PISCATAWAY, New Jersey — Rutgers hopes of making a bowl game for the 10th in time in 11 years are all but over.
With a 31-14 home loss to Nebraska, the best Rutgers can finish is 5-7. Teams need six wins to be bowl eligible. However, if not all 80 bowl slots are filled with teams that that are at least 6-6, a 5-7 team with a top-five APR (Academic Progress Rate) could be selected.
"We're not discouraged," running back Robert Martin said. "We just know that we have to keep putting in the time and listen to our coaches. We know what we're capable of doing. We just have to go out on execute."
Tight end Cethan Carter rambled 32 yards for a touchdown on his first career carry and caught one of three touchdown passes by Tommy Armstrong as Nebraska kept its bowl hopes alive.
Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore also caught touchdown passes and Drew Brown kicked a 44-yard field goal as the Cornhuskers (5-6, 3-4 Big Ten) won their second straight and put themselves in position for a .500 regular season and a bowl bid if they can beat No. 8 Iowa at home on Nov. 27.
Robert Martin scored on a 1-yard run and quarterback Chris Laviano caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from receiver Janarion Grant for Rutgers (3-7, 1-6), which lost its fourth straight game, putting coach Kyle Flood's future in jeopardy after a turbulent season.
"My job is to coach the football team and I get great support from so many people and so many places," Flood said. "And the reality of major college football is if you're not playing well and you're not performing well those things (being booed) are going to happen."
Nebraska's defense limited Rutgers to 259 yards. It sacked Laviano (13 of 27 for 165 yards) six times and had 11 tackles for losses and made two interceptions.
"Oh, man. How many sacks (six) did we have? Yeah, my goodness," linebacker Josh Banderas said. "They were having fun out there. It was really that 30 front package that Rutgers was having trouble handling and they were really getting after it."
In a scary moment, Rutgers center Derrick Nelson was hurt on the last interception with 58 seconds to play. He had to be carted off the field after medical personnel worked on him for at least five minutes following a head-to-head collision with guard Dorian Miller.
Flood said Nelson was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital for further evaluation, but had movement in all his extremities when he left the field.
"All the initial signs were positive, but any injury of that type needs to be handled with the greatest of caution," Flood said.
Nebraska jumped all over Rutgers, opening a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. The Scarlet Knights intercepted Armstrong three times and got within 21-14 on Laviano's TD catch with 6:03 left in the third quarter. The score was set up by an interception by defensive lineman Kevin Wilkins.
Nebraska responded immediately and went 75 yards in eight plays, with Armstrong lofting an 11-yard, third-down touchdown pass to a leaping Carter, who had a career-best four catches for 57 yards. Brown pushed the lead to 17, converting his field goal after Rutgers was stopped at its own 31 on a fake punt.
The Cornhuskers took the opening kickoff and went 78 yards in eight plays, with Carter scoring on a run that fooled the defense. Lining up as an H-back on the right side, the tight end ran behind his line, took an inside handoff from Armstrong and was not touched circling the left side for a score.
It was the first time a Nebraska tight end had a rushing attempt in four years, the school said.
Armstrong, who returned to the lineup last week after missing the Purdue game with a foot injury, took over from there.
The junior capped a 45-yard drive with a 15-yard scoring pass to Westerkamp with 2:39 left in the first quarter for a 14-0 lead. He extended the margin early in the second quarter by rolling right to elude pressure and rainbowing a 44-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Moore to a three-touchdown lead. He finished 14 of 21 for 188 yards.
Rutgers safety Anthony Cioffi was a second late trying to break up the Moore catch, but he made up for it later in the quarter, intercepting an overthrown ball and returning it 51 yards to the Nebraska 6. Martin scored form a yard out three plays later.
"I feel like it shifted momentum," Cioffi said. "But we just need to capitalize on every opportunity we have, offense and defense."