LINCOLN, Neb. – It wasn’t the homecoming University of Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle envisioned.
Enderle threw five interceptions, two which were returned for touchdowns, as the Nebraska Cornhuskers topped the Vandals 38-17 Saturday afternoon before 85,732 – the 306th consecutive sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium.
Throw in a heavy dose of speedy freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez and it was a recipe for trouble for the Vandals.
“We need to be more efficient and precise on offense,” said Enderle, a fifth-year senior from North Platte, Neb. “When you play a defense like that, you have to do what you do and do it well.”
Vandals coach Robb Akey wasn’t going to point the finger of blame at his quarterback. Instead, he talked about the Cornhuskers’ defensive front and glove-like coverage that kept the Vandals’ receivers occupied throughout the warm afternoon.
“That’s going against some pretty good players,” Akey said. “There’s a number of reasons for interceptions.”
The Vandals (1-1) made it difficult for the Cornhuskers (2-0) for a quarter. Nebraska took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter. And Idaho yielded just seven points in the second half.
It was the debacle of the second quarter that sealed the Vandals’ fate.
Martinez broke loose for a 67-yard touchdown, extending Nebraska’s lead to 10-0 with 12:15 to go in the second period.
Idaho was marching effectively, only to have a pass bounce off of wide receiver Eric Greenwood and into the hands of Nebraska’s P.J. Smith, who returned it 17 yards to Nebraska’s 42-yard line. On the next play, Cornhuskers running back Roy Helu romped 58 yards and the point-after kick put Nebraska ahead 17-0 with 8:22 to go before halftime.
Then disaster struck when DeJon Gomes stepped in front of Vandals receiver Maurice Shaw and returned the interception 40 yards for the score.
It was the same thing on the Vandals’ next possession – this time Rickey Thenarse stepped in front of Shaw and returned the pick 47 yards for the TD. With 4 minutes to go before the half, Nebraska led 31-0.
Idaho managed to score as time expired on a Trey Farquhar 34-yard field goal.
Smith said that Enderle never took his eyes off his intended receiver.
“A couple of us on the sideline were saying that he’s throwing presents to us,” Smith said. “It was Christmas to us, basically. We should have had a couple more. But we got five, so that’s good enough.”
Enderle was 16 for 31 for 141 yards. He was sacked five times. He was pulled midway through the fourth quarter after throwing his fifth interception.
Idaho’s total offense output was just 279 yards. The rushing net was 60, but that included 70 yards in sacks and tackles for losses.
“It was very frustrating,” Vandals senior running back Deonte Jackson said. “They’re a great outfit. They play man for a reason – they have great athletes.”
The second half started with promise when Idaho defensive lineman Aaron Lavarias recovered a fumble at the Nebraska 16. Idaho wound up settling for a 30-yard field-goal attempt, which strayed to the left.
Idaho senior safety Shiloh Keo, with his 10th career interception, gave Idaho another shot, and the Vandals capitalized with a 2-yard Enderle to Michael LaGrone TD pass with 5:23 left in the third.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini delivered two postgame speeches.
“I told the defense that they played their tails off,” Pelini said.
As for the offense, he said, “They got a good you-know-what chewing.”
Martinez ran for 157 yards and two TDs and Helu had 107 and a TD, but the Cornhuskers committed four turnovers and 10 penalties for 123 yards.
(6) Nebraska 38, Idaho 17
Idaho 0 3 7 7—17
Nebraska 3 28 7 0—38
Neb—FG Henery 24, 7:40.
Neb—Martinez 67 run (Henery kick), 12:15.
Neb—Helu 58 run (Henery kick), 8:22.
Neb—Gomes 40 interception return (Henery kick), 6:07.
Neb—Thenarse 47 interception return (Henery kick), 4:00.
UI—FG Farquhar 34, :00.
UI—LaGrone 2 pass from Enderle (Farquhar kick), 5:23.
Neb—Martinez 20 run (Henery kick), 1:22.
UI—A.Johnson 19 pass from Reader (Farquhar kick), 2:31.
First downs 24 18
Rushes-yards 38-60 41-360
Passing 219 111
Comp-Att-Int 21-39-5 13-18-1
Return Yards 8 127
Punts-Avg. 4-46.3 2-26.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 8-3
Penalties-Yards 3-15 10-123
Time of Possession 32:04 27:56
RUSHING—Idaho, Jackson 11-67, McCarty 12-40, Bailey 5-20, Vital 1-3, Reader 3-(minus 18), Enderle 6-(minus 52). Nebraska, Martinez 14-157, Helu 9-107, Burkhead 9-77, A.Jones 3-18, Robinson 2-2, C.Green 2-1, Paul 2-(minus 2).
PASSING—Idaho, Enderle 16-31-5-141, Reader 5-8-0-78. Nebraska, Martinez 12-17-1-106, C.Green 1-1-0-5.
RECEIVING—Idaho, Hardy 5-75, A.Johnson 3-37, Greenwood 3-34, Jackson 2-31, Bailey 2-6, McCarty 2-5, Shaw 1-13, Veltung 1-11, Elmo 1-5, LaGrone 1-2. Nebraska, Paul 4-31, Burkhead 3-41, Kinnie 3-17, McNeill 2-17, B.Cotton 1-5.