Game Rewind: NU not second-guessing late timeout
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[rl]As ESPN's Mark May lit into the Nebraska coaching staff for calling a timeout before BYU's final play on TV just a few feet away, defensive coordinator Mark Banker defended the decision. The Cougars lined up in the exact formation they had before the Huskers called the timeout and he doubted they changed their play call.
He has no reservations about calling the timeout. He just wishes that his defenders, who executed so perfectly for much of the second half, would have heeded their instructions more closely.
Nebraska was supposed to keep Tanner Mangum in the pocket and prevent him from rolling out, but the line crashed inside and allowed Mangum to move to his right. The DIME back passed the trailing receiver, Mitch Mathews, off to the WILL linebacker, but Luke Gifford didn't get himself between Mathews and the ball. Then Gifford and Nate Gerry got caught in awkward positions with the ball in the air, allowing Mathews to make the defining play.
Banker didn't point the finger at any one player, and while he didn't call the timeout himself, he refused to question the decision.
"It gave us a chance to go through what we needed to," Banker said. "You don't second guess. It was the same formation, the same play they were going to run. I don't think they did anything differently or anything like that. They just out-executed us.
"I've been through it before and not called the timeout and not felt good about that," Mike Riley said. "They know what they are doing and it gives us a chance to look at it a little bit on anything the might do."
The Hail Mary was an absolute gut punch in what was a mostly positive day in Riley's opening game. The Huskers outplayed BYU, badly at times, outside of a disastrous second quarter.
Tommy Armstrong had some clunky plays, but he completed 59 percent of his passes and threw for 319 yards. The running game was nonexistent at times, but it came to life and opened holes for Terrell Newby and Imani Cross in the second half.
And while Taysom Hill ripped through the defense in the first half, the Cougars' first six drives after intermission resulted in just three combined points. Everything about this game suggested that Nebraska should have won.
Except for that final second.
After playing so well for almost the entire second half, the Huskers couldn't find a way to make one last play. It's a disappointment, but not an all-out failure. This is the kind of thing a team can rally around, though they will have to fight through the emotional wringer for the next week. Captains Armstrong and Alex Lewis got up and spoke to the team in the post-game locker room, knowing that it's necessary to rally the troops.
Riley's maiden voyage ultimately ended in agony, but this is not a season-killer by any means. It's a chance to prove his club has the ability to pick itself back up off the mat, and that's what it has to do over the next week.
Three defining moments
The offense comes out on fire: The Huskers couldn't have looked much better over the first 15 minutes. Nebraska scored on both of its first-quarter drives as Armstrong completed 10 of his 12 throws for 156 yards and two scores. The attack swooned in the second quarter but regained its footing in the third, showing that there is still a lot for the Huskers to improve on offensively. But overall, it was a strong showing in Danny Langsdorf's first game at the helm.
Foltz goes down: Punter Sam Foltz came into the season with high expectations and got off to a great start Saturday, sending his first boot of the season 67 yards. But after NU's first drive of the second half, a BYU defender was blocked into Foltz, who stayed down after the play and had to be carted off the field. Riley said Foltz sprained his left ankle after the game, so there is hope this won't be a devastating injury. But while backup Tyson Broekemeier did well in relief, losing a weapon like Foltz would be rough for the squad.
Turner comes up short: BYU never would have gotten a chance at the Hail Mary had Nebraska picked up a first down on third and three at the Cougars' 22-yard line with 1:39 remaining. But instead of trying a traditional running play, Langsdorf called for an end-around for Jamal Turner, who was stuffed for a two-yard loss. Brown missed the ensuing 41-yard attempt, setting up BYU for its late heroics.
Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp: The junior stepped up in a big way with De'Mornay Pierson-El sidelined, taking the mantle as NU's No. 1 target. Armstrong threw Westerkamp's way 13 times, and the receiver responded with seven catches for 107 yards and a score. His first-quarter touchdown, in which he caught a screen pass, broke a tackle, then ran to the other side of the field, was a display of pure will.
Wide receiver Alonzo Moore: Much maligned for his inconsistencies last year, Moore turned in the best game of his career before leaving the game with an unknown injury. Moore had three catches for 48 yards and a touchdown and picked up 24 yards on two end-around runs. He's unsure how long he'll be out, but Nebraska needs a weapon like him in the lineup.
By the numbers
12: Penalties committed by Nebraska, resulting in 90 yards. BYU had just four penalties for 30 yards.
40.5: Average distance on Broekemeier's two punts. Forced into an incredibly difficult situation, the former quarterback passed his initial test with flying colors.
23: Combined carries for backs Terrell Newby (10 for 43 yards), Imani Cross (seven for 36) and Mikale Wilbon (six for 21). The coaches said they would use a by-committee approach, and the rushes were divvied up pretty evenly in the opener.
511: Yards gained by BYU. Though the defense turned things around in the second half and played much better, that total is still far too high.
They said it
"We know to keep our heads up. It's not the end of the day, you know? Things happen and you just have to come back on Monday with a fresh start."
- Moore on how the team has to respond to the loss
"It's completely on me. (Long snapper) Jordan Ober had a fantastic day for the first game he's ever played in. All his snaps were flawless. Tyson did an unbelievable job holding the ball after getting thrown in the fire. You've just got to put that on me. I'm the third part of the equation and I didn't do my job today."
- Kicker Drew Brown, who missed a pair of field goals.
Biggest question/concern: How do the Huskers respond emotionally?
I was very impressed with how Nebraska bounced back after the rough second quarter, during which BYU outscored the Huskers 17-0. That was typically the time they would crumble under Bo Pelini, unable to stop the avalanche dealt to them by the opposition. But NU looked like a new team after Gerry's third-quarter interception and regained all control until BYU's fateful final drive in the fourth quarter. If the team can show that kind of resiliency in the following week after a crushing loss, it will say a lot about how far it has come emotionally.
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