Play of the Game: JD Spielman's First Touchdown Catch
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Play of the Game: JD Spielman’s First Touchdown Catch

November 24, 2019

Nebraska could do no wrong in Saturday’s demolition of Maryland in College Park. After a season where it seemed like the Huskers couldn’t get any breaks, everything went their way on Saturday.

Nebraska hasn’t been in complete and total control of a game since week three against Northern Illinois. You could pick any number of plays to highlight this week, but I’m going with one that perfectly encapsulates what this game was like.

This week’s play of the game is JD Spielman’s first touchdown catch.

Nebraska was already up 17-0 early in the second quarter and was facing a third and 11 from the Maryland 25. Nebraska line dup with two receivers to the right, one to the left, a tight end in the backfield and a running back next to Adrian Martinez in the shotgun. 

Spielman, who was lined up in the slot to the right of the formation, worked his way up the hash marks before angling toward the middle of the field. Maryland had two safeties deep and an inside linebacker dropping back into coverage, yet Martinez took a shot anyway.

Spielman wasn’t really open, and Martinez overthrew him anyway, but the first Maryland defensive back tipped the ball up to the second who tipped it up for Spielman to run under and catch, securing the ball and getting both feet in before walking out of the back of the end zone.

Touchdown.

Martinez shaking his head after watching what should have been an interception turned into a touchdown pass might have been my favorite part of the whole sequence.

“I thank JD for that play,” Martinez said. “Great concentration on his part and some things did go our way. But also I think the guys did a great job of coming out in this game with some energy and just being focused on the job we needed to accomplish.”

Spielman, who was so sick that he wasn’t even practicing earlier in the week and needed an IV in the team hotel Saturday morning, went on to finish with seven catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns. By halftime he had become the first player in Nebraska history with three season of 800-plus receiving yards.

“JD is the type of kid when the game is being played he’s going to go out on the field and make plays,” Coach Scott Frost said. “Again, today says a lot about him. He had to have an IV at the hotel this morning. I didn’t know if he was going to play and he came out and had a really good game for us. That’s what tough people do.”

Maryland fumbled the ball after a nice gain on its first offensive play of the game. Dicaprio Bootle made a great play, putting his helmet right on the ball and popping it free, and it fell right into the hands of Marquel Dismuke. Two plays later, Dedrick Mills barreled into the end zone to put the Huskers up 7-0.

Nebraska’s next offensive drive almost ended in four plays, but a “leaping the punt shield” penalty by Maryland on a fourth-and-5 punt extended the drive. Seven plays later, Martinez punched the ball in from a yard out to make it 14-0.

After the touchdown, Maryland’s Javon Leake — two had the fumble on Maryland’s first play — muffed the kickoff and gave the ball back to Nebraska at the Maryland 22-yard line. The Huskers turned that into a duel goal by Matt Waldoch.

The last time Nebraska jumped out to a 17-0 lead it fell apart and let Colorado storm back to win. That didn’t happen this time. With a little luck, Nebraska delivered the knockout blow and kept punching from there.

“When you get in a situation where you are behind or ahead early, one break can get the team back in the game,” Frost said. “A break the other way kind of seals it. We got up and then got a couple breaks.”

The Huskers led 17-0 after one, 34-0 at halftime and 44-0 at the end of three.

The Huskers have been beating themselves all season, but on Saturday, they ran into someone who is even better at self-defeat than they are. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and Nebraska certainly got lucky a couple times against the Terrapins. But the Huskers also took advantage of those lucky situations and they were responsible for forcing some of those Maryland mistakes as well. 

“I think all three phases did some good things,” Frost said. “We hadn’t done that a lot this year. Listen, we are overdue to get some breaks this year. I know we got some tipped balls and turnovers. Those things can happen when you are on a roll. I was really happy with the team just having the enthusiasm they had. Playing for each other and playing together. I feel like that was the difference.”

In a game with 54 points and four takeaways, I could have chosen any number of plays for this story. But the most nonsensical of Nebraska’s big plays perfectly captured just how Saturday afternoon went for the Huskers. 

That’s why JD Spielman’s first touchdown is this week’s Play of the Game.

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