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November 2, 2013

Final Take: Unlikely heroes



As Nebraska's offense took the field for their final play against Northwestern with 4 seconds left on the clock offensive coordinator Tim Beck's call from the booth was simple: "Geronimo."

Over the years we've heard the names of legendary play calls at Nebraska like "Black 41 Flash Reverse," well add "Geronimo" to the list as arguably the most memorable Hail Mary pass play in school history.

Walk-on quarterback Ron Kellogg's 49 yard touchdown throw to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp is the type of play you'll remember where you were at when it happened.

It's the type of play that could possibly turn around what's been a disappointing season filled with injuries and plenty of ups and downs. It was a moment Husker Nation needed on Saturday to release the tension of what's been a stress filled week after losing at Minnesota.

"I didn't even know I could throw it that far to be honest with you," Kellogg joked. "Thank God for Jordan Weskerkamp."

When Kellogg III got to Nebraska most knew of him because of who is father was - former Kansas basketball star Ron Kellogg Sr. In his wildest dreams the walk-on from Omaha Westside never thought he'd be a part of a play that would put him in the history books like his father at Kansas. Kellogg III's Hail Mary pass is believed to be the first ever in school history to go for a game winning touchdown according to Nebraska Media Relations.

It's only fitting the son of the two-time All-Big Eight guard used a basketball analogy to describe Saturday's final play.

"That felt like I just hit a shot for the Final Four," Kellogg III said. "Never do you think you are going to do that at the end of the game to win a game."

As for Weskerkamp, his sure hands officially have hit legendary status. It's going to be hard for the Illinois native to ever top Saturday's moment, but catches like he made on Saturday showed everybody why he's the Illinois all-time high school receiving leader with 235 catches for 4,618 yards and 68 touchdowns.

What you have to like about Westerkamp is his "business as usual" attitude following his big catch.

"It still really hasn't hit me. It's crazy. It will be a really memorable play," Westerkamp said. "But we'll take it for what it is. Now we have to focus on Michigan."

Saturday's Hail Mary by no means answers all the questions people have about this football team, but it was a moment this season needed as NU gets ready to head out to Michigan.

"I hope it keeps them believing and keeps their energy up," head coach Bo Pelini said. "I shouldn't say keeps them believing because I know they'll believe. At the end of the day, it sounds crazy, but sometimes a win or even a loss masks things one way or another.

"Whether we caught that ball in the end zone or didn't catch the ball, we're still the same football team coming in tomorrow. The same challenges lie ahead. It's just a little easier to handle. It's easier to go in tomorrow. Hopefully the momentum will carry over into next week and, hopefully, help propel us forward as the season goes on."

On to the post game grade out…


What I saw on Saturday

***After having major struggles early on in the game defensively, Nebraska switched from a three to a four man front. That adjustment proved to be critical, as Northwestern's longest possession in the second half was just 23 yards. Their only points came off of Armstrong's interception, and NU still managed to hold them to a field goal when they got to the 1 yard line.

***Freshman linebacker Josh Banderas looks to be the winner in this week's "who wants to be the Mike linebacker" contest. Banderas took every snap in the second half over Michael Rose, who had his struggles defending Northwestern's zone read and veer option plays.

***All week I talked about Nebraska needing some upper classmen on the defense to step up. That happened on Saturday, as Ciante Evans, Corey Cooper and Jason Ankrah all came up big. Evans, Cooper and Ankrah all came up with critical sacks. Evans led NU with five tackles for loss.

***Last week at Minnesota the style of game didn't allow defensive end Randy Gregory to make an impact. On Saturday he showed just how valuable he is when he set up the interception for a touchdown with his pressure on Trevor Siemian.

***My biggest concern coming out of this game is the health of the offensive line. Without Jake Cotton and Spencer Long it's hard to imagine NU having much of a chance to match-up with Michigan State's defense in a couple of weeks. I'll be curious how they adjust this going forward. They could even move one of their three tackles inside to guard.

***Loved seeing walk-on receivers like Sam Burtch and Brandon Reilly on the field late for NU. It shows the development Rich Fisher has done with this group. However, with that said this team needs Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell back healthy again.

***It was a class move when Pelini went on the field to check on injured Northwestern running back Stephen Buckley. That shows just what type of person Pelini is and several Northwestern fans mentioned that on WildcatReport.com after the game.

The final grades

Rushing offense: B-
When Nebraska runs for under 200 yards they rarely win, but the Huskers managed to the job done with just 195 yards on 50 carries. Ameer Abdullah was a warrior finishing with 127 yards, while Armstrong had 69 yards. NU lacked the big play though, as Abdullah's longest run was just 26 yards. It was just enough to get the job done.

Passing offense: D+

Nebraska threw four interceptions and was sacked four times on the day, none bigger than Armstrong's though that set up Northwestern's go-ahead fourth quarter field goal. Kellogg showed unbelievable poise late engineering NU's game winning drive and executing a perfect Hail Mary pass. Still a pretty rough day overall though for the passing offense.

Rushing defense: C+

After a rough start Nebraska really settled in. Northwestern only 93 yards rushing on 24 carries in the second half, after going for 152 on 23 carries in the first half. NU really settled in and gathered their composure after a rough start.

Passing defense: A

Nebraska got a great pass rush most of the game and managed to return an interception for a touchdown. Northwestern was just 8-of-21 for 81 yards passing.

Special teams: D

It wasn't a very good day for Nebraska's special teams. The Huskers starting field position off of five kickoff returns was the 24, 21, 29, 23 and 17 yard lines and their longest punt return was just 1 yard. They also missed their only field goal attempt of the day and Sam Foltz averaged only 35.9 yards on seven punts. This all hurt Nebraska's field position, which played a factor in the total amount of points scored.


Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.



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