WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — That's some kind of confidence Bill Callahan has in his defense. And his defensive coordinator.
Faced Saturday with a chance to punt and pin Wake Forest near its end zone — the Demon Deacons were trailing by three points with less than two minutes to play — the fourth-year Nebraska coach went for it on fourth down. And failed.
The Blackshirts, though, did not fail, forcing four straight incomplete passes from second-string Wake quarterback Brett Hodges as NU escaped Groves Stadium with a teethgrinding, 20-17 victory before a crowd of 32,483.
During a timeout before the fourth-down play from the Wake Forest 35-yard line, Callahan conferred with defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove.
"He gave me the approval," Callahan said, "and I said we're going to go for it. He felt very confident we could defend the 65-yard field."
On a warm North Carolina afternoon with about 10,000 NU fans in attendance, neither team scored during the final 23 minutes, but there was no lack of drama. The last defensive stand capped a furious final eight minutes in which Nebraska (2-0) and Wake Forest (0-2) traded turnovers and the Huskers nearly ate the last 6:05 off the clock.
After NU gained four first downs and ran the football on eight of nine plays, Wake Forest stopped I-back Marlon Lucky cold on third and fourth down with the Huskers desperate for 2 yards to all but clinch victory.
The defending Atlantic Coast champions regained possession with 1:54 to play and picked up a first down on a pass-interference call to their 44-yard line.
Hodges, playing in place of the injured Riley Skinner, then threw incomplete for speedy Kenneth Moore twice. On third down, NU safety Ben Eisenhart appeared to intercept a deflected pass, but replay officials overturned the call and gave Hodges one more chance.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore went for his favorite target, Moore, who was draped in coverage by Grixby. The ball sailed wide as the Wake sideline and fans screamed for a pass-interference call.
Grixby said it was just good coverage.
"It was tight coverage," he said. "It was football. That could go either way. I was on him."
Television replays indicated both teams might have received breaks on the final possession.
Regardless, it's a victory for Nebraska, which can turn its attention to No. 1-ranked Southern California. The Trojans will visit Memorial Stadium on Saturday night before a national TV audience on ABC, with the famed "ESPN GameDay" crew in attendance.
Callahan, minutes after this win, wasn't ready to think about USC.
"Going into the game, we talked about momentum, how it was going to change and how it was going to swing," Callahan said. "We just really preached to our players to stay in there, keep fighting, keep swinging and keep punching, because that's the main thing -- how you respond to adverse conditions on the road."
NU never really got comfortable Saturday.
A week after dominating Nevada in a 52-10 win, Nebraska was outgained 376-373 by Wake Forest. The Deacons gouged NU for 236 rushing yards, including 116 by Moore, a wide receiver, on various end-around plays that frustrated Nebraska all day.
Meanwhile, the Huskers and their No. 1-ranked rushing attack gained just 115. Lucky, after punishing Nevada for 233, ran for 90 yards on 24 carries.
Quarterback Sam Keller wasn't much more effective. Again plagued by several dropped throws, he completed 24 of 41 passes for 258 yards and one touchdown. But Keller's three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumbled snap — were costly.
"Sometimes you're going to have to come away with a character win," Keller said. "They're not always pretty. I'm just glad that we came out of there with a victory."
His final turnover, in fact, was almost fatal.
After a second straight NU defensive stand near midfield, the Huskers took over at their 13-yard line with 8:14 to play. On second and 8, Keller was hit by linebacker Lee Malchow. The QB coughed up the ball, and defensive tackle John Russell grabbed it for an interception at the 10.
Convert with a touchdown, and Wake would have its first lead since midway through the third quarter.
First came a 6-yard run by Micah Andrews. On second down, Nebraska nose tackle Ndamukong Suh hammered the running back for a loss of the same amount. And then, Hodges got too ambitious, trying to hit tight end John Tereshinski in the end zone against double coverage.
Hodges didn't see NU cornerback Zack Bowman, who was right there for the interception. Said Bowman: "It was there. I just had to make the catch."
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said he gave Hodges a simple set of instructions before that red-zone possession: Don't turn it over.
"There's a competitive spirit in kids," Grobe said. "They want to do things to help the team, and sometimes they try too hard."
NU led 13-10 at the half as Alex Henery kicked a pair of 22-yard field goals and Keller led a smooth, 80-yard drive after taking over with 2:02 to play in the second quarter. He completed 8 of 11 throws on the two-minute drill to six receivers, including a fourth-down conversion to tight end Hunter Teafatiller and a 25-yard TD to Sean Hill.
Hill, a senior tight end, had never before caught a pass at Nebraska.
|Yards per carry||4.5||3.4|
Nebraska is 3-0 all-time against Wake Forest.
|Wake Forest||Sept. 8|
|Ball State||Sept. 22|
|Iowa State||Sept. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 13|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
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