LINCOLN — Avery Moss relived the play over and over, and in some ways it told the story of where the redshirt freshman is at right now in his Nebraska football career.
The defensive end was good enough to beat his man and get to UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley late in the first half Saturday, providing the potential for a huge sack on third-and-12 that would have protected the Huskers' 21-3 lead.
But Moss wasn't quite polished enough to get him down and Hundley slipped away. The missed opportunity reminded Moss that there's always more he'll be able to do as a player.
“You've got to finish,” Moss said. “It really doesn't matter all the steps that you take if you don't finish the task at hand.”
Moss and the Huskers had a bittersweet Saturday. Nebraska's defense started strong but faltered as the Bruins scored 31 second-half points to win 41-21.
The redshirt freshman from Tempe, Ariz., was active with a career-high eight tackles, including three for losses. He notched a sack in the first quarter when NU pinched the pocket and Moss dropped Hundley for a 4-yard loss.
“There were some good things,” Moss said. “There was some stuff that I did well that Coach Kaz (Rick Kaczenski) wanted me to do. And then there were a lot of bad things at the same time that I messed up on — setting the edge, keeping the offense boxed in, stuff like that. So there's stuff I've still got to work on.”
It's all a learning experience, Moss said, and no lesson was more important than Moss letting Hundley get away.
After dodging the rush and escaping, Hundley scrambled to his right and picked up 13 yards and a first down at the NU 48-yard line. The Bruins were in the end zone three plays later and within 21-10 with 57 seconds left before halftime.
“I don't know if I underestimated Brett Hundley's size or what, or thought he'd just kind of come down with me, but I didn't take the proper form or technique that our coaches have been teaching us,” Moss said.
Moss said he might have shown some of his inexperience from there by dwelling on it despite Kaczenski, head coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis all telling him in the locker room at halftime to let it go.
“But I couldn't help but look at the score when we come back out there, and it's not 21-3 anymore (but) it's 21-10 because of that last drive,” Moss said.
NU defensive end Randy Gregory said the fact that Moss had five second-half tackles and two TFLs was a good sign that the 6-foot-2, 270-pounder kept his head up and kept playing. Gregory said he told Moss after the missed sack that plays are going to happen and you have to move on.
“I don't think it affected him as much as people would think,” Gregory said, “because after that point he had a pretty good game.”
Moss started the season-opening game against Wyoming at defensive end before Gregory has gotten the nod in the last two. Moss' playing time, however, has stayed about the same all three weeks.
Getting off blocks and being a factor against a Top 25 team and quality offense last week made him feel good about some of his progress.
“I think it was definitely like a confidence-booster for me, letting me know that I have an ability to make plays and I don't really need to take a back seat to anybody,” Moss said. “I can go out there and be a factor myself.”
Moss received a medical hardship last season after playing briefly in three of four nonconference games. The strides he has made in the last year tell him that he probably wasn't ready to play as a true freshman.
In fact, Moss didn't play in high school until his junior season, and only because of the constant nagging of Todd Peat Jr., who also played at Corona Del Sol High and was in the Husker program for two seasons before leaving.
“I'm totally different mentally and physically,” Moss said. “I remember coming out here and not knowing a lot about football. When I played in high school, I just kind of lined up and just ran up the field.
“Having that year, just to watch Eric Martin, Cam (Meredith), Jason (Ankrah), Baker (Steinkuhler) — having them teach me the defense and how stuff should be operated — I think it helped me so much more.”
Papuchis said that he sees it coming along a little at a time.
“He continues to push and he continues to improve,” Papuchis said. “This is a kid that coming to college had only played high school football for a year and a half. So his upside, who knows where that ends up being. I think he's going to continue to get better and better.”