STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — No one needed to be iced any further on this frigid day in Pennsylvania, but it happened anyway.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien called timeout, giving the skinny kicker another minute to wait it out amid the blustery winds.
As Pat Smith waited, a migration was occurring behind a set of goal posts at Beaver Stadium, a bunch of Penn State students quickly scurrying to fill empty seats, making themselves into a giant tornado of waving arms.
It might have been distracting if the Husker senior actually was paying attention to them. But there was Smith, a kicker transfer on a one-season loan to kick at Nebraska, bouncing around, slapping the hands of a teammate.
“A lot of guys have been asking me, ‘They iced you. Were you nervous?’” Smith said. “No, I was pumped up. Those are the moments we live for.”
Ball snapped, ball placed, got it!
Wait, no. Wait, is that a flag?
“Givens Price wanted to give him two shots at glory,” Bo Pelini later joked.
It was not as funny at the time. They moved the ball back 5 yards. Now Smith had a 42-yarder to make on the kind of day when 42-yarders are not easy to make.
“Not how you script it,” Smith said. “The guys kind of turned around with kind of a worried look on their face like, ‘Oh, no. You just made it and now you got to do it again.’ I just kind of told them, ‘Hey, guys, calm down. Chill out. I got this. This is nothing. This is what I live for. This is why I’m here. This is what I want.'”
Ball snapped, ball placed, got it!
Smith ran around "like a chicken with his head cut off.”
After a long week full of loud opinions, the Huskers had defeated Penn State 23-20 in overtime.
If this at first does not impress you, it’s worth considering how beat up Nebraska is as a football team right now.
Do you know who was helping block on that game-winning field goal?
Defensive tackle Vincent Valentine and senior offensive lineman Brandon Chapek, a walk-on who had been on the scout team just a few weeks ago and made the travel roster for just the second time with all the injuries on the O-line.
“We were out of linemen,” said offensive coordinator Tim Beck. “We were out of guys.”
Offensive line coach John Garrison went over field-goal protection with Valentine this week in case they needed him in an emergency.
And that they did after senior offensive tackle Brent Qvale became the latest member of the injury brigade, joining Jeremiah Sirles, Jake Cotton and Spencer Long on the sideline.
“You can’t write a story like this. This is like 'The Mighty Ducks,'” Garrison said. “This is one of those movies you watch, where you say, ‘There’s no way.’ It’s our guys. The amount of heart that these guys have and how much they love playing for Coach Bo and these coaches, it’s unbelievable.”
After the game, Beck tried to come up with the names of who was exactly on the offensive line at the end.
“If I’d have told him, he might have fallen out of the press box,” Garrison said. “At that point, it’s getting pretty slim pickings right now. I shouldn't say slim pickings. There’s guys stepping up and guys obviously stepping into their roles. Some guys are obviously lesser repped guys, but the reps they've gotten in practice have carried over them. I’m proud of them.”
Pelini, his team moving to 8-3 with the win, spoke of the character of his football team.
Again, Nebraska made it difficult on itself, with Ameer Abdullah fumbling on Penn State’s 1-yard line to take away a score and Ron Kellogg III fumbling inside his 10 to give away a score.
And if the turnovers and injuries on the O-line weren't enough, redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong also had his day cut short in the first half due to a bum ankle.
Along with it, there was a bewildering unnecessary roughness call by the officials on Sam Burtch on a downfield block. It took what would have been a 62-yard Abdullah touchdown run off the board.
Even with all that, victory.
“I told them (Friday) night and I told them today, it is an honor to coach them and walk out on the field with them,” Pelini said. “It is a special group of kids and there is something special going on here with them.”
Beck said he’s never been a part of a season with so many injuries.
Sirles and Cotton tried to make a go of it on the offensive line, but eventually gave way to their injuries.
Cole Pensick, despite his own knee injury, gutted out snaps. Joining him and veterans Andrew Rodriguez and Mark Pelini on the line were fresh faces like Price, Zach Sterup and Ryne Reeves.
“My hat’s off to those guys, man,” Beck said. “I’m telling you, it’s a tribute to those guys, their work ethic, our team, the kind of intestinal fortitude those guys got.”
Beaten up as they are, Beck fully admits it’s a struggle putting up points right now, which is why a 99-yard kickoff return by Kenny Bell was much appreciated.
And at times, Nebraska was outmatched up front. Abdullah had to claw for all 147 of his yards on this day.
“Winning ugly, but it’s a win,” Beck said.
What does that mean in the big picture sense to the program, with speculation swirling about coaches’ futures given the silence from athletic director Shawn Eichorst and UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman?
Husker players and coaches weren't going to worry themselves about all that in the moments after a thrilling road win.
Nebraska has now won eight games in a row that have been decided by seven points or less.
Running backs coach Ron Brown said it’s one of the closest Husker teams he’s been around.
“Because there’s been so much in the air around it. Solidarity sometimes is amplified by pressure on the outside,” Brown said. “And I think the kids are learning that, you know what, we have to really rely on each other and cementing ourselves together as a team. And whoever wants to join that, great. Whoever else wants to fly away or yak about it, great. But we know who we are and we know who we got.”