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“What If” #3 of the 2018 Nebraska Football Season: Caleb Lightbourn Successfully Executes the Onside Kick Against Ohio State

What would have happened next?

Ohio State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

I know. If “ifs and buts” were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.

A “What If” series is perfect for the off-season. It is unproductive. It is a waste of time. It won’t change anything, but it is the off-season. Right now, I am up to five “what ifs” for the 2018 season. If you have ideas for any others, then send them my way.

#1 was “if Iowa kicked a field goal on fourth down.”

#2 was “if the weather against Michigan State was perfect.”

I think it is safe to say that Caleb Lightbourn was in his head. After a relatively successful year as punter as a freshman, something happened and it all went downhill for Lightbourn. Unfortunately it all appeared to come to a head when Nebraska attempted an on-side kick after going up 7-0 on Ohio State.

This happened.

If this was the only time Lightbourn would have whiffed on a kick, then I don’t think it would have been a big deal. It wasn’t for a lack of talent. It was likely all mental. Which is why I am happy he got to get a restart in a new environment. I wish him the best.


When a kicker whiffs on a kick it reminds me of when I used to do kick-offs in high school. Little fact. The officials tell you at the beginning of the game to tell them if you are going to do an onside, so they can signal to the other officials so they are ready and in position.

There were two times in the same season that I whiffed a kickoff so bad that it looked like an onside kick and we ended up recovering them both. So four things happen. The crowd cheers. Your teammates are pumped up. Your coaches are pissed. So are the officials. So I got an earful from my coaches when I got to the sideline, and I got an earful from the official on our next kickoff. Luckily, the official simply laughed when I told him it was an accident. He probably felt sorry for me.

It happened again that season, and from then on out every team we played always started each game yelling at each other to watch for the surprise onside kick.

Then I lowered my head in shame.


Back to our ridiculous what if...

So what happened next? Well Ohio State turned the ball over on downs. Then Nebraska got a punt blocked. Safety. Ohio State score. Each team fumbles the ball away.

Wow, what a crap start to a game.

Ohio State ends up winning the game by five. This was the point Nebraska started to turn things around. It was entirely obvious to those who watched the Huskers against Michigan, compared to the team that almost beat Ohio State in Columbus.

Tremendous progress. Yet, the record sat at 2-7. Brutal.

What if? What if Caleb Lighbourn doesn’t whiff on the onside kick and actually converts it?

It was an opportunity to go up 14-0 on Ohio State at the start of the game. We knew Nebraska could move the ball, and if they took care of it (which they didn’t) then the game could have been out of reach.

The box score reported only one turnover for Nebraska, but that doesn’t include the failed onside kick and the punt block.

If Ohio State is down 14-0 before their offense even gets the ball, then just think if they ended up punting with a chance for Nebraska to go up 21-0? Well that didn’t happen, and that is a part of this ridiculous exercise. However, I’m going to say that is exactly what would have happened. Nebraska would have gone up 21-0 or 17-0.

Sometimes in sports when weird things happen for a team then that vibe can take over and infect everything in touches. For example, plays like this:

If Nebraska starts the game 21-0 or 17-0, then I think they win the game. Ohio State was a very effective offensive team in 2018, especially with Dwayne Haskins, but I think 21-0 or 17-0 is too big a hole.

I could be wrong. I could be right. I’m probably wrong, but then again this whole this is ridiculous right? That’s okay.

Lastly, if Caleb Lightbourn executes the onside kick then maybe he gets out of his head and could still be at Nebraska.