BLACKSBURG, Va. — So many moments.
Some time over the next two days, Nebraska will gather, as a football team, to watch film of its 16-15 loss Saturday to Virginia Tech. Let’s just say it doesn't promise to be a forgiving session.
The Huskers, in dropping their 17th straight game to a top 20 foe on the road, squandered more chances this time than in any of the previous 16. A few hundred Tech students celebrated the unlikely win, their hollers echoing through concourses of Lane Stadium as they ran together and slapped hands in a ceremonial display. But many Hokie fans, no doubt, breathed a sigh of relief.
No. 13-ranked Virginia Tech could have lost Saturday — it almost surely would have lost — if even one of so many moments went a different way for No. 19 Nebraska.
“In the end, we had plenty of opportunities to put that football game away and we didn’t do it,” NU coach Bo Pelini said. “I take my hat off to them. End of story. You all watched the game.”
Said his brother, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini: “It’s a crime. It’s a crime.”
Before a crowd of 66,233 — the Hokies’ 70th consecutive sellout that included some 6,000 for Nebraska crammed into the southeast corner — NU (2-1) led from the final seconds of the first half until 21 seconds remained in the game.
That’s when scrambling Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor hit receiver Dyrell Roberts with an 11-yard, third-and-goal strike in the end zone for the winning score.
The play took 12 seconds to unfold, but more on that later. First, the Hokies, who managed 53 second-half yards until the final 104 seconds, got in position for the game-winning TD with an 81-yard Taylor bomb to Danny Coale against a busted-coverage defense.
“We just lost track of the receiver,” Carl Pelini said.
Coale roasted a two-deep zone, racing past cornerback Anthony West and somehow evading safety Matt O’Hanlon to catch a ball from Taylor that traveled nearly 50 yards in the air.
Cover Coale and the Huskers likely would have won this game.
It was the most crucial of those so many moments. Here are the others:
Not so much a moment as this was a series of them, but NU melted down offensively after Zac Lee’s 17-yard keeper took the Huskers to the 6-yard line late in the third quarter. On first down, Lee hit tight end Mike McNeill for an apparent touchdown that, with the extra point, would have given the Huskers a 19-10 lead.
“I thought if we scored there, ” Bo Pelini said, “we were in good shape.”
A holding call on right guard Ricky Henry erased the TD. Then a false start by right tackle Marcel Jones made it first and goal from the 21. Receiver Menelik Holt dropped a pass in the back of the end zone before Jones was flagged for holding.
“I could see the frustration in the kids,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “Absolutely. No doubt about it.”
Lee threw incomplete. McNeill jumped at the line of scrimmage. Five more yards to make it third and goal from the 36.
“I know the guys certainly weren't trying to have that happen,” offensive line coach Barney Cotton said.
Regardless, the Huskers had to punt.
“It’s pretty obvious that was a key point in the football game, ” Bo Pelini said.
Late in the fourth quarter, Nebraska led 15-10 after stopping Virginia Tech on fourth down. NU got the ball with 2:07 to play. The Hokies burned all three timeouts as Nebraska kept it on the ground, trying to burn clock.
“You’ve got to get one first down. You have to,” Watson said. “Make them use those three timeouts and get the first down. Then you’ve got the game secured.”
On third and 5, Watson called the same QB draw that Lee used to gain 17 the last time it was called.
This time, Lee got 4. One more yard, Watson said, and the Huskers would've lined up in victory formation. Instead, Nebraska had to punt, and the Hokies had life.
You know about the third-quarter debacle after NU came away empty from the 6-yard line. But four other times, Nebraska penetrated the Virginia Tech 20, and the Huskers came away with a total of 12 points.
“We had our chances there,” said place-kicker Alex Henery, whose five field goals ranked as the second most in school history. “We didn't take advantage of what we had.”
NU reached the 18-yard line in the first quarter after a 55-yard punt return by Niles Paul.
It advanced to the 10-yard line in the second quarter after Lee completions to Holt and Paul for 19 and 13 yards. The Huskers had first and goal from the 3 in the second quarter after a pair of 20-yard runs by I-back Roy Helu, who grinded the Hokies for a career-high 169 yards on 28 carries.
And then in the fourth, the Huskers reached the 19-yard line after a 35-yard Lee pass to Curenski Gilleylen.
None of it produced a touchdown. Until the final seconds, in fact, the Huskers appeared in line to win a game without scoring a touchdown for the first time since World War II.
“We were that close,” senior nose tackle Ndamukong Suh said, “and we didn't finish it.”
And then there was the final moment.
The scenario: Third and goal from the 11-yard line with 33 seconds to play. O’Hanlon had recovered from the 81-yard pass to sack Taylor on first and goal for an 8-yard loss. The junior fired incomplete on second down. He had no one open, apparently, on the next play.
Things were starting to look good for the Huskers when Suh paused briefly as he pursued the quarterback. It was just enough time to let Taylor think. He scrambled, again to his right. Suh closed, but the QB found Roberts, sprinting through the end zone with Prince Amukamara nearly on his back.
“We all take responsibility for not finishing the deal,” Bo Pelini said. “You got to finish the job, and we didn’t do that. Each and every guy that walked on that field and played had a hand in us not winning that football game.
“Coaches included. They made the plays, we didn't. Pretty simple. In a game like that, you've got to make a play.”
|Yards per carry||2.3||5.8|
Nebraska is 1-2 all-time against Virginia Tech.
|Florida Atlantic||Sept. 5|
|Arkansas State||Sept. 12|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 19|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 17|
|Iowa State||Oct. 24|
|Kansas State||Nov. 21|
Nebraska has played 10 games on Sept. 19. See them all »
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