards on 12 carries.

Brown’s 70-yard touchdown grab early in the second half gave the Wildcats the lead for good. Then in the fourth quarter, Robinson’s 40-yard scoring catch put Kentucky up 31-14.

Northern Illinois (1-3) rallied with a 38-yard field goal from John Richardson and a 2-yard touchdown run by Justin Lynch with 2:47 left. But the Huskies’ hopes of a comeback died when the Wildcats recovered the ensuing onside kick.

In the first ever meeting of the teams, the defending Mid-American Conference champion Huskies hung with the Wildcats for a half. In his second career start, Ethan Hampton completed 13 of 25 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown.

Northern Illinois showed no nerves early, driving 75 yards after receiving the opening kickoff. Hampton completed all three of his passes on the march, including a 2-yard touchdown toss to Tristen Tewes.

Kentucky answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive of its own, which included a conversion of a risky fourth-and-1 from its own 34. Twelve plays after picking up the first down with a quarterback sneak, Levis capped the march with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Brown to tie it 7-7.

The Wildcats struck much more quickly for their second score. Shortly after Smoke got Kentucky out of a deep hole at its own 2 with a 27-yard run, Levis fired across the middle to a wide-open Robinson for a 69-yard touchdown pass.

Before the end of the half, the Wildcats gifted the Huskies a game-tying touchdown. A fumble by Smoke was recovered by JaVaughn Byrd, giving Northern Illinois possession at the Kentucky 34 with 42 seconds left.

Six plays later, Shemar Thornton took the ball on an apparent end around but pulled up and threw a 3-yard pass to Tewes, who was open in the end zone with six seconds left in the half.

–Field Level Media

Ray Davis of Vanderbilt carries the ball during their game against Wake Forest  at Vanderbilt   s FirstBank Stadium Sep 10, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, United States;  Mandatory Credit: Alan Poizner-The Tennessean

Football Vanderbilt Football Vs Wake Forest Wake Forest At Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt uses scoring outburst to down Northern Illinois

AJ Swann passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns as visiting Vanderbilt scored 24 straight points in the second half on its way to a 38-28 victory against Northern Illinois in a nonconference game Saturday.

Swann completed 18 of 28 passes and two of his touchdowns went to Will Sheppard, who caught 10 passes for 171 yards and has seven touchdown catches for the season. Ray Davis added 116 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown and a touchdown reception for the Commodores (3-1).

Ethan Hampton passed for 124 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and Rocky Lombardi passed for 79 yards and one touchdown for the Huskies (1-2).

Hampton and Cole Tucker teamed on a 70-yard touchdown pass on the first possession of the third quarter to increase Northern Illinois’ lead to 28-14.

On fourth and 4, Swann threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Davis to get Vanderbilt within 28-21 midway through the quarter.

On the Commodores’ next offensive play, Swann connected with Sheppard on a 31-yard touchdown pass that tied the score.

Swann made it three touchdown passes in less than six minutes when he hit Sheppard for a 13-yarder that gave Vanderbilt a 35-28 lead at the end of the period.

Joseph Bulovas kicked a 35-yard field goal to increase the led to 38-28 early in the fourth quarter.

The Commodores drove 80 yards in 12 plays on the game’s first possession as Swann threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Gavin Schoenwald.

The Huskies answered on the ensuing possession as Lombardi threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Tucker that tied the score at the end of the first quarter.

Vanderbilt took a 14-7 lead on Davis’ 3-yard touchdown run.

Northern Illinois made it four touchdowns in as many possessions as it drove to tie the score on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Hampton to Kacper Rutkiewicz.

After the scoring streak ended with a Commodores punt, Antario Brown ran 51 yards for a touchdown with 37 seconds left to give the Huskies a 21-14 halftime lead.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores head coach Clark Lea questions a call during the first half against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at FirstBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Both coming off losses, NIU and Vanderbilt try to bounce back

Vanderbilt is aiming to bounce back from a loss when it heads to DeKalb, Ill., on Saturday for a clash with Northern Illinois.

