Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Play of the Game: Nebraska’s Third-and-10 Fourth-Quarter Incompletion

November 06, 2021

Nebraska’s defense and Samori Touré made a number of big plays to give Nebraska a chance against Ohio State, but as we’ve seen so many times already this season, the Huskers couldn’t find a way to get over the hump.

Nebraska’s last real chance to take the lead came midway through the fourth quarter, and it ended with this week’s Play of the Game: Nebraska’s third-and-10 incompletion with 5:23 to go.

Thanks to an intentional grounding call resulting from a Caleb Tannor sack that put the Buckeyes way behind the chains, the defense forced a punt trailing 23-17. Oliver Martin fair-caught the ball at the 10-yard line, giving the Huskers 90 yards to go with plenty of time on the clock.

On first down, Adrian Martinez, who had been hobbling much of the game, scrambled for 21 yards to get the Huskers out of the deep end of their own territory. Scott Frost couldn’t have asked for a better start to a potential go-ahead drive.

Would this be the time Nebraska stepped up in the clutch?

The answer proved to be no. On the next play, Martinez targeted Zavier Betts, but Bryson Shaw broke it up. On second down, Martinez tried Omar Manning, and once again a defender, this time Marcus Williamson, broke up the pass.

That set up a third-and-10 situation, which was the first possible scenario. It didn’t go well.

Nebraska sent out 11 personnel with Manning and Touré to the right, tight end Travis Vokolek off right tackle and Levi Falck isolated to the left.

The offensive line actually gave Martinez decent protection, a rarity on Saturday. He had three full seconds and a clean pocket to find a receiver before a Buckeye got in his face late. However, none of the receivers really created any separation.

Vokolek sat down short of the sticks, Touré went deep and Manning tried to run a post route past the sticks. Manning was Nebraska’s best bet on the play, and that’s where Martinez went. Manning tried to cross in front of Williamson’s face but the Buckeye put his hands on Manning as he looked to make his break.

It looked like Williamson gave Manning a tug with the ball in the air, and Manning got tripped up. Feet getting tangled up would not be a penalty, but any kind of grabbing up top should be. Myles Farmer had a similar play with seemingly less contact and arguably a less catchable ball result in a penalty early in the game, but Nebraska couldn’t get the same flag.

The ball fell incomplete and the Huskers punted the ball away with 5:17 remaining. It was a beauty of a punt, traveling 56 yards with no return.

The Buckeyes then chewed up nearly four minutes of game clock and didn’t face a third down until the end of the drive, leading to a field goal that put the Buckeyes up by nine with 89 seconds remaining. Game over.

Did Nebraska get the short end of the stick there from the officials? Probably. But the Huskers put themselves in that position by failing to stay ahead of the sticks by stacking success on top of success.

Nebraska was 1-of-12 on third down at that point in the game. The first conversion didn’t come until early in the fourth quarter. The second came on Nebraska’s last drive, and Martinez threw an interception on the next play.

Nebraska’s defense gave the Huskers so may chances to take control of the game, but the Huskers couldn’t capitalize. That’s why they found themselves in that third-and-10 situation in the first place, and the Huskers failing to convert there slammed the door shut on their comeback hopes.

That’s why that incompletion is this week’s Play of the Game.

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