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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Scoop and Score, a Left-Handed Throw Make for Top Plays in Nebraska’s Win

November 15, 2020

Nebraska picked up its first win of the season on Saturday afternoon, jumping out to a big lead then holding on late for a 30-23 victory over Penn State at Memorial Stadium.

It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, but there was a lot to get excited about — starting with the performance of Nebraska’s new starting quarterback.

Let’s dive in to some of the top plays from the game.

Luke McCaffrey didn’t waste any time getting the fans excited. After a handoff to Dedrick Mills on the first play, Scott Frost put the ball in McCaffrey’s hands on second down.

McCaffrey dropped back to pass, but Penn State filled right guard Matt Farniok with a tickle-end stunt, resulting in a free lane for the end to the quarterback. He saw it coming, however, easily avoiding the rusher and rolling out of the pocket to his right while keeping his eyes downfield.

Penn State initially had the receivers to that side of the field covered, but the outside linebacker (No. 40) got caught peeking into the backfield and Austin Allen turned his route downfield. McCaffrey saw him come free and threw it up to the 6-foot-8 tight end.

Last week, Allen took the blame for McCaffrey’s interception in the end zone, saying he should have gone up and attacked the ball before the safety could pick it off. He made up for it this week, snatching the ball out of the air in the middle of four Nittany Lions and holding on despite a big hit from the safety.

The throw went for 25 yards, but it wasn’t the only big play McCaffrey made on the first drive.

So far this season, any kind of setback — though most often a penalty — has been a death sentence for Nebraska’s offense. It’s been almost shocking how consistently terrible Nebraska has been following penalties.

Well, sure enough, during the first drive on Saturday, Nebraska got whistled for a false start. A third-and-5 turned into a third-and-10 near midfield. This is where things went south in the first two games. McCaffrey wasn’t ready for his first drive as Nebraska’s starting quarterback to end, however.

Frost called a quarterback draw and McCaffrey made the most of it.

Right defensive end Shaka Toney fell for the draw and dropped back into coverage a couple of steps before realizing it wasn’t a pass play. Penn State brought the other defensive end around on a stunt to the middle. Dedrick Mills picked up the stunt, but McCaffrey didn’t like what he saw there and bounced it outside around left tackle Brendan Jaimes.

The defensive end wasn’t able to change direction in time to set the edge and McCaffrey uses his quickness to beat him to the edge then turned on the jets up the sideline. A linebacker and safety chased him out of bounds, but not before he had picked up 12 yards.

Six plays later, McCaffrey punched the ball in from inside the 1 for his first touchdown of the season. It was the first touchdown for the Huskers all season on a drive that included a penalty.

McCaffrey didn’t have to do much on his first passing touchdown of the season. In fact, the ball only traveled about about a foot through the air. Freshman wide receiver Zavier Betts did the rest.

With two tight ends stacked to the right of Bryce Benhart, Nebraska ran Betts on a jet motion, something the Huskers have used mostly as a decoy this season. This time, however, McCaffrey gave it to him with a forward pitch (making it a pass play).

Running back Marvin Scott III and tight end Jack Stoll made the blocks to spring Betts, allowing him to turn upfield at the hash marks. The other tight end, Travis Vokolek, picked off the safety while the outside receiver occupied the corner on that side.

From there, it was a straight sprint for Betts to the end zone for a 45-yard score. It’s a play the Bellevue West product has run a time or two before.

“When we put that in earlier this week, I was like ‘wait a minute, we ran that play in high school. I’m going to love this play,’” Betts said. “When I got that call during the game, I was just excited. There were no nerves in me, I was ready to go. I wanted that play so bad.”

It didn’t take long for Nebraska to make another big play, and this one came on the opposite side of the ball.

On the ensuing drive, Penn State sent in back-up quarterback Will Levis on 3rd and 1 for a quarterback sneak. Levis picked up 2 yards then starter Sean Clifford checked back in. Running back Devyn Ford picked up 7 yards his next carry, then Clifford faked the handoff to Ford and kept it himself. Deontai Williams wasn’t fooled.

Williams and outside linebacker JoJo Domann started near the line of scrimmage, and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander sent them on a blitz. Williams ducked his shoulder and slid past the attempted chip by star tight end Pat Freiermuth and had a clear path to Clifford.

Williams got home, wrapped up the quarterback and knocked the ball free before the official blew the play dead. He stopped the ball up at the 26-yard line and ran it for the touchdown to put the Huskers up three scores.

Williams showed a lot of rust and some questionable tackling technique in his first two (partial) games after missing all but one half of the 2019 season, but he looked more like the dynamic playmaker in the back-end the coaches were so excited about heading into last season. He also had a big pass break-up on third-and-8 during Penn State’s first drive of the third quarter, leading to a missed field goal attempt.

Let’s wrap things up with one more play by McCaffrey, shall we? If you watched the game, I’m sure you can guess which one I’m talking about.

Late in the first half, the defense forced a Penn State punt which Cam Taylor-Britt returned 25 yards, giving the Huskers great field position in Nittany Lion territory with 1:39 to go. Nebraska covered a fourth down to keep the drive alive, but followed it up with a 1-yard rush and an incomplete pass.

On third-and-9 at the 28-yard line with 51 seconds on the clock, McCaffrey dropped back to pass.

McCaffrey didn’t see anybody open, and as the tackles forced the edge rushers deep into the backfield the quarterback stepped up in the pocket. However, the interior linemen ran a stunt to get Fred Hansasrd (No. 53) free. Ethan Piper initially picked him up, but as McCaffrey tried to escape the pocket Hansard got off the block and tackled McCaffrey.

However, the resourceful quarterback managed to get rid of the ball just as he got hit — with his left hand. Scott caught the ball and ran through the first tackle attempt, crossing the line to gain and picking up 14 yards before three Nittany Lions finally managed to take him down.

“I actually didn’t really realize it until later,” McCaffrey said about the throw. “Marvin Scott III made a really good catch on that. It was not the best ball in the world and his little scamper after it was pretty cool, too.”

Scott got tackled short of the line to gain on the next third down and Nebraska kicked a 25-yard field goal as the clock ran out, giving the Huskers a 27-6 lead at the break.

The second half didn’t feature nearly as many highlights by Nebraska, but the Huskers did make just enough plays to hold on for the win, giving them something to build on moving forward.

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