Saturday’s game will be much-analyzed. But if you want to single out one play that loomed largest in Texas Tech’s 31-10 win, you needn’t look past the first quarter.
With the Huskers driving for a potential tying score, quarterback Zac Lee threw a quick pass to Niles Paul. Paul dropped it.
The Huskers seemed to think the play was dead. But Tech defensive end Daniel Howard realized it was a backward pass, picked up the ball and lumbered (and lumbered is the proper word) 82 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0 with 4:52 left in the opening quarter.
Nebraska suddenly found itself in a hole it would never get out of.
“We stopped and you can’t stop,” coach Bo Pelini said of how his guys reacted. “You can’t stop on the play. I give them (the Red Raiders) credit for doing it. We didn’t play good enough to win the football game in any phase of the game.”
Paul said he was “almost positive” he was in front of Lee when he dropped the pass and assumed it was an incompletion.
“Everybody thought it was down,” Paul said. “Sometimes you really have a hard time hearing the whistle out there, especially with all those fans. We all just thought it was down, I guess.”
Helu’s bad shoulder
Husker I-back Roy Helu’s last carry of the game came late in the third quarter.
Trainers worked on his right shoulder on the sideline. Pelini said Helu has a stinger but should be fine. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said the junior has a chronic shoulder injury.
Helu ended the day with 68 yards on 16 carries. He also has a catch for 27 yards.
As for the job of filling the shoes of injured backup Rex Burkhead? Austin Jones was the first running back to come off the bench. He touched the ball twice and had 2 yards.
Marcus Mendoza saw most of the action in the late going. He caught five passes for 32 yards and had one rush for 3 yards.
“We have plenty of capable guys out there,” Pelini said.
True freshman Dontrayevous Robinson did not carry the ball, but did play on special teams, ending his redshirt season and making him a candidate for snaps at running back.
Pelini was miffed his defense couldn’t get off the field on the game’s first series.
Tech faced third-and-13, but completed a 34-yard pass to Lyle Leong, who caught the ball after it was deflected in the air by cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
Later, the Red Raiders faced a third-and-17, but Steven Sheffield hit Detron Lewis for a 22-yard pass. Tech scored two plays later.
“That first drive, that was the most disappointing thing I’ve seen in a long time,” Pelini said. “Two times we had them third-and-(long). You’re in position. We didn’t execute. We didn’t make plays. We gave them the momentum in the football game because of that. That was very disappointing.”
Husker redshirt freshman Khiry Cooper entered the game with just three catches for 32 yards. Saturday, he had three catches for 23 yards and a touchdown, the first of his career.
“I mean, it was a blessing to be able to get it, but it would have been nice to come out with a win also,” Cooper said.
The day didn’t end as well for fellow receiver Chris Brooks, who limped off the field after a career-high five catches for 66 yards. Wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore said he would know more about that injury Sunday.
As for the receivers as a whole, Gilmore said there was some inconsistent play.
“We can’t have that,” he said. “We’ve got to find some guys that can do it every game, every play.”
Husker center Jacob Hickman: “I’ve said all week that they (the Red Raiders) are a great defense. If we slept on them we were going to get into trouble. I don’t think we slept on them, but they played the game that we expected them to play and we didn’t play ours.”
Hickman: Loss not Lee's fault
This and that
Texas Tech has now won four straight against the Huskers. … Each team had five sacks. For Nebraska, Pierre Allen led the way with two . Barry Turner had 1 1/2. … Phillip Dillard had a career-high 12 tackles, including a career-best four for loss. … Nebraska was 2-of-5 in the red zone.