Justin Jackson got off to a fast start, and Northwestern looked ready to avenge its heartbreaking loss to Nebraska from a year ago.
Then Ameer Abdullah got going in the second half, and the Wildcats fell apart.
Northwestern managed just 28 yards in the final two quarters and Abdullah had three of his four 1-yard touchdown runs in the second half, helping the 19th-ranked Cornhuskers roll to a 38-17 victory on Saturday night.
"We couldn't get out of our own way. It's a credit to Nebraska," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "They obviously had great adjustments at halftime and quite frankly shut us down offensively in the second half, which put our defense in a tough situation. Out there way too long against a very explosive offense."
Northwestern (3-4, 2-2) wasted another solid performance from Jackson in its second consecutive loss. The freshman rushed for 128 yards and two touchdowns in his third straight 100-yard game.
"They definitely made adjustments. But overall, we just got to come out and play better in the second half," Jackson said.
Abdullah had 23 carries for 146 yards, running his career total to 4,001. The senior passed Ahman Green (3,880 yards) for second on the school's star-studded rushing list, trailing only Mike Rozier at 4,780 yards.
"It doesn't mean anything if we don't win the rest of these games," Abdullah said.
The Cornhuskers (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) bounced back from a 27-22 loss at Michigan State. Abdullah had only 45 yards in the setback against the Spartans on Oct. 4.
"What I was happy with and what I give the offense credit for is that we didn't go away from the run," coach Bo Pelini said. "We stuck with it."
The Wildcats got a scare in the third quarter when receiver Miles Shuler had his head down when he slammed into Nebraska safety Corey Cooper after a short reception. Shuler held up his right arm to acknowledge the cheers as he was taken off the field on a stretcher. The school said he was taken to a hospital as a precaution.
"The information I've gotten, is that the test came back clear, which is a positive," Fitzgerald said. "We'll see how things progress."
Led by Abdullah, the Cornhuskers improved to 3-1 against the Wildcats since joining the Big Ten. The three previous meetings were decided by seven points, including Nebraska's 27-24 win last season on Jordan Westerkamp's 49-yard touchdown reception on a tipped Hail Mary as time expired.
This one wasn't that close.
Abdullah had a big second half and Drew Brown kicked a 33-yard field goal as Nebraska scored 24 unanswered points to erase a 17-14 halftime deficit.
The four touchdowns set a career high for Abdullah, who also became the first player in school history with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
"Earlier in the game, we didn't run the ball as much as I thought we would," Abdullah said. "But we stuck with it, and good things happened."
The first half was more in line with the close history in the series. The Wildcats and Cornhuskers were tied at 7 before they combined for 17 points in the final 1:52 of the second quarter.
The scoring spree started with a flashy move by Jackson on a 5-yard touchdown run that gave Northwestern a 14-7 lead. Josh Mitchell was going in for the tackle on Jackson near the line of scrimmage when the freshman spun away from the defensive back and went in for his fifth TD of the season.
"He's going to just continue to improve," Fitzgerald said. "I thought he played pretty well."
De'Mornay Pierson-El, another true freshman, then led Nebraska right down the field. He had a 46-yard catch-and-run down to the Northwestern 27, showing off his impressive speed.
After an 11-yard reception for Abdullah, Pierson-El took a pitch on a reverse and threw across the field to quarterback Tommy Armstrong for a tying 16-yard TD.
"Great feeling to see how it is to be a receiver," Armstrong said. "I know it's not going to come anytime soon again, but it was a great feeling."
Wearing new black uniforms with an architecture theme, Northwestern got the ball back with a little more than a minute to go. But Trevor Siemian had a 15-yard pass to Cameron Dickerson and found Treyvon Green for 23 yards to help set up Jack Mitchell's 29-yard field goal with 3 seconds left.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap