LINCOLN — Northern Illinois' two first-half interception returns for touchdowns looked as bad as it could get for Nebraska.
Still, as nightmarish as it was, it's nothing new for the Huskers and their third-year head coach, Mike Riley, who's teams have routinely struggled to get off to promising starts.
Now 27 games into Riley's tenure, Nebraska's trailed 14 times at halftime.
Saturday's 21-17 loss at Memorial Stadium further revealed that woeful trend. The Huskers, despite a solid outing from the defense, never recovered from falling behind 14-0 after the first two quarters.
"We're trying to come out of a hole," Riley said. "We're not consistent offense in any part of our offense — running, blocking, making plays — so we could never recover from giving them two touchdowns early on and winning the game at the end. It's just really disappointing."
Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee said he sensed some panic after he threw the first pick-six on the game's opening drive.
"I think we knew we could move the ball, but we just wanted to hurry up and do it and start scoring. I think we just began pressing, made mistakes and did uncharacteristic things," he said. "It's disappointing, and we couldn't get out of that hole."
The solution appears easy.
When Nebraska comes out of the tunnel ready to play — regardless of the competition — it avoids dumbfounding losses to teams the likes of Northern Illinois. The Huskers are 11-2 under Riley when they have the lead or are tied after two quarters.
When they fall behind at half, the Huskers are 7-8 with Riley at the helm.
"I would say we're inconsistent at best. That's been us, and I don't like that. I don't like that," the coach said. "We've got to have a better identifiable quality than being an inconsistent football team."
The early miscues took a mental toll. It was a historic deficit, too, as Nebraska hadn't been held scoreless in the first half since a 2004 loss to Oklahoma.
"It started pretty early," Riley said of his players' pressing, "and it did not change.
"I just tried to get our guys to relax and play ball down 14...it was tough sledding there."
The latest result was off the heels of a loss to Oregon where NU fell behind 42-14 after two quarters. And, although it came in victory, Nebraska had a similarly poor start when it lead Arkansas State just 27-26 in the season opener two weeks ago.
Riley said he had no indication from the previous week's practices that Nebraska would again struggle to get going.
"I've said, and I won't back down on this, I like this team and I like their work ethic," he said. "I'd be making it up if I said I could sense a performance like this."
The scoreboard isn't the only reflection of Nebraska's poor starts. The win-loss record is beginning to show it, too. For only the third time in their previous 52 seasons, the Huskers have opened 1-2.
Two of those three seasons are under Riley's watch.
"We have to stick together and there is no way out of a hole like this without working," he said. "We have to get to Monday, so we can get better."