Notebook: Freshman Cross cashes in during key moments

2012-11-11T02:00:00Z 2012-11-11T02:13:28Z Notebook: Freshman Cross cashes in during key momentsBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

How to solve the red-zone issues? Call on the bulldozer freshman.

Imani Cross played a pivotal role in Nebraska's 32-23 comeback win against Penn State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, excelling as the short-yardage back in some key situations.

Cross barreled into the end zone twice in a three-minute span to tie the game at 20 early in the third quarter.

The first score came from a yard out. The second from 2.

"I'm glad that the coaches trusted me," said the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Cross. "I'm glad that we're able to be in position to score. I'm happy in how great the offensive line played. It was a fortunate situation and I'm happy about it."

What does Cross think when his number is called with NU inside the 5-yard line?

"Follow the offensive line to glory land," he said.

If it sounds easy, it's not, as Nebraska's offense showed in the first half, when it twice had to settle for field goals after moving inside the Penn State 10.

Cross didn't have a carry in the first half. His first carry? A touchdown.

He ended with 22 yards on eight carries. Coaches also trusted him to tote the ball on the final drive, with NU leading by six points. 

* Close call: In his postgame interview NU coach Bo Pelini said he had not seen a replay of Penn State's fourth-quarter fumble at the goal line.

Husker linebacker David Santos hit tight end Matt Lehman just as he reached the ball toward the goal line.

Daimion Stafford recovered the fumble in the end zone, helping the Huskers maintain a 27-23 lead with 7:39 left.

Officials reviewed the play and elected not to overturn their original call of a fumble.

"I have not seen it, but I know one thing that helps you in that situation is how they call it on the field," Pelini said. "You have to have indisputable evidence to overrule it, and something that is that bang-bang usually ends up going how they ruled it on the field. We were kind of fortunate that they called it that way out there on the field."

Defensive coordinator John Papuchis liked the fight his defense showed near the goal line to come up with a game-changing play like that.

"You do what you gotta do to play one more down," he said. "It's something you emphasize. The fact that it happened, though, I'm not taking the credit for it. That was a good play by David and great reaction by our team."

* Claiming turnovers: A constant area of focus leading into the game was the turnover battle.

Penn State came into the game plus nine in turnovers, tops in the conference. Nebraska came in minus nine, last in the conference.

But Saturday, the Huskers won the turnover battle 3-2.

Besides the goal-line fumble, Nebraska's Alonzo Whaley forced a fumble inside the Husker 10 in the first quarter.

And safety Daimion Stafford intercepted a Matt McGloin pass early in the third quarter and returned it to the Penn State 4 to set up a touchdown and tie the game at 20.

Nebraska's defense also got a safety in the final quarter when Cameron Meredith forced McGloin into an intentional-grounding call in the end zone.

"I just thought we needed to make some plays to help our offense out," Papuchis said. "The play by Stafford, the sack to force the safety, two in the red zone, those are critical plays, and, obviously, it made the difference in the game."

* Battling the wind: The flags were whipping, with wind gusts of more than 45 mph.

Nebraska struggled on offense driving into the wind in the second quarter, registering 62 yards in the period.

"There was one pass in particular, it was on the sideline to Kenny Bell where he was pretty open," Pelini said. "It was going right to him and you could just see the wind take it right out of the way. … It's hard to get a rhythm in that situation, and that also plays into the play calling a little bit."

* Maher comes up big late: The wind made it tough for kickers and punters, too.

Especially if you were kicking into it.

Senior Brett Maher found out the hard way with a 16-yard punt in the second quarter.

But he came up with a booming punt in the fourth quarter, using the wind to knock the ball 69 yards. It landed out of bounds at the Penn State 2.

"I was just trying to help the team out and put them in a good position," Maher said. "Our defense was playing well the whole second half, and we were just trying to pin them deep. It ended up being a pretty big play in the game."

Two plays later, the Nebraska defense recorded a safety.

As a kicker, Maher connected on 3-of-3 field-goal attempts, including a 33-yarder with 23 seconds left to put the game away.

Maher said it's important as a kicker to always be thinking about your next kick.

"You can't dwell on what happened in the past," he said. "This was probably the toughest conditions I have ever kicked in, so it was just a time when you had to control what you could control."

* Evaluating Martinez: Nebraska junior quarterback Taylor Martinez surpassed 100 yards rushing for the fourth time this season, gaining 104 on 15 carries.

Some of those runs came on scrambles, including a few key third-down ones for first downs.

"I thought Taylor played his butt off," Pelini said.

There was only one play that Pelini pointed out as disappointing in regard to his quarterback.

"I wish he would've wrapped two hands around the football on the quarterback trap where we put the ball on the ground," Pelini said of Martinez's fumble inside the Penn State 5 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

"But I thought he played at a pretty high level. He was calm the whole time."

* Play it again, Tim: Nebraska ran a simple toss sweep upward of 20 times, often going to Ameer Abdullah, who finished with 116 yards on 31 carries.

Nebraska often went up-tempo when running the play, finding more success than not doing so.

It seemed to help the Huskers wear down Penn State as the game wore on. NU controlled the ball for more than 34 minutes, even though Nebraska ran just six more plays.

Part of the reason was Penn State's offense was playing at a very fast tempo itself.

"I was a little surprised in the first half that they went as much tempo as they did," Pelini said. "Because, I thought they would want to limit the amount of touches our offense got. I thought the time of possession and our ability to keep drives going and win that part of the game was big for us."

* This and that: Throwing for 171 yards on 12-of-20 passing, Martinez now has 5,832 career yards. He needs just 18 to match Zac Taylor's Husker career passing yardage record. … Kenny Bell had two catches for 31 yards. He has now caught a pass in 22 straight games. Bell, who has 67 career catches, is now tied for 16th in the Husker record book with Irving Fryar. … With his 60 receiving yards, including a big 56-yard catch in the fourth quarter, Kyler Reed became the fifth Husker tight end to have more than 1,000 career receiving yards. … Penn State completed just 18 of 37 passes, becoming the eighth team in 10 games that Nebraska has held to a completion percentage of less than 50 percent.

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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