Nebraska Football battles back down 14 to make the first half intriguing
The Foster Farms Bowl on December 26, 2015, marks the last bowl game victory Nebraska Football has to date.
UCLA was favored by 6.5, according to Chris Roling of Bleacher Report. For one day in December, Nebraska had the national spotlight to itself. This contest was the nightcap on a slate of four games that day.
Heading into this game, primetime games between non-conference and conference foes for Nebraska over the years had left more to be desired. Sure, they took care of Michigan State not long before this matchup took place.
Still, a few solid wins, during respective past seasons, can quickly become overshadowed when you rack up more losses than wins in those appearances. If anything, the losses proved time and time again that the program was far removed from the dominant days of the ‘90s.
Granted, UCLA was not at the level of the Ohio State’s or USC’s of the world. Yes, John David Booty still frequents my nightmares from time-to-time. My younger self was a bit more unaware of how low Nebraska had fallen on the totem pole of national relevancy. However, with a win, Mike Riley and staff could prove that even with several gut-wrenching losses in year one, he and his staff did indeed have what it takes to beat quality opponents.
I do have to give credit, where credit is due. The game plan for the Huskers in this game was spectacular. Riley’s squad knew where their bread was buttered. They stuck to it and didn’t try and make Tommy Armstrong do too much. Often, I felt Pelini was not the best at making either in-game or out of game adjustments. That couldn’t be said on this day for Riley as turnovers plagued this Nebraska Football squad all season long. It was great to see a team that wasn’t content and made the necessary changes to help better position themselves for success.
In terms of play-calling, Nebraska went back to their roots, the ground and bound game. They did it early and often against an undersized UCLA defense. It’s not very often the ‘Skers have the advantage at the line of scrimmage, so when they do, as Husker fans, it’s important to revel in it. The first half came with a bit of back and forth.
The Bruins struck first in their opening series of the game. Quarterback Josh Rosen completed a pass on a 4th down and 1, to wide receiver Thomas Duarte .With the pass going for for 22 yards, that putt them at the Nebraska one yard-line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Paul Perkins on the following play.
Nebraska football got their first crack offensively with a little over 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter. A Running back by committee approach was the name of the game.
Devine Ozigbo, Imani Cross, and fullback Andy Janovich all got touches on the team’s first drive, which set the tone for the plan of attack for the remainder of the contest. UCLA also assisted the Cornhuskers in getting into scoring position. An early defensive pass interference and a 15-yard personal foul call brought Nebraska to the UCLA 17, along with a string of five and six-yard runs by Ozigbo and Cross. These gains propelled the Huskers to UCLA’s one-yard line, where Cross would run it in the endzone to even things up at seven apiece with 3:50 left in the first quarter.
From there, the Bruins would take a 14- point lead for a short time as they held that lead for only 1:32 actual game time. However, with their lead came the sound of the hype train starting up for Rosen for only the second time on the night. ESPN announcer Rod Gilmore who called the game was the conductor.
On Nebraska Football’s second drive of the game, one that was led by a balanced attack of run and pass, helping them land deep inside UCLA territory, Armstrong, on second & ten tucked and ran upfield only to have the ball knocked loose by a defender, giving the Bruins possession.
On the proceeding drive Rosen only needed four plays to take a one-touchdown lead at that point as he launched a missile to a wide-open receiver who had a step or two on his defender. UCLA now led 14-7 with 11:04 left in the second quarter.
Gilmore had praises for his quarterback after the 60-yard bomb by Rosen:
“I said it all week if he (Rosen) were coming out this year, He’d be the guy, He’d be the top quarterback.”
In true Nebraska Football never- lay-down fashion, they responded to UCLA taking a two-touchdown lead by scoring two touchdowns of their own. One came thanks to a 22-yard pickup off a jet sweep handoff to Jamal Turner. This led to a three-yard touchdown run by Terrell Newby.
The other helped tie the game at 21 and came on their second-to-last drive off the half. Armstrong more than made up for his earlier turnover by not only connecting with tight end Cethan Carter on a 24-yard pass play but also by utilizing his legs off a zone-read look, and gaining 26 yards off the keeper, placing Nebraska on UCLA’s 9-yard line, allowing Janovich to run the ball in for six off a 1-yard run.
Ultimately, after the Huskers tied it up, that was mostly it for the first half as both teams went into their locker rooms with the game tied at 21. Before the half ended, I saw the the most egregious penalty called on a football player I have ever seen in my life.
On UCLA’s second play of their final drive of the half, Rosen threw and completes a screen pass to the running back Perkins. When defensive back Nate Gerry closed in to make the tackle, it looked like a clean football hit, Gerry did not seem to launch at the receiver nor did he hit the receivers head first. He wrapped up.
In the end, it didn’t matter what I, the announcers, the rule expert on the call, or the people behind a firestorm of tweets thought. Gerry was called for targeting and was ejected upon review. I genuinely believe this play was one of few that sparked the controversy behind people not being able to determine what a tackle is supposed to look like at any level of football.
Gerry would express his frustration with the confirmed call by sharing some expletives with a nearby official as he walks off of the field headed for the locker room and rightfully so. The Huskers would have to live to fight another down without one of their more prominent defensive stars heading into the second half.