LINCOLN — For all the times the word “Yes” was probably shouted after Nebraska’s miraculous win Saturday night, it was two “No’s” that helped get the Huskers there.
With the game tied at 21-21 and Northwestern inside the Husker 10 following an interception, NU defensive coaches kicked around the idea of letting Northwestern score to preserve a pair of timeouts and more than two minutes of clock to attempt the comeback.
“Bo was like ‘No, we feel good about trying to hold them out to the field goal and get the ball back,’” defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said.
The Huskers did just that, limiting Northwestern to a chip-shot field goal for the lead with 80 seconds to play.
The second executive veto from Pelini came before the game’s final snap.
Multiple coaches said that the thought of Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck was a hook-and-lateral play to running back Ameer Abdullah. There was also talk, Joseph said, of putting 6-foot-3 cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste — a former receiver — in for his height on the receiving end of the Hail Mary attempt.
“Tim talked about maybe a hook and ladder,” Joseph said, “and then Bo kind of said, ‘Hey, let’s just take our shot at the end zone,’ because we knew that was probably going to be the last play of the game.”
Both proved to be the right choice from Pelini as freshman wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp came down with a batted ball for a 49-yard game-winner as time expired for the win.
Joseph used one word to describe the scene in the coach’s box following Westerkamp’s catch.
“Jubilation,” he said.
Beck said he broke down and cried right there. Grown men with pure joy emotion, he said.
“It was chaos,” Beck said. “Falling over each other, hugging. I think guys were jumping off the second row onto the guys in the first row.
“You can’t put it into words. It was an incredible, incredible feeling.”
Coaches’ faith inspires Kellogg
Ron Kellogg didn’t think he’d be the quarterback to run Nebraska’s two-minute drill. Even though Tommy Armstrong had thrown three interceptions, Kellogg — who started the game 1-of-5 with an interception of his own — was surprised when he was told to get his helmet and try to lead the Huskers to a game-tying field goal. He’d get a Hail Mary throw right into Husker history instead.
“I just wanted to collect my thoughts and pick out who I was going to throw the ball to in a pressure situation,” Kellogg said. He was nervous, he said, but NU coach Bo Pelini told Kellogg the two-minute drill was his “forte.” NU practices the two-minute drill every Wednesday and Thursday.
“They had faith in me,” Kellogg said. “That’s all I needed.”
He threw first to Abdullah for 12 yards. After another completion to Abdullah and a misfire to Alonzo Moore, Kellogg was sacked for an 8-yard loss on third down. He had 15 yards to gain on fourth down with the clock ticking. Kellogg threw to Abdullah in the flat again. Abdullah got 16 yards.
On the final Hail Mary, Kellogg said, he paid close attention to the defensive line, trying to evade the three Wildcat rushers so he could buy time for the wide receivers to reach the end zone. He aimed for wide receiver Quincy Enunwa because he figured Enunwa would tip the ball. The Northwestern players around the ball did the job well enough.
“I’m still stunned by it myself,” Kellogg said of Westerkamp’s 49-yard touchdown catch.
Flags in the fourth
Nebraska went three quarters without a penalty Saturday — and then downhill in a hurry.
The Husker offensive line was flagged for two holding calls (Mike Moudy, Brent Qvale) and a chop block (Moudy) to help kill two drives that had advanced to the Northwestern 35-yard line or farther.
“We were doing some good things later in the game and then we have three major penalties,” NU offensive line coach John Garrison said. “In some respects, we were very fortunate up front to be able to come out of here with a win.”
Nebraska also had a false-start infraction on a fourth-quarter punt to finish with four penalties for 40 yards.
Will Blackshirts be back?
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said after the game that he’ll let the Husker defenders decide if they want to wear the Blackshirts again in practice.
The coaches took away those tradition-rich practice jerseys this week, after Nebraska lost to Minnesota. Only six players were wearing black, anyway.
But after the Huskers rebounded from a shaky start against Northwestern Saturday, the Blackshirts could be back next week. Papuchis said after the game that he wanted to talk to the players about it.
“I’ll ask them what they want to do,” Papuchis said. “They certainly earned them in the second half.”