As one special teams hole was plugged against Michigan State, others broke open.
Connor Culp broke out of his recent slump, hitting a pair of field goals and extra points. He previously had made just one of six field goal attempts against Buffalo and Oklahoma, along with missing two extra points in the season opener.
Heading into the game against the Spartans, head coach Scott Frost and Husker players talked about how they still had faith in the 2020 conference kicker of the year. That trust paid off today.
“Tonight was just a start,” he said postgame. “Got to keep building off of this, (it) definitely instilled a lot more confidence in me. Don’t feel great because we still lost and I was ready to go out and hit a game winner.”
However, that was about the only improvement that happened in the special teams department.
Former Spartan William Przystup shanked his first punt against his former team, sending it just 28 yards. After the Huskers scored their first points on a field goal, Michigan State returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to its own 43.
Before the half ended, Przystup had another punt launch off the side of his foot, travelling just seven yards. Thankfully for Nebraska, only one of those drives ended in points.
The most costly mistake came late in the game. Nebraska was solid on special teams for the majority of the second half, making a field goal and extra point and having its only punt being downed inside the 10-yard line.
But with four minutes left, that changed. Daniel Cerni sent a punt 34 yards downfield with the Huskers up a touchdown and the defense playing well. The punt coverage team headed down toward the returner, however, there were two on the field. The returner on the opposite side of the field caught the punt, and with just a few players to beat, made his way to the endzone with ease.
Postgame, Frost said it was a matter of the punt not going where it was supposed to,
“That’s a punt where we’re supposed to kick the ball to the right sideline and the ball went to the left sideline,” he said.
Jayden Reed, the returner on the score, along with others credited the play to Ross Els, the team’s special teams coordinator. Els coached at Nebraska from 2011 to 2014, helping with linebackers, special teams and recruiting.
According to Reed, the Spartans had been working on the play and knew it would work “two seconds after it was punted.”
While it’s been far from the only factor, Nebraska’s special teams errors have played a major role in two straight losses. Against Oklahoma, it was field goal kicking, and against Michigan State, it was punting.
Special teams mishaps have come to be a regular occurrence in Frost’s tenure at Nebraska, and he said it’ll just come down to players deciding to be better and execute.
“Right when we need it the most, we kick it to the wrong side of the field and some of the guys didn’t see it and it cost us the game.“ Frost said. “I’m sick of it, they’re sick of it, we’ve got to be able to count on guys when we need them to do their job.”