MADISON, Wis. – For all the missed plays (and missed calls) earlier in the game, Nebraska had one final shot to win the game in overtime. Convert and Nebraska needed only an extra point from the ever-reliable Drew Brown. Convert, and the Huskers had their first true signature win of the season. Covert, and the Huskers were 8-0.
But they could not convert.
Trailing 23-17 and on fourth and 8, Tommy Armstrong Jr. dropped back to pass. He read the defense and targeted sophomore receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. over the top in the corner of the end zone. Morgan did create some separation and Armstrong saw him, but Wisconsin linebacker TJ Watt had beaten hobbled right tackle David Knevel with an inside move. With Watt bearing down on Armstrong, perhaps the quarterback took a half second longer to make the throw than he should have. And with Watt leaping at him, he perhaps couldn’t place it exactly where he wanted to.
Regardless, Armstrong threw it up to Morgan and strong safety D’Cota Dixon ran underneath the break up the pass and end the game.
“They ran Cover 2,” Armstrong said. “They kind of pressed Stan and let him go and I tried to zip it in there and get it. He’s a big body; they’re known to have small corners and kind of a small secondary, so I tried to get him the ball to get up and get, but unfortunately we didn’t come down with it. I maybe threw it a little bit late.”
“It wasn’t ideal, but it had a shot,” Coach Mike Riley said about the play. “In a hole over there, their guy made a pretty good play on it. But it had a shot.”
Even with the less-than-precise throw, the Huskers could have completed the play if Dixon hadn’t broken up the pass. Armstrong beat the corner and the ball was sailing right to him. But Dixon made the play he needed to make.
“I was just reading the quarterback with two-man under, so I told [cornerback] Sojourn [Shelton], ‘trust the safeties, trust Leo [Musso] and I, we will be over the top,’ and he threw it,” Dixon said. “I was just trying to make a play on the ball. Fortunately it was in our favor and he didn’t catch it.”
ICYMI: D, as in defense.
— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) October 30, 2016
The Huskers put themselves into position to need to make a play because of what they did on the first three downs. Terrell Newby ran for 3 yards on first down then was stuffed for a loss of 1 on second. On third down, Armstrong tried to hit senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp over the middle, but a Wisconsin defender got in his way and the ball fell into the turf.
“At the end of the day we just have to make plays,” Armstrong said. “If we get a few yards here and there on the first three plays that we run before that, maybe we win the game. But at the end of the day, we have to make sure we execute whenever we get a chance to.”
Despite their failures on the first three downs, the Huskers did get one final chance to make a play. They couldn’t do it. That’s why the final play of the game, Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s incomplete pass to Stanley Morgan Jr. on fourth and 8 in overtime is, this week’s play of the game.