UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After reserve quarterback Ron Kellogg capped his first drive Saturday with a touchdown throw, he sprinted over to the sideline and wrapped his arms around Bo Pelini.
Never mind the fact that the offense had sputtered through the first quarter on a frigid afternoon in one of the most raucous environments in college football. One 27-yard pass to Quincy Enunwa early in the second quarter wasn't going to decide anything — and Kellogg knew it.
But he's always looking for ways to lighten the mood. Even the head coach who normally spends game day stressing, and pacing, and screaming, and strategizing can benefit from a little silliness.
“I just told him 'keep giving me the ball,'” Kellogg said.
Pelini smiled back at him.
“I was being a dork. Just wanted to lighten his mood up a little bit. He gets a little serious every now and then,” Kellogg said. “I told him, 'Hey, there's nothing to worry about. We're going to keep rolling.' ”
But Kellogg found a way to follow through. Again.
His effort off the bench in Nebraska's 23-20 overtime win at Penn State Saturday might not stick in minds as long as his Hail Mary to beat Northwestern. But it was important nonetheless.
Kellogg completed 20 of his 34 passes to eight receivers for a total of 191 yards, battling through windy and sometimes blizzard-like conditions. He bounced back from tough hits. He stayed positive despite his own mistakes.
This one-time walk-on from Omaha, who waited three full years before getting an in-game snap and four years to get a scholarship, was the one Nebraska called on to lead a banged-up offense in a gut-check game on the road.
“It felt great,” Kellogg said. “Not too many people can say they were in a situation like this. I'll cherish these moments for the rest of my life.”
He'll remember everything. The snow flurries that twice covered the field like a fog. The heat-producing packets he stuffed in the muff at his waist, and the parkas he tried to steal from teammates by the bench. The neck massages he was receiving from trainers after getting popped near the goal line. The constant reassurances he gave the offensive line on the sideline — “I'm 230. I'm durable!” — even though he was taking hit after hit, each one stinging a tad more as the game wore on.
Kellogg walked off the field and into the tunnel after the win, letting out a giant exhale of relief. He confessed to his teammates in the locker room how much this one meant to him.
Senior tackle Jeremiah Sirles sees the significance.
“To come in, on the road, in a hostile environment like Penn State, get us a 'W' in a blizzard, is pretty remarkable,” Sirles said.
But Kellogg was far from perfect.
All he had to do was hand the ball off when NU was backed up at his own goal line in the fourth quarter, but he dropped a shotgun snap with 1:22 left. A pass interference penalty on the next play got NU out of the jam.
Kellogg was sacked on the first possession of the third quarter, caught holding the ball too long while he waited for routes to break open on a third-and-1. He thought he saw Cover 1 coverage, but he forgot to tuck the ball away. The fumble led to a Penn State touchdown.
Kellogg reminded himself to stay positive.
“You have to have a short memory playing the quarterback position, especially on the road,” he said.
That's always been his role, anyway — to get guys chuckling, even when they'd rather crawl into a hole.
Kellogg was the third-string quarterback who said he wanted to be friends with everyone. Teammates noticed his strong arm and his analytical mind. But they were drawn in because of his charm and fun-loving nature. Then they realized how hard he worked.
Before he ever took control of the offense, Kellogg figured he could inspire and motivate others.
That's why he wanted to score so badly on his first possession.
The coaches had planned on Kellogg getting the fourth series of the game. It just so happened that Tommy Armstrong hurt his ankle to end the third drive.
Take away a 24-yard run by Ameer Abdullah, and the offense had amassed only 17 yards before Kellogg trotted onto the field.
He fired a 14-yard bullet to Jordan Westerkamp on his first throw. He completed his next three passes, the final one to Enunwa on a quick slant that gave Nebraska a 7-6 lead.
“I just wanted to set a tone for my first series,” Kellogg said.
He hoped to do it again in the fourth, when he didn't hesitate to lower his shoulder for a potential go-ahead score. No one was surprised, either. Most were certain he'd get the touchdown.
Instead, Kellogg was thumped a yard short of the end zone. His fumble on the play was recovered by sophomore Sam Burtch.
“I knew it was going to hurt,” Kellogg said. “That was a stupid mistake now that I think about it.”
He laughed about it with teammates in the locker room, though. They always give him a hard time when he runs with the football.
Kellogg doesn't mind. He'd do it again and again.
“I spent five years working my tail off for an opportunity like this,” Kellogg said. “And now that it finally came, I don't want it to go away.”
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Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon: