On Saturday, Nebraska’s seniors took the field at Memorial Stadium for the final time, and one of them made sure to send his class out on a winning note with a career game.
The Huskers had finally gotten on the board 48 minutes and 53 seconds into the game with a 36-yard field goal from freshman Barret Pickering, and following the kickoff the defense tackled Connor Hayward after a gain of 2 to set up second-and-8.
What followed was this week’s Play of the Game.
Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi took the snap and dropped back to pass, looking to his left. What he didn’t realize was that defensive coordinator Erik Chinander had drawn up a safety blitz off the opposite side.
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) November 17, 2018
Outside linebacker Luke Gifford lined up opposite of tight end Matt Sokol, but Sokol heads out on a route while Gifford rushes at right tackle Jordan Reid. Center Blake Bueter and right guard Kevin Jarvis double-team defensive end Freedom Akinmoldun while nose tackle Damion Daniels occupies left guard Tyler Higby and the other defensive end, Ben Stille, takes on left tackle Cole Chewins. Hayward has his eyes on Stille and steps up to offer help to Chewins had he needed it.
That left safety Antonio Reed completely unaccounted for coming off the right side.
“The right tackle actually was looking out at me, and then he looked away for a split second right when the ball snapped,” Reed said. “So that’s when I went. I never could’ve envisioned it, but I’m happy with the way it ended.”
The 6-foot-3 senior was on Lombardi almost immediately and Reed blasted him. Lombardi had no idea he was coming and the hit knocked the ball out.
Daniels was the first one to see the ball on the turf and he fell on top of it with Stille right on his heels.
Senior nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg mentioned the sack as one of the plays from the game that will stay with him for a long time.
“Reed’s sack on the quarterback, that was awesome,” Stoltenberg said. “He completely took that guy down and made a huge play for us, so that was great. I think that’s one that will stick.”
The offense got the ball at the Michigan State 20 with just over 10 minutes to play. The Nebraska drive — aided by a penalty from the Spartans — stalled out at the 3-yard line and the Huskers had to settle for a field goal, but Pickering knocked it through from 20 yards out to tie the game at 6-6 with 8:07 to play.
The sack-fumble capped an outstanding final game for Reed in Memorial Stadium as he finished with seven tackles including three for loss and a sack, two forced fumble, two pass break-ups and an interception.
“Oh my goodness, Reed was playing out of his mind,” senior safety Tre Neal said. “I kind of joked around with him, I said ‘I don’t know what that neck roll is putting into you and your game but you’re playing lights out today.’ I’ve been calling him Brian Urlacher throughout the week; he looks funny out there, a safety with a neck roll on. But he was playing out of his mind today and we expect that out of him.”
Reed had seen his playing time fluctuate all season as he played behind fellow seniors Neal and Aaron Williams, but on Saturday, he was in the right place at the right time all game long.
“He was kind of up and down at the beginning of the year,” Coach Scott Frost said. “He is certainly one of the most talented guys we have on defense. But, talent doesn’t matter if you’re not doing everything the right way, not in the right place. Antonio is that guy now, and it showed today. He was certainly the hero of our defense today. I couldn't be happier for him on senior day, last game at Memorial Stadium. That’s a great way to go out. So, my hat’s off to Antonio.”
The defense allowed just 53 yards the rest of the game (not including a questionable 15-yard pass interference call on Lamar Jackson) with 34 of those coming on one play. Nebraska went on to win 9-6, and the tide turned for good on Reed’s play.
That’s why Antonio Reed’s sack-fumble was 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.