After building up a two-touchdown lead against Indiana, Nebraska gave it all back in the last six minutes of the first half, then slogged its way through the third quarter with 38 total yards.
The Huskers faced the possibility of another short drive to open the fourth quarter with a third-and-9 inside their own 30. Needing a spark, Mark Whipple called his best wideout’s number, and the offense executed the play to perfection.
This week’s Play of the Game is Casey Thompson’s 71-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Trey Palmer.
Nebraska made some big plays in the first half but squandered its lead with offensive mistakes and defensive busts, and the Huskers struggled to find a rhythm again throughout the third quarter.
The Huskers forced a punt to open the fourth quarter and started their drive at their own 13-yard line. A personal foul on Indiana gave Nebraska a 15-yard head start, but a 1-yard run then an incomplete pass put the Cornhuskers in another tough spot with a third-and-9.
Nebraska had only connected on three explosive pass lays to that point, and two of them were on the opening drive. The Huskers sent out 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) and motioned Marcus Washington to the left of the formation alongside Palmer.
On the snap, the receiver to the far right ran a go route while the tight end in the slot ran a 10-yard sit-down. The action is on the other side, however.
Washington ran a dig route underneath while Palmer ran a post and go route. Two defenders, including one of the safeties, bit on the dig route while the right corner… well, I’m not sure what he was doing. He let Palmer run right by him and ended up covering… nobody.
That left Palmer one-on-one with a safety, and Nebraska will take that match-up every time. The speedy wideout faked the post and then broke back upfield, at which point Thompson began loading up deliver the ball.
“When I saw Trey, he was even with him, then I saw Casey launch it,” Coach Mickey Joseph said. “We always tell Casey when you’re throwing the ball to Trey, just hit your back foot and throw it as far as you can and he’ll go get it.”
Palmer ran right by the safety and Thompson dropped it in the bucket from about 55 yards out. Palmer turned the jets on again after the catch and ran the last 25 yards untouched into the end zone to give Nebraska the lead for good.
Cornerback Quinton Newsome, who has to match up with Palmer in practice throughout the week, said he knew it was six as soon as Thompson let the ball go.
“I was like, ‘yes, touchdown,’” Newsome said. “I was I was cheesin’, We go against that guy every day in practice, so we know what he can do, we know what he’s capable of. So I was excited.”
Palmer has been Thompson’s favorite target by a significant margin this season, but a lot of that came on short and intermediate routes as the two had missed on some deep shots in previous games.
“It was good to connect with Trey on a deep ball,” Thompson said. “He’s been doing a really good job of running hard in practice and the games. I just feel like our connection is going to continue to grow. But it was good to see him run and go get that ball. He had to adjust and track it down a little bit, so I think he’s improving at trying to track it and luckily for me I put it out there with some air and made him go get it. So he ran right underneath it and I think it was good timing and a good play call.”
Key to a deep throw like that is good protection for the quarterback, which Nebraska didn’t always deliver on Saturday night. However, the big guys up front stepped up to the plate and held their own. Indiana rushed four and left tackle Brant Banks held up against a spin move while right tackle Hunter Anthony pushed the opposite edge rusher wide and deep. That gave Thompson a big pocket to step into and deliver the throw.
“Trent [Hixson] did a great job,” left guard Ethan Piper said. “He put us in the right call, the right protection, and we hit the play like we knew. We walked through it like a million times during practice and it worked out good for us. It was just as expected because we did it so many times.”
The defense followed Palmer’s touchdown with a three-and-out, then the offense put together a 12-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that chewed up 6:05 of game time to give the Huskers a two-score lead, and the defense finished it from there.
Thompson completed 18 of his 27 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns and added another touchdown on the ground. Palmer finished with eight catches on nine targets for a career-high 157 yards. He’s now surpassed 68 yards receiving in each of Nebraska’s five games and is up to 480 yards on the season.
“My number got called and I made the play; that’s all I’m here for,” Palmer said about his big night. “When my number’s called, I’ma just make the play.”
Whipple called Palmer’s number plenty on Saturday night, and the Huskers’ top wideout made the Play of the Game with his 71-yard go-ahead touchdown.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.