Referees, Momentum, a Meltdown, and Perserverence in Lincoln


51-38..Wow, a shootout in Lincoln. When was the last time the Nebraska Cornhuskers gave up 38 points on their home field? You would have to go back to October 4th, 2008 during Bo Pellini’s first year when they lost to #3 Missouri 51-17. This game produced a lot more points than I had predicted (41-27), although the score differential was pretty close (-1). This game was certainly a wild one with massive momentum swings, often induced by bad calls by the referees (who apparently do not understand the rule book about punt interference), a total meltdown for 8 minutes by the Huskies (see above), and a great show of composure at times and perserverence at others.

First of all, let’s do a reality check; How many of you really believed UW was going to go on the road against the #10 team in the country and win? I know I didn’t (See the game day preview). But, the Huskies in general, and Keith Price in particular, showed an incredible amount of confidence and composure against a hostile crowd of 85,000 people (completely red). When the Huskers struck first after just 2 plays, my immediate thought was “oh boy, here we go again“. But, what happened instead was that Keith Price showed he truly is the QB of the future for the Dawgs by leading his team down the field 80 yards in 6 plays to answer.

The Huskies made some critical mistakes in the 1st half including Keith Price’s interception when they were driving in the 1st quarter and the fumble on the next drive, and yet the team stayed with it. But, let’s be honest, unfortunately once again for the Huskies, as we have seen a few too many times in the past 3-4 years, the referees played a huge roll in this game. A lot of people say you can never blame the referees for a loss, and in principal I agree with that, but it doesn’t mean they do not have an influence. I actually plan to have a post later this week asking that very question…But, I digress.

The first critical error the Huskies made was on Erik Folk’s great kickoff into the end zone early in the 2nd quarter for a touchback following UW’s touchdown that made it 14-10. The Huskies were called for offsides and Folk had to kick off again 5 yards further back. I didn’t see who was offsides (bad TV angles), but I have watched a lot of football in my day and players are offsides all the time on kickoffs and it is rarely called. On the next kickoff, Ameer Abdullah ran it back 66 yards and the Huskers would go on to score a touchdown to make it 17-14. Talk about momentum shift!

Later in the 2nd quarter, tied at 17, the Huskies were forced to punt with 1:49 left in the half. When the punt hit the Nebraska punt returner in the foot, it appeared as though the Huskies would have the ball well on the Nebraska side of the field with a chance to score a TD or at least a field goal to walk into the half in the lead. But, inexplicitly the referees called punt interference, even though the Nebraska returner had stumbled over his own player’s foot and no Husky was within 3 feet of him.

Every announcer on ABC, in addition (according to KJR’s Dave Mahler) to every media person including the Nebraska announcers, calling it a bad decision. Nebraska was awarded the ball back, plus 15 yards and would proceed to move down the field for the go ahead field goal as the half expired.

The 2nd half continued the “meltdown” which was clearly initiated by the next Washington punt. Kiel Rasp boomed it down the field 52 yards and Rex Burkhead received it cleanly before being knocked down by Desmond Trufant. Burkhead did not call a fair catch and Trufant clearly gave him room to catch it before hitting him. Nonetheless, a second punt interference penalty was called. This infuriated Nick Holt who recieved a sideline penalty and suddenly Nebraska had 20 fewer yards to work with. Nebraska would move quickly down the field and score a TD to go up 27-17. Then, on the ensuing kick off Bishop Sankey muffed the kick in the end zone and Nebraska recovered it at the one yard line and before you know it, it was 34-17.

But, give the Huskies credit. They did not give up. They could have thrown in the towel at this point, but instead Keith Price calmly lead the Huskies down the field to the Nebraska 17. On 3rd and 7, Keith Price passed the ball just a bit behind Jermaine Kearse (instead of leading him), which caused him to reach back, slowed his momentum, and allowed him to get tacked 2 yards short of the 1st down. At the Nebraska 12-yard line, it was 4th and 2 and when the Huskies went for it, and Price was sacked.

Nebraska would follow that momentum breaker with a long drive all the way down the field 86 yards for yet another TD and it was suddenly 44-17. But, give these kids credit, they still did not back down. We’ve seen the Huskies the past several years throw in the towel late in games when it appeared out of reach. But, Keith Price showed incredible leadership and resiliency!

Following a 66-yard kickoff return by Kevin Smith, Keith Price calmly lead the Huskies to a TD and it was 44-24. Following a stoic 3-and-out by the beleaugered defense, Chris Polk cruised up the field and then Keith Price found James Johnson in the end zone again to make it 44-31.

Following a failed onside kick, our defense, who has been eaten alive from the air this season suddenly found they couldn’t stop the run either. Nebraska ran 5 times for 43 yards to score yet another TD to make it 51-31. But, the Huskies would not stop. Keith Price found James Johnson on a 52-yard pass on the very next play and low-and-behold it was 51-38!

In the end, I am so proud of how the Huskies played in this game. Yes, mistakes were made, the Huskies had their chances, but I expected them to lose. I even expected them to lose badly. But, this team took the bad calls by the referees, the horrible mistakes they made themselves, and a talented Nebraska team and they kept their composure, they kept their pride, and they kept their sense of fight until the end. It is this change in attitude that is going to win games they would have lost in the past. It is this change in attitude that will give them a fighting chance late in games when they find themselves down.

I will admit, I was a doubter of Keith Price in the off-season. I wondered if Nick Montana would be the better choice. But, I doubt no more. Price will be the leader of this team for the next three years! His resilience to fight through the pain of two injured knees, even when his team was down by 20 points, is leadership enough. I have a very good feeling that when it is all said and done, Keith Price will be considered one of the Husky greats at the QB position and by his senior year, the Huskies will be right back where they should be, fighting for the Pac-12 championship!

So, let’s see what this team can do against Cal. I see no reason they can not come home next week and beat the Golden Bears and start their Pac-12 season 1-0. Clearly this defense still needs to improve. They are giving up far too many yards and far too many big plays. They have not shown they can stop the pass, and apparently they can’t stop the run either. They simply can not keep giving up 36 points per game and expect to win. But, the offense is scoring enough points to keep them in games. So, if the defense ever does get it together, this team has a chance to be better than the 7-5 record I predicted. But, if they do not start clamping down, one has to start wondering whether Nick Holt is worth all that money. However, that is a discussion for another day. I just hope they have the right attitude going into into next week, believing they can win… and that Sark still has a few secrets in his playbook.