The level at which the Nebraska defense stepped up in the second half against Northwestern leaps off the tape like a mustachioed freshman going after a Hail Mary. Such is the same with Ameer Abdullah’s playmaking ability; you’ll see both outlined in today’s tape study.
Left on the floor of the cutting room were some plays exemplary of how effective Tommy Armstrong was running the option, but there were three particular plays that stand out as far more important by way of determining the outcome of this game. Simply put, Nebraska’s halftime defensive adjustments that led to 11 scoreless Wildcat drives with a heavy infusion of blitzes and four-man fronts put the Huskers in position to make the necessary plays that led up to the miraculous “Westerkatch.”
3rd QUARTER – 7:38 – Avery Moss interception returned for a touchdown (YT 01:38)
Nebraska’s ends Avery Moss and Randy Gregory took advantage of inadequate blocks by the Northwestern tackles and made perhaps the biggest momentum-swinging play of the game in the third quarter. It’s clear, coach said, that Moss and Gregory’s effort was what made the play after two attempts at cut blocks by the tackles. Trevor Siemian obviously would prefer not to get pasted by Randy Gregory, but typically a three-step drop quick pass would allow him enough time to get the ball out with two serviceable cut blocks on the defensive ends.
“The guy that busted is obviously the right tackle. He has to keep the end’s hands down,” coach said.
Wildcats quarterback Trevor Siemian’s eyes go straight to the open shallow dig route just as Avery Moss gets back into a full upright stance – the perfect timing to snatch Siemian’s pass cleanly out of midair with nothing but 25 yards of open turf to the end zone in front of him.
4th QUARTER – ~00:50 – Kellogg 16-yard pass to Abdullah on 4th and 15 (YT 02:48)
We study tape with coach so we can get a much deeper look into the X’s and O’s of Nebraska football. We chose Abdullah’s first down catch and run on fourth down in the final minutes because not only was it arguably the most important play in the game (other than that final pass, which was alright too) but because it demonstrates just how far Abdullah’s talent exceeds simple X’s and O’s. I’ve spent the last few weeks interviewing Nebraska coaches, players and fans about what makes a guy a “playmaker,” but all you need to do is point at this clip.
“I can see a Belichick taking this guy,” Coach said.
After scrambling around to avoid Northwestern’s three-man rush — it had been successful at times — Kellogg threw to his check down man at the 34-yard line. At the time of the catch, Northwestern has two tacklers inside the first down marker within range of Abdullah, who made a tough momentum-stalling catch. He cuts inside to avoid straight-on contact with the first tackler, then cuts back outside before getting wrapped up. Even still, Abdullah wrestled his way through two tackles and extends the ball out beyond the stick for the first down. Three plays later…well…you’ve seen it.
4th QUARTER – 00:04 – Kellogg Hail Mary touchdown to Jordan Westerkamp (YT: 3:00)
With trips to the right and Alonzo Moore on the left, Nebraska left Abdullah in the backfield to help protect Kellogg, who gets five full seconds to throw the ball. More importantly, Nebraska’s receivers get nearly six full seconds to get downfield.
Coach said when he used to practice a semi-prevent defense against a Hail Mary, his staff would consider to distance of the throw to determine how long it would take the fastest receivers to make it to the end zone. That way, they could determines how quickly they needed to pressure the passer to get the ball out. In this case, Kellogg has more than enough time to throw out of his shoes.
As coach points out, tow Wildcats defenders played the tip, waiting shy of the goal line. Like Terry Joseph said after the game, coach typically wants just one man playing the tip. The rest of the players are asked to simply knock the ball down.
‘The deep guys didn’t play the goal line,” Coach said. With a semi-prevent defense, Westerkamp almost certainly would have at least had to make a contested catch.
Westerkamp – just two yards deep in the end zone – is the deepest player in either purple or red. The ball’s trajectory falls short of the goal line, but careens off the defender into the end zone where Westerkamp is waiting.