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Despite Loss
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Despite Loss, Nebraska Made Some Spectacular Plays Against Iowa

November 25, 2018

Nebraska’s season didn’t end the way anyone in Lincoln hoped it would, but the Huskers made a heck of a run in the second half to turn what was looking like another Iowa blowout into a game that went right down to the wire.

In the process, the Huskers made some spectacular plays. Let’s take another look at some of the best ones.

In an ironic twist of fate, Nebraska’s longest gain of the day came on a play type the Huskers have been struggling to execute for years — the screen pass.

The Huskers lined up at their own 48-yard line on third-and-2 trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter. Nebraska designed the play well with three receivers to the right of the formation and one to the left. Freshman running back Maurice Washington lined up in the backfield to the left of quarterback Adrian Martinez.

The receivers to the right showed screen, but Washington motioned to the left before the snap and Martinez turned his way. Linebacker Nick Niemann took a few steps toward the sideline when he saw Washington moving, but didn’t commit until Martinez wound up to throw.

Washington caught the ball in stride and took off up the sideline as Mike Williams blocked the corner well enough for Washington to sprint by. Niemann wasn’t fast enough to get there and make a play.

Safety Jake Gervase ran over to cut off Washington’s path so he cut it back and started angling towards the middle of the field, spinning another safety, Geno Stone, around in the process. The third safety, Amani Hooker, cut off his path across the field and forced him to cut it up-field again where cornerback Matt Hankins and a few others finally managed to get him down.

The screen went for 35 yards, the longest play from scrimmage of the day for either team. It was a great call by Scott Frost, getting the speedy freshman in space while the set up of the play held defenders on the other side of the field. Rather than ask linemen to get downfield to make a block, the design of the play required just one block and it left the rest up to Washington.

Nebraska’s drive stalled after the big play, but it gained more than enough ground to put the Huskers into field goal position and freshman Barret Pickering drilled the kick to cut the deficit to four.

Let’s fast-forward to late in the third quarter, and after Iowa failed to pick up a first down inside the Nebraska 5-yard line with a fake field goal on fourth down, the Huskers got the ball at the 2-yard line. Two runs and an incomplete pass later and the Huskers faced a fourth-and-3 from the 9-yard line. Trailing 28-13, the Huskers really couldn’t afford to give the ball back to the Hawkeyes, especially with the field position that likely would have followed a punt from one’s own end zone. Still, you can’t go for it and risk giving Iowa the ball in the red zone, right?

Nebraska lined up to punt with Isaac Armstrong in the end zone and linebacker Luke Gifford among the three protectors in the backfield. However, Chase Ubach snapped the ball to Gifford instead of Armstrong and the senior captain took off.

Gifford was a two-way player in high school and starred for the Lincoln Southeast Knights as a dual-threat quarterback, so he was no stranger to having the ball in his hands (even if it had been five years since his last carry). 

Tight end Jack Stoll, one of the other protectors who lined up in the backfield, chipped Dominique Dafney coming off the edge which allowed Gifford to get to the edge and turn upfield. He got outside the numbers, crossed the line to gain and went to slide, but Hooker threw his body into him and delivered a big blow, drawing a personal foul flag from the officials that tacked on an extra 15 yards to Gifford’s 5-yard run.

Gifford was slow to get up after the hit, but shook it off and finished the game.

Nebraska later converted two more fourth downs on the drive, setting up our next play.

On first-and-10 from the 28-yard line with 14:04 to play, Nebraska lined up in a tight formation with Washington to Martinez’s left. On the snap, the two receivers took off up the field while Washington looped around behind out of the backfield.

It’s a wheel route. Linebacker Djimon Colbert starts to run towards him, perhaps thinking Martinez was going to hit him in the flat, but the speedy running back kept on running and blew by Colbert as he tried to turn and run with him.

Martinez hit Washington about 15 yards downfield with Colbert a good few yards behind him and the freshman never broke stride, running up the sideline and into the end zone for a touchdown.

Washington’s speed and hands make him a complete mismatch for most linebackers and the wheel route should be something the Huskers go to quite a bit with him in the backfield.

The extra point made it 28-20 with just under 14 minutes to play, but Nebraska couldn’t afford to give up another long touchdown drive to the Hawkeyes on the ensuing possession. After the kickoff, Iowa began its possession at the 28-yard line and defensive end Khalil Davis, who had a strong game overall, tackled running back Toren Young for a 2-yard loss on first down. It was Iowa’s first negative play of the game.

On second down, Stanley threw incomplete trying to find Sargent. That set up third and 12 at the Iowa 26-yard line.

Iowa lined up with receiver Nick Easley split out wide to the left, tight end Noah Fant in the left slot and tight end TJ Hockenson lined up in-line next to the left tackle. Nebraska countered with basically 10 guys at the line of scrimmage with one deep safety. Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle was manned up on Easley while inside linebacker Mohamed Barry lined up across from Fant.

With Nebraska showing blitz, Iowa tried to run a tunnel screen for Easley with the receiver cutting behind a block from Fant. Outside linebacker Tyrin Ferguson, came off the play-side edge but read where the ball was going instantly and got his hand up, knocking the pass out of the air and ending Iowa’s drive. It was Nebraska’s only pass break-up of the game.

The Huskers failed to take advantage of the defensive stop as Martinez threw an interception that cut a promising drive short, but a missed field goal by Iowa gave the Huskers another chance.

This time, the Huskers took advantage with a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Martinez capped off the drive with a 3-yard run on his own, but what followed the touchdown was even more impressive. Trailing 28-26 with 3:22 on the clock, Nebraska went for the tie with a two-point conversion.

Nebraska overloaded the left side, but motioned Stanley Morgan Jr. over to the left side before the snap. It looks like he is the original target running behind Stoll, but Martinez recognizes that Iowa likely would have stopped him short had he thrown it.

So Martinez kept the ball and started scrambling around, avoiding defensive end Anthony Nelson who had given Nebraska fits all game. Martinez ran backwards all the way to the 12-yard line, angling towards the sideline. With Nelson bearing down on him, Martinez found a receiver and fired the ball back across his body to walk-on Kade Warner in the back of the end zone.

Warner managed to secure the ball and get a foot down as Hankins blasted him with what probably wasn’t a legal hit, but the redshirt freshman held on anyway to tie the game at 28-all.

JD Spielman loved it.

Iowa went on to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired, but the Huskers made a heck of a run to give themselves a chance.

Nebraska is graduating a lot of playmakers from this year’s squad, but guys like Martinez, Washington, Spielman, Barry and others set to return and another offseason to learn and grow under Scott Frost, year two should be even better.

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