The Catch that Saved Lincoln?
LINCOLN — It’s hard telling how bad things were about to get if backup to the backup quarterback Ron Kellogg III didn’t throw a 49-yard pass off a Northwestern defender and into the arms of backup wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp.
Best not to think of such things. For 24 hours at least.
For now, it’s the win that kept Nebraska’s 2013 season off life support. Almost as shocking as the catch itself is the principle players involved. Watch the replay again. Senior captain Quincy Enunwa is right in the middle of the scrum – Kellogg’s target actually – but the next three Nebraska players to enter the shot are Westerkamp, Sam Burtch and Alonzo Moore.
Not Kenny Bell or Jamal Turner or even Jake Long. All were out with injuries.
The throw came from Kellogg. Not Taylor Martinez, who spent the game in the press box battling the stomach flu in addition to a bum foot and possibly a shoulder and a hip pointer. Not Tommy Armstrong who played quite well at times and like a freshman at others.
“I didn’t even know I could throw it that far to be honest with you,” Kellogg said. “Thank God for Jordan Westerkamp.”
It hasn’t been the season most expected out of Nebraska, so perhaps it’s fitting that the thing that could turn it around was something equally unexpected.
At least that’s the hope in Lincoln. But Bo Pelini made the single most important point of the night in the minutes after the Huskers’ 27-24 win.
“What I know as a head coach is whether we caught that ball or didn’t catch the ball, it’s still the same team come tomorrow,” Pelini said.
He felt strongly enough about that idea that he essentially said it twice in his 16 minutes with the media.
“Whether we won this game or lost this game, the way I’m going to approach tomorrow won’t change. The way we, as a football team, approach tomorrow won’t change,” Pelini said.
And that’s good. It’s as truthful as Pelini’s standard “lot of work to do” sentiment has ever seemed.
There is, still, a lot of work to do. Nebraska beat a 4-4 Northwestern team, at home, on a prayer. The Huskers still have a brutally tough road ahead of them. That is an accurate portrayal of this team. It is good enough to beat almost any team left on its schedule, but it has to avoid beating itself first.
That didn’t look likely early. The defense struggled early but stiffened late. The offense sizzled then fizzled. Nebraska has yet to have both units play well at the same time against an opponent that matters.
With a team like this, every game almost has to be won twice and that’s not easy to do.
But Saturday did deliver a sliver of hope. Win a game like that, where things look totally hopeless, and it lops the suffix right off that word.
For a week. Or maybe just a day.
“I’ll enjoy it,” Westerkamp said after recording the first touchdown of his young Nebraska career in the most memorable way possible. “But I have that 24-hour rule. Enjoy it. Move on. Get ready for Michigan.
“We’ve got a lot of football left to play.”
Whatever length of time it actually ends up being, it’s enough for now.
“After a play like that, it can change the whole momentum of the season,” Kellogg said. “We still have four games left before the Big Ten Championship Game, and we have to win them all. We just have to keep driving.”
Maybe a few more people will be willing to give the Huskers that chance now. Spirits weren’t especially high in Memorial Stadium early in this game. The Tunnel Walk felt somewhat sedate. When the PA announcer read off the attendance of 91,140– usually good for a default cheer – it was met with an eerie “meh.”
And that’s another thing this game afforded us – a chance to hear the expanded Memorial Stadium at a full roar. Maybe it reminded a few people of why its been full for every game since 1962.
“It sounded like thunder,” Kellogg said. “I don’t even know what happened. I really don’t know. I’m still stunned by it myself.”
Here’s what happened, Ron. You threw the pass that saved Nebraska’s season.
It will last as long as the Huskers let it.