Friday’s 31-28 loss at Iowa was a bit of a roller coaster ride for Nebraska fans.
For much of the first three quarters, it looked like the Hawkeyes were going to run away with the game as Mekhi Sargent and the other Iowa backs were running all over Nebraska’s defense.
However, the Huskers dug deep in the fourth quarter and battled all the way back to tie the game at 28-all with less than three-and-a-half minutes to play. That proved to be too much time, however, as the Hawkeyes put together a nine-play, 41-yard drive that chewed up the rest of the clock and ended with a game-winning 41-yard field goal by Iowa kicker Miguel Recinos.
That field goal was made possible by this week’s Play of the Game.
Iowa began it’s game-winning drive with runs of 5, 4 and 16 yards, but the Blackshirts tightened things up from there. Khalil Davis and Tre Neal stuffed Sargent for a loss of 1 on first down, then Nate Stanley threw an incomplete pass on second. On third and 11, Tyrin Ferguson took Sargent down after a run of 3.
That set up fourth-and-8 from the Nebraska 37-yard line. From there, a field goal would have been 54 yards, and Recinos’ career-long was 49.
Iowa lined up to go for it, but called a timeout before snapping the ball. After the break, the Hawkeyes sent their offense back out there. This time they went through with it and Stanley found star tight end TJ Hockensen to move the chains.
Here's that fourth-and-8 conversion by Iowa that set up the game-winning field goal. pic.twitter.com/alAtw6idJp
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) November 23, 2018
Iowa lined up with backs flanking Stanley, receivers split out to each side and Hockensen lined up in the slot to the right side. Nebraska countered with its base 3-4 front. The Huskers sent inside linebacker Mohamed Barry on a blitz up the middle. Neal, the safety, had Ivory Kelly-Martin while the other inside linebacker, Dedrick Young, had Sargent in case either one went out on a route.
On the snap, Barry looked like he was shot out of a cannon and Sargent steps over to chip him. Young recognized that his man was blocking rather than acting as a receiver and started to make his way towards the backfield. He isn’t even close to fast enough to make any kind of impact whatsoever, however.
Here’s former Nebraska and NFL linebacker Scott Shanle’s take on the play and Young’s part in particular.
If #5 hug blitzes to his RB who he has man to man it's a sack or incomplete. The RB blocked the blitzing middle backer and the other backer (#5) has to add rush fast. He didn't and hung his safety out to dry in coverage. Good call but bad execution by one player = 1st dn
— Scott Shanle (@scottshanle) November 23, 2018
The tackles hold up in coverage against Nebraska’s linebackers rushing off the edge while the interior linemen slowed down Nebraska’s front three.
On the edges, the corners lined up in tight coverage. That left senior Antonio Reed all by himself as the deep safety. Prior to the snap, he moved over toward where Hockensen was lined up but was still 3 yards past the line to gain, giving him an 11-yard cushion on fourth-and-8.
On the snap, Hockensen made his way up the field, clearing the line to gain by 3 yards before sitting down while Reed continued to back-pedal. There were 4 or 5 yards between them when Hockensen turned back towards the ball. Reed tried to close on him but Stanley had already put the ball in his tight end’s gut before the safety could get there.
"I figured they were punting,” Coach Scott Frost said. “That's a gutsy decision by them. I give Coach [Kirk] Ferentz credit. If they gave us the ball back right there with 40 seconds left, I liked our chances of hitting a couple of plays and giving us the opportunity for a field goal. They rolled the dice there, and I think we had the right defense on. We gave a little too much ground in one spot. It was a great play by them."
Just like that, the Hawkeyes had a new set of downs. Sargent picked up 4 yards on a run and Iowa let the clock wind all the way down before kicking the field goal to win it.
Getting off the field in key situations has been a struggle for Nebraska all season, and it reared its ugly head once again at the worst of times. Nebraska’s defense needed to make one play and it couldn’t do it.
A fourth-and-8 conversion locked in a 4-8 season for Nebraska, and that’s why TJ Hockensen’s 10-yard reception with less than 40 seconds remaining is this week’s Play of the Game.
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.