Hey, Corn Nation. My name is Steve and I’m new to this place, but I’ll be writing some articles here and there. There’s nothing really special about myself, except that I love college football way more than you do. That’s a fact, it just is. Another fact is that I’m born and bred Nebraska, but I’m not old enough to remember how beast Nebraska was "back in the day". I take pride in looking at Nebraska objectively, so I say what I see — good or bad.
If you ever grow tired of discussing former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini’s second leaked audio tape, here’s my list of the Five Plays That Broke Nebraska’s Season And Got Bo Pelini Fired.
It’d be easy to point at any one of Melvin Gordon’s runs on Nov. 15, but that wouldn’t be fun, would it? This list will span the entire season, because NU’s season — and Pelini’s firing — were both an accumulation of things during the whole season.
5 -- Failed fourth down attempt against McNeese State
To kick things off, you have to go way back to Week Two against the McNeese State Cowboys. You may be asking yourself, "Why go all the way back to the second game of the season against an FCS opponent? Would it really warrant a Top Five selection?" Short answer, yes. Long answer, read:
On a fourth-and-one at the Cowboys’ 48-yard line with 13:07 left in the first quarter, on NU’s opening drive of the game, Pelini called a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. The offense broke the huddle and trotted back to the field.
I firmly believe that offensive coordinator Tim Beck originally had a called run to star running back Ameer Abdullah behind his big offensive line. But like any good quarterback would do, Armstrong scanned the defense before the snap and appeared to audible (or maybe Beck radioed down) to another play — a speed option to try to get the edge.
The ball was snapped and the play was blown up. A turnover on downs that lead to the Cowboys scoring a touchdown on their ensuing drive to put them up 7-0.
This is No. 5 because it showed us that if the opponent watched enough film of Nebraska, they will be able to pick up on little things — even audibles to certain plays — and take advantage of it. This is true for every team, but it showed the inability for the coaching staff to switch things up or change.
During the play, Cowboys’ outside linebacker Deonte Thompson shot out of his stance immediately as the ball was snapped and knocked NU receiver Kenny Bell back five yards which forced Armstrong to string it out and pitch to Abdullah. Cowboy’s true freshman safety Dominique Hill quickly shed a block and tackled Abdullah for a loss.
That play makes the Top Five because of what it said to me. It was Thompson’s angle that he took that leads me to believe that the Cowboys knew what and where NU would try to run in that situation from simple film homework.
Nebraska fans everywhere can recall a game where it seemed like Pelini and his coaching staff never adjusted or changed their scheme or style of play. But in my opinion, in the second game of the season against an FCS opponent, that was some major foreshadowing.
4 -- Melvin Gordon's 62-yard touchdown run.
Melvin Gordon’s 62-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of the Wisconsin game. You remember it — the play where Wisconsin simply ran to the weak side of its formation and Gordon sprinted around the edge of his wall of blockers like a Olympic sprinter running the curve.
It was topped off with Corey Cooper’s attempt at a tackle, going for the fling-my-body-against-his-legs-and-hope-he-goes-out-of-bounds tackle instead of wrapping his arms around Gordon and bringing him to the ground.
That play said two things to me right away; A) If one player doesn’t do his job, Pelini’s defensive scheme is very susceptible to big plays, as shown on that play when Greg McMullin got hooked, the cardinal sin of every defensive end in football.
And let’s not forget corner Daniel Davie, who rode his Badgers' receiver all the way to said receiver's destination — to block the safety on the play, Nate Gerry. Because Davie rode his guy into the muck of everyone, there was no corner to set the edge and force Gordon back into the defense. Davie’s mistake killed two birds with one stone, so to speak, not to mention the verbal assault he got from Pelini on the sideline.
B) This play gave me a sense of panic with Pelini. It was one play, and NU was still leading 17-10. In my opinion, he started to freak when Gordon ripped off a big run. He probably felt things starting to slip away at that point, which made him blow up on Davie for one of his patented live-on-national-television meltdowns.
Another thing — how do you suppose that looked to his players when Pelini laid into Davie longer than usual, following Davie in his ear all the way to the bench area?
I got the sense that the players saw that and might have been afraid to make mistakes from then on, which, if you know anything about sports, is not the way you want your players to be playing.
3 -- Austin Appleby's touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Next on our list comes at the 10:18-mark in the fourth quarter of the Purdue game. Boilers’ young and talented quarterback, Austin Appleby, took a under-center snap and rocketed a pass to receiver Cameron Posey for a 23-yard touchdown after NU safety Corey Cooper blew a coverage.
So what, right? NU still won the game, right? It made the score 28-14, close enough that fans were forced to stick around just a little bit longer to see if Purdue would make something out of it — against Purdue. B1G cellar-dwelling Purdue.
The Huskers went on to add another touchdown and win 35-14 against a better team than most realize. This moment is No. 3 because of the fact that NU couldn’t put away the Boilermakers on its home field until late in the game.
It was another hint of foreshadowing, in my eyes. Right before the meat of NU’s schedule, no less.
2 -- Mitch Leidner's touchdown run late in fourth quarter.
Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner’s two-yard touchdown run to put the Gophers up 28-24 and complete a double-digit comeback.
This was the No. 2 play because of what it said to me — two things specifically as I watched Leidner bulldoze over Nate Gerry at the goal line with 3:30 left in the game; A) Was Nebraska at Minnesota’s level, or was Minnesota at Nebraska’s? That’s what I was asking myself. Sad question, isn’t it?
B) Jerry Kill is excellent. He built that program up to be a contender in the B1G western division with his recruiting. He recruits guys for his scheme he wants to play —big running backs, bigger quarterbacks, nasty offensive lineman you wouldn’t want to upset at a bar.
1 -- Melvin Gordon's record-breaking touchdown run.
Melvin Gordon’s 26-yard run into the end zone as time expired in the third quarter to put the Wisconsin up 59-17, and more importantly, to break the then FBS single-game rushing record that stood since LaDainian Tomlinson was running rampant in Fort Worth from 1997-2000.
This play is at No. 1 because it was "The Point Of No Return", so to speak, for many Husker fans. Pelini was once again blown out on a national stage — and gave up a FBS record while doing it.
That loss put so much doubt in Husker Nation, because everyone was looking to next week, and wondering how in the world NU was going to stop Minnesota’s run game after just witnessing Wisconsin history.
That play that was the single-greatest breaking point for NU’s season. It didn’t end the Huskers' chances at making the B1G championship game, but it made NU a punchline and trivia answer for years to come.
According to NU Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, it "crystalized" for him after the Iowa game that a change needed to be made. For me, it was long ago, more like two years ago. But Melvin Gordon’s then record-breaking run was the biggest single play that broke Nebraska’s season and got Pelini fired.