Nebraska’s loss to Northwestern came down to the final play, but I’d say most Husker fans probably felt the game was over after Nebraska’s penultimate drive.
With Luke McCaffrey at the helm and a 21-13 deficit, the Huskers had a chance to score late and potentially tie the game with a two-point conversion. Instead, the redshirt freshman threw a bizarre interception, and that is this week’s Play of the Game.
Offense was a struggle all game long. Though they gained 442 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per rush, the Huskers had six chances in the red zone and came away with just one touchdown, and that came on a short field thanks to an interception by Myles Farmer.
“We had the ball down there and we got to punch it in,” Scott Frost said. “Had two field goals in the first half instead of two touchdowns. Missed another field goal. Two interceptions. To come away with 13 points is inexcusable. That’s my fault.”
With starting quarterback Adrian Martinez struggling with his decision-making and accuracy, Frost made a change and gave McCaffrey a chance to close out the game. On his second drive, McCaffrey marched the team down the field all the way to the 3-yard line. Two negative runs backed them up to the 8-yard line, but a pass interference call gave the Huskers a new set of downs at the 2. Another negative run moved them back 2 yards, and then things went sideways.
This @NUFBFamily defense makes big-time plays.
Zero second-half points allowed this year, too, by the way. pic.twitter.com/K94nNbkaCS
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 7, 2020
Nebraska ran Kade Warner across the formation on a jet sweep, and on the snap McCaffrey faked the handoff to Dedrick Mills. Tight end Travis Vokolek lined up next to left tackle Brenden Jaimes, and it looked like the play was designed to hit Vokolek with a quick pass over the middle.
However, right tackle Bryce Benhart got to the second level to block middle linebacker Paddy Fisher and McCaffrey’s pass bounced off the back of the 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman’s helmet.
I don't even know what to say. pic.twitter.com/FMBFngNLYo
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) November 7, 2020
Linebacker Chris Bergin caught the ball off the ricochet and advanced it forward about 5 yards with just over six minutes remaining.
The defense gave McCaffrey and the offense one last chance, but a fourth-down pass to Wan’Dale Robinson in the end zone fell incomplete, sealing the loss for Nebraska.
The play was somewhat flukey, but it’s also emblematic of Nebraska’s struggles this season and throughout Scott Frost’s tenure (to be fair, it’s been going on long before Frost got here, but we’ll just look at the last three years for now). Nebraska can’t get out of its own way, and in this case, a Husker literally did put himself in the ball’s path. Wether it was a schematic issue, a good defensive call by Northwestern, a bad throw or some combination of the above, what should have been six ended up in a turnover.
McCaffrey went 0-for-2 in the red zone. Martinez wasn’t any better, though, as the Huskers punched it in on just one of his four possessions inside the 20, a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Dedrick Mills after the aforementioned Farmer interception.
Frost made the quarterback change after Martinez threw his own interception in the end zone, ending a promising drive with what was a bad play all around. Martinez was way late on the throw to tight end Austin Allen and it popped up into the air on top of that, allowing cornerback Brandon Joseph to go up and snag it out of the air. That was the last we saw of Martinez.
“The timing was way off from what we expected and at that point I thought we needed a spark,” Frost said about the change.
The offense certainly looked better after McCaffrey took over, but it didn’t result in any more points on the board.
Nine penalties for 55 yards, two turnovers, 4-for-16 on third down and 3-for-6 in the red zone: that is Nebraska football right now, and the Huskers aren’t nearly talented enough to overcome all of that.
That’s why Luke McCaffrey’s fourth-quarter interception 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.