STATE COLLEGE, Pa.— While traversing the final 35 yards on his 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Nebraska’s Kenny Bell had the same thought in his head that most returners do: Don’t get tackled by the kicker.
“You will never live it down if you get tackled by the kicker," Bell said.
Bell managed to avoid that particular indignity, leaping over Penn State kicker Sam Ficken's diving tackle attempt at the 30-yard line and making his way down the sideline to complete the Huskers first kickoff return for a score since 2011.
It would be as big a play as any in Nebraska’s 23-20 overtime win over Penn State.
It also came from a special-teams unit that has been much-maligned lately.
“I think everybody did their job,” Bell said. “We talk about it every day. Just do your job. Just execute your job, and that’s what happens, when everyone does their job, good things come from it.”
The play came at a key time for Nebraska, which had just fallen behind 13-7 early in the third quarter when Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg scored on a 7-yard run.
“It was big,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said. “We turned the ball over a couple times and kind of gave them a short field. We were going in in the first half (and fumbled). Obviously Kenny's (play), that helps you dig yourself out of a hole. He stepped up and made a play. I thought Kenny played a good football game, but that was a big play. That was pretty sweet when he got over the kicker.”
I can't hear you
Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said the coaching staff and the players hear the negative comments that follow the program — and disregard them.
“That’s mostly for guys in their basements that put a cyber mustache on and follow 18-year old kids,” Kaczenski said. “The only thing I envy is their time.
“Our guys are in the arena, the coaches are in the arena and I would much rather be in the arena than be a critic. Usually the people snaking comments like that have never been in the arena, so it doesn’t matter. As young as our kids are, they’re able to push through adversity and push through that noise. They understand that’s a minority voice. They know what Nebraska people think of them, that’s why that place (Memorial Stadium) has sold out since 1962.”
The offense never got going under redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong during the first three series, but that was not the reason you did not see him the rest of the game.
Pelini said Armstrong turned his ankle.
“I think Tommy could have come back in, but he didn’t feel comfortable putting pressure on it,” Pelini said.
As for Friday’s game against Iowa?
“I think he will make it for next week,” Pelini said. ‘He has been playing on a gimpy ankle, so it is nothing new. He has been playing like that for a few weeks. It is sprained.”
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck wasn’t ready moments after the game to start talking about who would start against the Hawkeyes.
Asked if there was any chance of senior Taylor Martinez gutting it out if need be, Beck seemed to think that would be most unlikely.
True freshman Johnny Stanton made his first road trip on Saturday, but Beck said there was no thought to using him and that he’s just there to gain the experience during this redshirt season.
Nebraska’s third-string quarterback for the moment, Beck said, is Ryker Fyfe.
Among the handful of big plays in this game was a third-and-14 from Nebraska’s own 1 in the final two minutes.
The Huskers were buried deep in their own territory after Ron Kellogg dropped a snap and avoided a near safety on the sack.
Nebraska was in a bad spot, on the verge of punting and giving Penn State great field position to perhaps win the game in regulation.
“Bo brought it up. He said, ‘What do you think about chucking one?’” Beck said. “I said, ‘Why not?’ Worse-case scenario it gets intercepted and it’s good as a punt. … We’ll max protect it and throw it up there. Ronnie picked the right side and threw a good ball.”
The deep pass for Quincy Enunwa drew a pass-interference call, allowing Nebraska a first down and not having to punt from its own end zone.
“I thought it was the right thing to do and I wanted to take a shot right there,” Pelini said. “What else are you going to do?”
Chugging for glory
Kellogg is certainly not known as a running quarterback.
“They make fun of me every time I run because I just don’t run,” the senior said.
But Kellogg took off for a 12-yard run late in the third quarter that had to give some inspiration to his teammates, claiming a first down on a second-and-10 play.
It helped Nebraska set up a field goal to take a 17-13 lead.
“My whole thing was to show guys, ‘Hey, I’m putting it all on the line for you guys. I don’t care if the entire team is over there. I want a touchdown,’” Kellogg said.
Kellogg had back-to-back runs in the fourth quarter near the goal line that weren’t as successful.
He actually lost the football at the 1 on a big hit. Fortunately for Nebraska, Sam Burtch recovered it, setting up a game-tying field goal by Pat Smith.
Did Nebraska consider going for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1 when down 20-17?
“The smart thing was to take the points,” Beck said. “We struggle scoring right now. We just do. You have to take the points on the road and I thought it was the smart decision to be able to do that.”
This and that
With the three-point overtime victory, Nebraska is 3-0 against Penn State as Big Ten foes and leads the all-time series 9-7. … The Huskers are now 7-1 in overtime games. … The win marked Nebraska’s 11th victory in the past 13 conference games. … Kicker Pat Smith is 10-of-11 on field goals in 2013. … Ameer Abdullah rushed for 147 yards and increased his season total to 1,483. He moved up four sports on the NU single-season rushing list, passing Bobby Reynolds (1,342 yards in 1950), Rex Burkhead (1,357 in 2011) and Jammal Lord (1,412 in 2002). Abdullah also moved to 11th on the all-time Nebraska rushing list with 2,770 yards. … Defensive end Randy Gregory logged a tackle for loss in his 10th straight game and leads the team with 17 quarterback hurries. … Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp set a career-high in receptions with five.