It will be the second road game of the season for the Commodores (2-1) but a much shorter trip. In its opener, Vanderbilt traveled more than 4,000 miles to go to Hawaii, where it earned a 53-point victory.

NIU (1-1) is just a fraction of that distance away at about 540 miles.

Last week against then-No. 23 Wake Forest, Vanderbilt suffered its first loss by committing three turnovers that led to scores, forcing second-year coach Clark Lea to change quarterbacks, a move that created questions at the position.

“We knew we couldn’t give their offense extra possessions,” Lea said after the 45-25 home setback. “Giving up 21 points off turnovers is not going to be a formula against good teams, especially a good offense.”

Starter Mike Wright threw a pick-six and lost a fumble amid a passing performance that featured just eight completions for 35 yards through nearly three quarters. Lea then turned to AJ Swann, who completed 8 of 11 passes for 146 yards, with touchdowns to Will Sheppard and Gavin Schoenwald.

After this road contest against the MAC foe, Vanderbilt will start SEC play against three elite programs — No. 2 Alabama, No. 20 Ole Miss and No. 1 Georgia.

The Huskies are coming off a loss, too. NIU led twice in the fourth quarter at Tulsa on Saturday night, but the Golden Hurricane rallied both times for a 38-35 win.

NIU’s Rocky Lombardi completed 18 of 31 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns with an interception.

The game swung on coach Thomas Hammock’s fourth-and-4 gamble near midfield with 1:58 left. NIU was up 35-31, and a conversion could have helped seal the win, but the call backfired on an incomplete pass. On the ensuing drive, Tulsa went 52 yards for the game-winning score.

“We had an opportunity to win the game on offense on fourth down,” Hammock said. “I told my staff this morning, ‘If we’ve got a chance to go win this game on offense, we’re going to do that.’ We just didn’t make the play.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 27, 2018; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (11) is tackled from behind by Northern Illinois Huskies linebacker Kyle Pugh (57) during the second half at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Northern Illinois Huskies won 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois LB Kyle Pugh looking to enjoy last hurrah

As college football season approaches, Northern Illinois features one of the most unique players in the country in linebacker Kyle Pugh.

Pugh is an eighth-year senior and nearly 25 1/2 years old, a stunning combo. He has played in 34 games in a career ravaged by injuries.

His 2017 campaign ended after four games due to a ruptured bicep tendon. In 2019, his season ended after two games because of a shoulder injury. Last season, he tore the ACL in his knee during spring practice and missed the entire season.

He redshirted his first year on campus in 2015, received medical redshirts in 2017 and 2021, and every college player received an extra season of eligibility in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So it hasn’t been an easy road for the native of Chicago Heights, Ill.

“It definitely takes time to process each injury and know the battle back will be different each time,” Pugh recently told Hustle Belt. “I have to allow myself to feel what’s going on and have the self dialogue to understand that it is what it is, it happens, and I can either quit or get up and battle back. I still haven’t come to an injury that I can’t come back from.”

Pugh has been a solid player for the Huskies when healthy, but now he is also a strong leader.

There isn’t a situation that can arise that Pugh hasn’t seen.

“When you have someone like Kyle Pugh who’s been here for as long as he has, when he speaks the young men listen,” linebackers coach Robert Wimberly said. “They respect him and the way he carries himself. He’s been working hard and running well, and our goal is to get him to the first game and allow him to be able to enjoy his last go-round.”

Pugh was a second-team All-Mid-American Conference choice in 2018 when he had a career-best 106 tackles. He was a third-team selection during the shortened 2020 season when he had 36 stops. And in 2017, he recorded a career-high 17 tackles and collected the only interception of his career in a loss to Boston College.

The Huskies open the season on Sept. 1 against Eastern Illinois. Pugh enters the game with 186 career tackles, including 12.5 for losses. He also has three sacks and three fumble recoveries.

–Field Level Media

Dec 17, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall (10) attempts a pass against the Northern Illinois Huskies during the second half of the 2021 Cure Bowl game at Exploria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Coastal Carolina rallies to beat Northern Illinois in Cure Bowl

Coastal Carolina won a wild 47-41 game over Northern Illinois in the Cure Bowl on Friday in Orlando, Fla., after Northern Illinois’ last-ditch play came up short.

