In a blowout as bad as Nebraska’s 56-14 loss to Ohio State, there is no play to single out as the one that made a difference. There will be plenty of time to analyze everything that went wrong in this game (and most likely, with this program) but for the moment I’m choosing to highlight one of the few Huskers who truly showed up on Saturday night.
This week’s Play of the Game is J.D. Spielman’s 77-yard touchdown reception.
The redshirt freshman slot receiver set a new school with 11 catches for 200 yards and a score, accounting for roughly a third of Nebraska’s targets (16 of 47) and yards (200 of 349).
"That doesn't surprise me,” Lee said. “He's a hard-working guy. We see it week in and week out, how valuable he is to us in this offense, and he continues to show up on big downs, and he continues to make big plays and make guys miss and score. We're really glad we have him out there.”
"I think the amount of man (coverage) we were seeing, and his ability to get open in the slot is something I have a lot of faith in, a lot of confidence in, so I did look his way a lot in situations, because he continues to get open and make tough catches and run after the catch, and things like that, and he'll continue to do that.”
Stanley Morgan Jr. is the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, but Spielman is quickly becoming Lee’s go-to receiver in clutch situations. Nebraska went 5-of-15 on third downs and 2-of-4 on fourth downs against the Buckeyes. Spielman was targeted on eight of those 15 third downs (converting on three of them) and on three of those four fourth downs (converting once).
"I think the amount of man [coverage] we were seeing, and his ability to get open in the slot is something I have a lot of faith in, a lot of confidence in,” Lee said. “So I did look his way a lot in situations, because he continues to get open and make tough catches and run after the catch, and things like that, and he'll continue to do that."
On second and 10 from the Nebraska 23-yard line, the Huskers lined up in 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back, three wide receivers) with Spielman in the slot to the left side of the field.
Spielman had linebacker Dante Booker lined up across from him, and Booker sets up as if to force Spielman to the outside. However, Booker drops back a bit too far and Spielman simply runs past him to the inside. Booker is way to slow flipping his hips and the speedy slot-back leaves him in the dust.
Lee knew he had Spielman immediately after he starts his slant and fires the ball to him right at the line to gain in the middle of the field. The middle high safety, Damon Webb, drops back 20 yards from the line of scrimmage then tries to turn around and come forward as he sees Spielman catch the ball. However, the redshirt freshman angles toward the sideline while Webb takes a bad angle, and Spielman beats him to the sideline and maintains his head start.
Cornerback Damon Arnette shows some serious speed to catch up to Spielman while coming from the opposite side of the field. He dives at Spielman’s feet near the 10-yard line in one last desperate attempt, but the receiver keeps his feet and runs into the end zone for Nebraska’s first points.
“I think on the one to JD, he did a great job getting open,” Lee said. “It was a 5-yard pass and he was able to do the rest, so that was great by him.”
JD Spielman GONE.
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) October 15, 2017
Spielman was also responsible for Nebraska’s second biggest play of the game, a 38-yard reception in the second quarter. Spielman again burned his man and Lee put the pass right on the money. Spielman had guys chasing him once again and again had a defender dive at his feet in a last-ditch attempt, only on that play he succeeded in tripping up the freshman. Instead of a touchdown, it resulted in a first down, and four plays later Nebraska handed the ball back to Ohio State with a turnover on downs.
Spielman did a much better job of feeling the approaching defenders, maintaining his concentration and finishing the play the second time around. This comes one week after Wisconsin freshman running back Jonathan Taylor ran through numerous diving arm-tackle attempts by the Huskers en route to 249 yards.
Nebraska was in serious danger of being shut out by the Buckeyes on Saturday until the offense found a little bit of life in the second half, and the main spark for that resurgence was Spielman working together with Lee.
That’s why J.D. Spielman’s 77-yard touchdown reception 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.