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Plays of the Game: Two Plays That Made the Difference for Nebraska

October 06, 2019

Typically, this space is reserved for highlighting one single play, either the play that swings the game, a true highlight-reel play or the play that sealed the game. In this case, however, we’re giving you a little extra bang for your buck with a two-for-one offering as the final minute of Nebraska’s 13-10 win over Northwestern featured all three kinds of plays.

This week’s Plays of the Game are Lamar Jackson’s interception and Noah Vedral’s 32-yard completion to Wan’Dale Robinson. We’ll have more on the third kind of play later.

A little luck never hurts and the Huskers certainly got some on the play that changed the game. A Nebraska punt bounced into the end zone for a touchback, giving the Wildcats the ball at the 20 with 2:13 to play. Northwestern proceeded to march down the field with gains of 6, 6, 0, 11 and 9. The last three plays were passes, the third of which took Northwestern across midfield. 

Quarterback Aidan Smith dropped back to pass again, only the fourth time wasn’t the charm.

It looked like Wisconsin was trying to run a pick play of some kind to the right side of the field but Smith targeted the receiver slanting over the middle and linebacker Will Honas ran into him, bumping him off his route. With no receiver on the end of the pass, it sailed right into the hands of Lamar Jackson for the interception.

It looked like Jackson had an angle to the sideline but instead he cut it back inside and got just 11 yards on the return, something former Nebraska cornerback Chris Jones let him hear about on Twitter.

Even so, Jackson got the ball back for Nebraska with 1:00 on the clock and 49 yards to go. 

“It’s one of those things, right place at the right time. I mean that’s pretty much what happened on my run, it was just a little bit of indecisiveness,” Jackson said. “It was a blessing, at the end of the day, you can call that a gimme. It landed right in my hands, caught it as I was supposed to, but at the end of the day I was a little disappointed, just because I know what I’m supposed to do, I had to make that play for the team.”

Nebraska’s first play was a 1-yard run up the middle for Dedrick Mills. On second down, however, Coach Scott Frost put the ball in the hands of his back-up quarterback, playing in place of an injured Adrian Martinez, and Noah Vedral made the most important throw of his college career to date.

On second-and-9, Nebraska sent four receivers downfield with the running back hanging in the backfield. Tight end Jack Stoll and receiver Wan’Dale Robinson worked up the right sideline then Stoll turned his route towards the middle of the field as Robinson continued on. Seeing the safety was too far inside to break on the play, Vedral took a shot for Robinson.

"It's one of our familiar concepts that our guys know like the back of their hands, so we felt comfortable calling it, and I know Coach Frost knows that, too,” Vedral said.

The Wahoo native put the ball in the perfect place, between Robinson and the sideline, and the dynamic freshman went up and got the ball, making sure the cornerback didn't have a chance to break it up.

Robinson secured the ball and went down in-bounds for a gain of 32 yards. 

“He handled it great and I think it was plugged into what we wanted to do — the long pass down the sideline to Wan’Dale that got us in field goal range was something that wasn't even on the call sheet,” Frost said. “So we are just kind of trying to adjust and get him in something that we thought would work based on the way they were rotating on that motion. He made a good throw. Wan’Dale made a good play. It was great to see him on that last play; we called something that we hadn't practiced.”

Nebraska ran to the line to make sure it was ready to go when the clock started, but a false start backed the Huskers up to the 21-yard line and forced Frost to burn a timeout to prevent a 10-second run-off.

Three runs later, (including two for 13 yards by Vedral) and Lane McCallum kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Nebraska ran 12 plays for a total of 18 yards with Vedral at quarterback before that throw, but when Nebraska needed him most he made a play. 

“Noah’s been biding his time in our program as a coaching staff for a long time,” Frost said. “It's great to see him get his chance. I wish it wasn’t under the circumstances it was under, but he made the most of it. I think [he] made a couple plays when we needed him to, and we'll see where we are going into next week. Hopefully, it's Adrian. If it isn't then Noah [will] be ready."

Vedral was ready this week, but he wouldn’t have gotten the chance to make that play without the defense creating the only turnover over the game when Nebraska needed it most.

That’s why this week’s Plays of the Game are Lamar Jackson’s interception and Noah Vedral’s 32-yard completion to Wan’Dale Robinson.

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