BLACKSBURG, Va. — Nobody I know saw Matt O’Hanlon exit Lane Stadium on Saturday after 13th-ranked Virginia Tech plucked victory from No. 19 Nebraska, in part because of a final-minute bust on the part of the Husker free safety.
I saw a guy leaving in a Darth Vader mask (in Hokie maroon and orange colors, of course). Could it have been? Undoubtedly, a lot of Husker fans today are going to act as if O’Hanlon really did go to the Dark Side.
Don’t do the kid like that.
Yeah, the walk-on from Bellevue got burned by flanker Danny Coale, who, once he was released by cornerback Anthony West on a second-and-6 play, was left roaming free. Coale caught a pass from Tyrod Taylor and nearly streaked 84 yards for a game-winning touchdown.
Just don’t forget that O’Hanlon busted his tail to make a diving tackle at the 3. Or that he came free on a blitz the next play to record an 8-yard sack on Taylor, who two plays later put the Huskers’ hearts in their throats with the kind of play that only an athlete like that makes.
Naturally, the one that’ll stick in your craw — and the one O’Hanlon might never live down — is when the senior got caught perhaps peeking too much at Taylor scrambling away from trouble and losing sight of Coale.
Unfortunately for free safeties, the only safety net that exists when you get beat deep is the hope for the throw to be off-target.
Taylor, who for most of the day looked like he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, finally threw it through the tiniest window and so Sunday, heck, all week, you’re going to be asking yourself how does such a crazy thing happen?
Nebraska was in cover-2, a defense where the two safeties are supposed to line up and, splitting the field in half, cover the two deepest zones.
“That’s our best call for that situation,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said.
West let Coale go past him after he’d gotten beyond West’s zone only to turn, after the rolling-out Taylor let the pass go, to see Coale running alone just before the ball hit him in stride.
“I figured the safeties were sitting high, but … they made a good play,” West said.
While the result, given the coverage NU was in, was “very flukish” to secondary coach Marvin Sanders, he did note that the same thing happened to Nebraska in last year’s loss at Texas Tech.
“The quarterback rolled out and Matty didn’t get deep enough,” Sanders said. “But that’s one play. The kid played good all game.”
For sure, Nebraska will need O’Hanlon to recover from the rough experience if it is to be a force in the Big 12 North Division.
It also better learn to finish drives, something that it struggled to do Saturday.
“It’s not on one particular person. Everybody could have dealt better,” West said.
Indeed, this was a game Nebraska had no business losing. People should have been sent scrambling at the end to find the last game the Huskers won without scoring a touchdown.
Instead, Taylor left O’Hanlon scrambling for a quick and inconspicuous exit.
It’s a cruel game — just be careful about pinning it all on No. 33.
“Your heart drops, but the (game) still wasn’t over,” linebacker Phillip Dillard said of the play that pumped life back into the Hokies. “We were still fighting for it.
“I believe in my teammates and everyone else should.”
Reach Curt McKeever at 473-7441 or email@example.com.