After trailing 41-33 in the fourth quarter with another opportunity slipping away, the Chanticleers (11-2) ripped off 14 unanswered points and pulled off a stop on the final play of the game to claim its first bowl victory in school history.

The Huskies snapped the ball from the Coastal Carolina 8-yard line with seven seconds remaining, and wide receiver Miles Joiner failed to get out of bounds after he caught quarterback Rocky Lombardi’s pass.

Time expired before Lombardi was able to get the offense back to the line of scrimmage before another snap.

The game-winning touchdown came on a 34-yard pass from Grayson McCall to Braydon Bennett with 6:40 remaining in the game, the first offensive play for the Chanticleers after they stopped Northern Illinois on a fourth-and-1 attempt.

McCall finished the game 22-of-30 passing for 315 yards and four touchdowns, and Bennett rushed for another 108 yards and two scores.

Northern Illinois found most of its success for the game on the ground with 335 total rushing yards, highlighted by Jay Ducker and Antario Brown going for 146 and 105 yards, respectively. Lombardi had 66 rushing yards and touchdown on eight attempts, also throwing for 181 yards.

The game featured seven lead changes and five in the second half, with neither team holding a lead larger than eight points. Northern Illinois scored 10 straight points to turn a 33-31 deficit into a 41-33 lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Chanticleers scored a touchdown less than three minutes later to pull within two points. McCall hit Isaiah Likely for a 40-yard strike.

A failed two-point conversion attempt briefly kept the lead on the Northern Illinois sideline, but Lombardi’s unsuccessful third-down quarterback sneak and Trayvo Rudolph’s failed run on fourth down gave the Chanticleers the ball back in plus territory to lead to the deciding touchdown.

Likely led all players in receiving with seven catches, 96 yards and two touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Dec 4, 2021; Detroit, MI, USA; Northern Illinois Huskies head coach Thomas Hammock holds up the trophy with his team after winning the MAC Championship Game against the Kent State Golden Flashes at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Coastal Carolina looks to knock off MAC champ NIU in Cure Bowl

The bowl season kicks off Friday as two teams especially hungry for a bowl victory meet in the Tailgreeter Cure Bowl at Orlando.

Coastal Carolina (10-2) is seeking its first bowl victory after losing in its initial bowl appearance last season in Orlando.

Northern Illinois (9-4) bounced back from a 0-6 record last season and is playing in a bowl for the first time since 2018.

The Chanticleers are used to making history since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference in 2017. They have been ranked in the Top 25 and won the Sun Belt title last season, but followed that with a 37-34 loss to Liberty in the Cure Bowl last year — their only defeat of the season.

“It’s another great opportunity for us to get our first bowl win ever,” senior defensive tackle C.J. Brewer said of this year’s game. “Everybody is focused and everybody is locked in. We’re on a mission.”

Coastal Carolina, which was ranked as high as No. 14 earlier this season, would post its second consecutive 11-victory season by beating the Huskies.

“We wanted to (get the first bowl win) last year,” senior offensive lineman Trey Carter said, “but we’re very excited for this year’s opportunity and that would be a great way to cap off our careers here.”

The Chanticleers average 40.4 points per game and allow 20 points per contest. They average 261.8 passing yards and 231.3 rushing yards per game. Three running backs on the team have each gained more than 500 yards.

On defense, Coastal Carolina holds teams to 325 yards — 133.9 rushing and 191.1 passing — and has recorded 32 sacks.

Huskies third-year coach Thomas Hammock is making his first bowl trip since 2013, when he was an assistant with Wisconsin.

“It’s been about eight years since I’ve had a bowl experience,” Hammock told the Orlando Sentinel. “So, just going through the logistics, I realized how tough it is for people in our operations department. More power to them.”

Northern Illinois has a quick turnaround, having beaten Kent State on Dec. 4 in the MAC championship game.

“Before the MAC championship game, we had about 10 days of preparation,” Hammock said, “so this is very similar. We were able to put a schedule in place to give our kids some time off to get their bodies back and get the practice and the work in that we need.”

