Huskers escape with 31-24 win over McNeese St.
On the heels of one of its better all-around games in years a week earlier, Nebraska needed some last-minute heroics from its biggest star in order to hold off a major upset loss to McNeese State on Saturday.
With the game tied 24-24 and less than a minute remaining, senior running back Ameer Abdullah hauled in a short pass along the right sideline, broke a tackle, cut back in and scampered 58 yards for the game-winning touchdown, sealing a 31-24 victory.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong had a roller-coaster day with 375 yards of total offense and three touchdowns while also throwing a crucial pick-six, but the Huskers were able to overcome a dismal offensive performance in the second half to stay perfect on the season.
"At the end of the day, we got out-coached, we got out-played, and we were lucky to win the football game," head coach Bo Pelini said. "This football team needs to take a good, hard look in the mirror, starting with me."
The day got off to a rough start for Nebraska after turning it over on downs on its opening possession at midfield and then giving up a 10-play, 47-yard touchdown drive to McNeese State to fall into an early 7-0 hole. The Cowboys, who converted a fourth down of their own in the drive, ran the ball eight times and capped it with a beautifully called misdirection draw to Derrick Milton for an 8-yard score.
It didn't take long for the Huskers to answer, though, as the offense got back on track on its ensuing possession with a 19-yard run by Abdullah and a 14-yard pass to Kenny Bell. Facing a third-and-long, Armstrong connected once again with Jordan Westerkamp on a perfect 40-yard touchdown pass over the middle to even it up at 7-7.
After forcing a quick three-and-out, NU drove right down the field again with the help of a career-long run by Armstrong for 42 yards and punched it in with a 2-yard touchdown plunge by Abdullah with three minutes to go in the first.
Nebraska was on its way to another touchdown drive early in the second quarter, but the turnover bug finally hit the Huskers for the first time this season when Armstrong was intercepted by MSU's Aaron Sam at the 2-yard line and returned all the way for a score. The 98-yard runback was the second-longest against NU in school history.
Armstrong and the Huskers rebounded their next time out, putting together a 12-play, 82-yard touchdown drive with Armstrong diving over the goal line on a 4th-and-1 to go back up 21-14 heading into halftime.
Both offenses struggled out of the gates in the second half, but Nebraska finally got on the board again with a 31-yard field goal by Drew Brown with 3:51 left in the third quarter. The drive could have resulted in a touchdown, though, as a four-yard scoring run by Armstrong was negated on a "tripping" personal foul on guard Jake Cotton.
The Huskers' defense looked to have had McNeese State right where it wanted on the following possession, forcing a 3rd-and-14 from the Cowboy 17. But Daniel Sams dropped back and found Kent Shelby for a 40-yard pass to move MSU into Nebraska territory.
The Cowboys were then faced with a fourth-and-5 later in the drive, and Sams came up big once again with a 25-yard scramble down to the NU 1. Quarterback Tyler Bolfing, who started the game, came back in to finish off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run that made it 24-21 with 13:45 left in the game.
"When you have a chance to put somebody away, you better step on their throat. We didn't do that," Pelini said. "We let them back in it. We had a couple more opportunities as the game went on to execute and once again put some distance between us, and we failed to do it. We were our own worst enemy multiple, multiple times in that football game."
Nebraska again pinned MSU near its own goal line after a bobble kickoff return started the drive at the 5, but that didn't keep the Cowboys from moving right back down the field. Passes of 27 and 32 yards and got McNeese inside the NU 10, and an illegal formation on the Cowboys negated what would've been a touchdown run. That helped the Huskers hold MSU to a 24-yard field goal, but left them in a 24-24 tie with 4:21 remaining.
Nebraska would eventually take over with 1:14 left in the game at its own 38. Facing a crucial third down with under a minute to go, the Huskers turned to Abdullah to make a play, and he did just that with an incredible 58-yard touchdown reception to seal the win.
Safety Corey Cooper intercepted Bolfing's final Hail Mary attempt as time expired, as the Huskers avoided a major upset.
Abdullah only finished with 17 carries for 54 yards, but his impact was definitely felt with 184 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Nebraska will return to action next week when it travels for its first road game of the season at Fresno State, with kickoff set for 9:30 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network.
"We'll get back to work," Pelini said. "I look forward to moving forward with the football team. Nothing's changed as far as the potential of this football team, trust me. But you've got to play. There's a lot of things that we need to do to move forward and get better as a football team."