Play of the Game: Nebraska Defense Can't Deliver in Crucial Moment
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Play of the Game: Nebraska Defense Can’t Deliver in Crucial Moment

October 27, 2019

Nebraska’s 38-31 loss to Indiana on Saturday featured several peaks and valleys for the Huskers, but at the end of the evening — donned in Blackshirt-themed alternate jerseys — Nebraska’s defense had a chance to get a stop and give the ball back to the offense in a one-score game with just over three minutes to play.

The Huskers couldn’t deliver.

This week’s Play of the Game is Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey’s third-down run late that moved the chains and allowed the Hoosiers to run out the clock.

The Huskers looked to be in serious trouble after the Hoosiers pulled ahead 38-24 midway through the fourth quarter, but Nebraska went 75 yards in less than two minutes to make it a one-touchdown game once again.

However, Nebraska did get a stop, ending a six-play, 35-yard Hoosier drive with a third-down sack by Khalil Davis. Indiana punted the ball back to Nebraska and buried the Huskers deep, but a couple big plays by JD Spielman pushed the Huskers inside the Indiana 40. The drive stalled from there, however, and an incomplete pass on fourth down gave Indiana the ball back at its own 34-yard line with 3:23 to play.

A 3-yard run on first down, a Nebraska timeout and an incomplete pass on second down gave Nebraska a chance to get the ball back quickly. On third and 7 at the 37-yard line with 3:14 on the clock, Ramsey took the snap, dropped back and surveyed the field.

Ramsey didn’t see any open receivers initially and he felt some pressure off his left side, so he took off to his right and scrambled for an 11-yard gain.

Nebraska had two defensive linemen lined up outside of the right guard, the third linemen in the A gap between the center and right guard and freshman outside linebacker Garrett Nelson tight just outside the tackle. Indiana had two receivers tight to either side of the formation and a running back next to Ramsey in the backfield.

After the snap, Ben Stille got a decent push against the left tackle off the right side. Nebraska sent Collin Miller after the passer from the second level, and after a moment of hesitation Will Honas, the other inside linebacker, took off up the middle and ran right into the back in protection.

Meanwhile, the receivers on the right side ran their routes, taking the cornerback and the nickel back on that side of the field with them. Nelson got sucked inside a bit too far and Ramsey recognized there was no one at all to stop him up the right sideline, so he took off.

“That was my fault,” Nelson said after the game. “I was supposed to have outside contain and I just got locked up by the tackle. That’s on me.”

Runs of 11, 7 and 4 by running back Stevie Scott III and a few kneel-downs later and the clock showed zeroes.

Getting off the field on third-and-long was a problem all day (and all season, for the most part). Indiana converted seven of its 14 third downs and both of its fourth down attempts. The Hoosiers converted third-down distances of 6 (with a 22-yard gain), 8 (with a 19-yard gain) and 12 (with a 23-yard gain) before the third-and-7 run that essentially sealed it.

“That’s frustrating,” Nelson said. “When you’ve got them backed up and it’s third and forever, and they convert it, that’s very frustrating. As a defense and as a unit, we just need to find a way to get that stopped and get it off the field.”

Nebraska shot itself in the foot time and time again, but at the end of all that the Huskers still had an opportunity to make a play and give themselves a chance to win. The team spent the entire bye week getting “back to the basics” and focusing on fundamentals, yet with the game on the line, the basics failed Nebraska.

That’s why Peyton Ramsey’s 11-yard run off third-and-7 in the fourth quarter is this week’s Play of the Game.

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