For the second straight week Nebraska out-yarded its opponent but could not overcome early turnovers in a 24-19 loss to Troy on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Trojans, who are the defending Sun Belt Conference champions, improved to 2-1. Nebraska slipped to 0-2 while playing in front of the 363rd consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska managed 364 total yards with sophomore Andrew Bunch playing from start to finish at quarterback for the Big Red. Bunch completed 19-of-27 passes for 177 yards with two touchdowns, but he also threw a pair of interceptions. He added 23 rushing yards on 10 carries.
As a team, the Huskers out-gained the Trojans 187-143 on the ground, but three first-half turnovers by Nebraska and a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown by Troy’s Cedarius Rookard helped the visitors jump out to a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Maurice Washington led the Husker rushing attack with 92 yards on 14 carries, while Greg Bell added 68 yards on 14 totes.
The Huskers also won the time of possession battle (32:54-27:06), but several big plays in the punting game sparked the Trojans. Not only did Rookard’s return for touchdown help Troy, Tyler Sumpter’s 79-yard punt after the Trojans’ opening offensive possession of the game and two other long punts helped Troy maintain a field position edge. He finished the game with a 53.8-yard-per-punt average.
For the second consecutive week, the Huskers fought their way back starting with Bunch’s eight-yard touchdown strike to senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. with 3:02 left before halftime.
Trailing 17-7 at the half, the Huskers helped themselves by recovering a fumbled punt by Troy inside its own 10-yard line on its opening touch of the second half. The mishandled punt was recovered by Nebraska’s Cam Taylor and set the Huskers up at the Troy 6. But the Huskers settled for Barret Pickering’s first career field goal from 23 yards out to cut the margin to 17-10 with 10:25 left in the third quarter.
The Huskers appeared to have tied the score momentarily on a touchdown catch by JD Spielman, but Spielman’s run to the end zone after the catch was wiped away by a holding penalty, and the Huskers settled for Pickering’s 32-yard field goal to cut Troy’s lead to 17-13 with 3:02 left in the third.
For the game, Nebraska was flagged 10 times for 77 yards, while Troy also committed 10 penalties for 95 yards.
Troy then mounted its only sustained drive of the second half, marching 62 yards in 10 plays over 4:34 to go up 24-13 with 6:45 left in the contest.
However the Huskers refused to quit, as Bunch and the Big Red answered with an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped by Spielman’s touchdown catch.
The Blackshirts then forced a 3-and-out by Troy on the ensuing drive to give the ball back to Bunch and the offense at the NU 27 with 2:31 left in the game. But Nebraska’s chance to complete the comeback was short-lived, as Bunch was intercepted by Will Sunderland. The Trojans ran out the clock for the victory.
Quarterback Kaleb Barker led the Trojans by completing 14-of-21 passes for 110 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass but did toss one interception. He also rushed eight times for 12 yards.
B.J. Smith provided the biggest plays for the Troy offense with 11 carries for 70 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Sawyer Smith pitched in 60 rushing yards on just four carries, including a 57-burst in the first half to set up a Trojan score.
Will Honas led the Husker defense with eight tackles, while Tre Neal pitched in seven stops for the Blackshirts. Lamar Jackson added his first career interception as one of Nebraska’s two turnovers forced.
The Husker offense suffered from three turnovers on the afternoon, but Troy did not convert any of Nebraska’s turnovers directly to points.
Nebraska will hit the road for the first time next week when they travel to the Big House to battle Michigan. Kick-off in Ann Arbor is set for 11 a.m. (CT) with live national coverage by FS1.