LINCOLN — Midway through the fourth quarter, with Nebraska leading 24-21 and humming along with its ground game, NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck dialed up a deep pass on second-and-1 at Minnesota’s 41 yard line.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong was nailed for a 7-yard sack. The Huskers subsequently punted. Minnesota scored on the following drive. Minnesota won 28-24.
What was Beck — and coach Bo Pelini — thinking on the play?
“Their safeties were down and I think we had run it 17 straight plays,” Beck said. (It was actually 17 runs out of 18 plays.) “We were trying to take a shot over the top, safeties were about 2 yards from the line of scrimmage. Just didn’t protect very well and we got sacked.”
Pelini said it was “my call” to give Beck the green light on that call.
“You know, it’s a waste down,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting us to take a sack in that situation. We had two more downs to get the first down. You live and learn. ... I didn’t make the actual call, but I didn’t say, ‘Let’s run the football,’ either. You know what? It was a bad call. That call isn’t why we lost the game. Trust me, there was a lot more than that.”
When asked to describe what was going through his mind as the play unfolded, Beck was initially speechless. He slightly shook his head.
“Ugh, just, I don’t even know how to put it in words,” Beck said. “Just was, you know, I don’t know. Probably shouldn’t have done it. Hindsight’s 20/20, you know? If we’d scored, it would have been a great call. Looked like we had them. We just didn’t have time.”
Abdullah says goodbye
Though his final game at Memorial Stadium wasn’t a victory, Ameer Abdullah still was gracious Saturday to the fans who have cheered him on for four seasons.
Nebraska’s senior I-back shook a lot of hands and traded kind words with Minnesota coaches and players after the Gophers’ 28-24 victory over the Huskers.
Abdullah then headed toward the southeast corner of the stadium to salute the students who stayed to the end by blowing them a kiss and waving to them.
Then Abdullah turned around and jogged toward the northwest corner to go down the red carpet to the Nebraska locker room one last time in a Husker uniform.
With fans young and old shouting at him and offering their hands for a high-five or shake, Abdullah gave one of his gloves to two kids who were speechless after receiving the gift from their hero.
After giving his skull cap to another young fan, Abdullah politely declined a photo request from one of the adults behind the security rope before walking into the NU locker room.
'Get the ball'
It didn’t dawn on Briean Boddy-Calhoun right away that Nebraska was maybe going to have first-and-goal from inside the 5-yard line with a chance to wipe out the 28-24 lead that the Gophers had worked so hard to get.
The Minnesota cornerback never had that kind of time to think about it as De’Mornay Pierson-El went up and caught a pass from Tommy Armstrong on third-and-nine from the 30.
“It just happened so fast,” Boddy-Calhoun said. “I thought, ‘I’m sticking the guy,’ then next thing I know it’s in his hands, and it’s right there in front of me. And the first thing I thought about was, ‘Get the ball.’ ”
Boddy-Calhoun pulled the football away from Pierson-El as the NU receiver was falling backward toward the end zone. It gave Minnesota possession at its own 4 with 1:19 left.
“In little league, my coach taught me that the play isn’t over until the referee blows the whistle,” Boddy-Calhoun said. “I’m always going to be chasing the ball, I’m always going to try to fight for the ball, until the referee blows the whistle.”
Had Pierson-El retained possession, the completion wouldn’t have stood because the freshman was flagged for illegal touching before the catch.
NU turns to run
Fullback Andy Janovich said the coaches told him at halftime to be ready to go in the second half because they were going to use him. A lot.
That proved to be true after Nebraska’s first possession of the third quarter, a three-and-out foiled by two sacks. The Huskers then called 15 straight running plays — and Janovich was out on the field for several of them.
“They couldn’t stop it, so (we) had a lot of confidence,” Janovich said. “They just couldn’t stop it. So why not run it?”
Nebraska gained 99 rushing yards on those 15 plays, an average of 6.6 yards per carry. Most of the plays were the Huskers’ patented zone run call, with a fullback leading the way. That concept worked at times in the first half, so NU wanted to do more of it after the break, offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.
The only problem: That 15-play sequence spanned over three drives, which produced just three points.
“We could never get a rhythm really going in the second half,” Beck said.
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Video: Sam McKewon's postgame analysis
Video: Bo Pelini after the game
Video: Nate Gerry after the game
Video: Tommy Armstrong after the game
Video: Andy Staples on Nebraska