The Huskies average 422.2 yards per game — 234.3 rushing and 187.8 passing. They are 10th in the FBS in average time of possession 33:03 in time of possession. They have five runners who have gained more than 400 yards this season.

Northern Illinois is allowing 32.7 points and 447.7 yards per game — 232.1 passing and 215.6 rushing.

Wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph said the Huskies coaches have treated each game exactly the same this season.

“They’ve never changed the message regardless of if it was the MAC championship or a regular-season game,” he said. “This week we’re trying to go 1-0.”

Northern Illinois, which has just eight seniors, is the first MAC team to play in the Cure Bowl and will try to end a six-game losing streak in bowls.

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA;  Northern Illinois Huskies head coach Thomas Hammock talks to the linesman during the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois extends Thomas Hammock through 2026

Northern Illinois extended the contract of football coach Thomas Hammock through the 2026 season, the school announced Tuesday.

The three-year extension comes with Hammock leading the Huskies to a 6-3 record this fall entering Wednesday’s home game against Ball State.

“Under Coach Hammock, our program has made tremendous strides forward — competitively, academically and socially,” athletic director Sean Frazier said in a news release. “We are seeing the tangible results of that progress on the field this year, and over the past two years, we have seen it in the record-setting team GPA and the commitment to doing things the right way on and off the field.”

Hammock, 40, is 11-16 since taking over as coach prior to the 2019 season. Northern Illinois went 5-7 in his first season before going 0-6 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Hammock is a former star running back for Northern Illinois. He rushed for 2,432 yards and 25 touchdowns and had 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2000 and 2001.

“As an alum, I’m very proud to lead this program,” Hammock said in a statement. “I love the young men on our team, I love our staff and I love the direction we’re headed.”

Northern Illinois leads the Mid-American Conference West division with a 4-1 mark entering the Ball State matchup. The Huskies dropped their last game 52-47 to Kent State.

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA;  Northern Illinois Huskies cornerback Jordan Gandy (14) breaks up a pass to Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Cornelius Johnson (6) in the first half at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Corum fuels No. 25 Michigan in rout of No. Illinois

Blake Corum rushed for 125 yards and three touchdowns as No. 25 Michigan found the end zone on its first nine possessions in a 63-10 romp over Northern Illinois on Saturday at Ann Arbor, Mich.

Donovan Edwards gained 86 yards and scored twice, while Hassan Haskins added 56 rushing yards and two scores. The Wolverines (3-0) had 373 rushing yards on 48 carries.

Cade McNamara threw an 87-yard touchdown pass to Cornelius Johnson and also scored on a quarterback keeper.

Northern Illinois quarterback and Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi was limited to 46 passing yards with a touchdown and an interception. He led the Spartans to a road victory over the Wolverines last season.

Michigan led 35-3 at halftime.

After Northern Illinois (1-2) failed to pick up a first down on its opening possession, the Wolverines drove 48 yards on seven plays. Corum’s 16-yard run set up McNamara’s 1-yard plunge for the score.

The Huskies drove 72 yards the next time it had the ball but settled for a 21-yard field goal by John Richardson.

Michigan then drove 75 yards in nine plays, capped by Corum’s 1-yard run.

Following another 3-and-out for the Huskies, Michigan scored once again on Haskins’ 1-yard run to make it 21-3.

Haskins scored from 5 yards out with 6:15 remaining in the half. That 10-play drive featured a 23-yard pass from McNamara to Erick All.

After a Northern Illinois punt, McNamara hooked up with Johnson on the 87-yard pass play. Johnson got behind his defender, caught the pass near the right sideline and raced into the end zone.

The Wolverines scored 28 third-quarter points.

Corum scored on a 51-yard run within the first two minutes of the second half. He also scored the Wolverines’ next touchdown on a 1-yard run.

Lombardi was picked off by Gemon Green to set up Michigan’s next touchdown, a 4-yard run by Edwards.

Edwards broke loose for a 58-yard touchdown run later in the quarter.

–Field Level Media