For a brief moment, after Devine Ozigbo’s first quarter touchdown that put the Huskers up 10-7. Did Mike Riley have one last upset left in his bag?
The answer is obviously no. Penn State responded with a seven-play, 66-yard touchdown drive that sparked a 35-0 run to finish the first half. Forty-three of those 66 yards came on one play, a catch-and-run by receiver Juwan Johnson, and that is this week’s Play of the Game.
The Huskers stuffed Saquon Barkley for no gain on first down and held Trace McSorley to a gain of 1 on second, but Barkley ripped off a 10-yard gain to move the chains and keep the drive alive.
On first down, Penn State dialed up a play-action fake, sucking in the linebackers, and took a shot on an intermediate route. Johnson, a 6-foot-4, 226-pound redshirt sophomore, ran a simple post route. Cornerback Lamar Jackson, as corners usually do in Bob Diaco’s defense, played about 5 yards off of him and tired to make a break on him as Johnson made his cut inside.
Nebraska didn’t get any pressure, partly because of the run fake, partly because Nebraska almost never gets pressure and partly because the play was such a quick-hitter, and McSorley hit Johnson in stride just past the line to gain. Jackson met Johnson right as he caught the ball but slid right off of him. Safety Joshua Kalu broke on the play as well, threw his body into Johnson and bounced right off.
Johnson cut back across the field and picked up another blocker ahead of him, running up the right sideline and reaching the 11-yard line before safety Aaron Williams finally forced him out of bounds.
— Derek Peterson (@DrPeteyHV) November 18, 2017
Three plays later, Barkley punched it in from a yard out to re-take the lead for Penn State, and the Nittany Lions never looked back. Johnson finished with five catches for 105 yards, the first 100-yard day of his career.
Soft coverage and poor tackling have cost Nebraska all season long, so it should come as no surprise that a team with explosive playmakers like McSorley, Barkley, tight end Mike Gesicki and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton managed to put up big numbers on Nebraska. But the Nittany Lions ripped off 15 explosive plays, totaled 609 yards and scored 56 points.
Johnson’s catch-and-run encapsulated all of the issues with Nebraska’s defense, both in this game and in this season overall, and it sparked the series of events that turned the game from a competitive battle into a blowout. That’s why Jawun Johnson’s 43-yard reception in the first quarter 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.