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If this is Sunday, it's time for confession, and I'm willing to admit I didn't see the greatest comeback in Nebraska football history happening Saturday night when the Huskers were down and out to what was supposed to be a down-and-out Ohio State team. Are you kidding me? When, in the history of college football, has a six-time defending major conference championship football team ever truly been down and out anywhere, let alone in Columbus, Ohio?
Certainly not Saturday night when the Buckeyes stepped into Memorial Stadium and punched Nebraska like Buster Douglas' roundhouse wallop of Mike Tyson. The only difference is, the Cornhuskers got back up and delivered a knockout blow of its own, and it never would have happened without Lavonte David taking into his own hands Nebraska's first-ever home game as a member of the storied Big Ten Conference.
Midway through the third quarter, the Huskers were frustrated, dazed and stalled in their own cleats. No one was making big plays on offense, and no one on defense felt worthy of the loudest noise most have heard inside their favorite stadium in, well ... forever. I mean, when an 11-point favorite is 21 down midway through the third quarter, the clock starts to look like the one on the church steeple before Doc and Marty can go Back to the Future. If you thought those two sensed some measure of doom, imagine exiting any part of Memorial Stadium with an 0-2 Big Ten start.
Here Comes Lavonte David to Save the Night
"A lot of teams would have folded it right there and said: 'This isn't our night.' We just needed someone to make a play, and I thought Lavonte David made that play," Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said.
Even the staunchest Big Red fans were squirming in their seats and wondering what in the world everyone else was thinking watching Nebraska drown on ABC.
As a classic glass-is-always-half-full-type person, I was envisioning football's purgatory until I saw David slam his helmet to the ground on the sideline after trying to exhort and rally his teammates. Suddenly, I perked up, thinking if every player is as ticked as he is, there's still hope. Watching a surprisingly calm head coach on that same sideline fueled more hope. Unlike those of us in the stands, Bo wasn't in panic mode either.
Yes, it was tough watching such Husker legends as Jordan Burroughs, Will Shields and Alex Gordon get introduced when everyone's game face, including theirs, was glum at best. Even Neil Smith looked emotionally depleted when he was introduced on HuskerVision's high-def screens.
Fortunately, the ever-present David, who finished with a team-high 13 tackles after his rare burst of personal frustration, pulled an imaginary blue cape over his Blackshirt and decided to go ball-hawking on his own. The second he got to Braxton Miller following the Buckeye freshman quarterback's first-down run, David swiped the ball right out of Miller's high-security hands and set Nebraska up for its first touchdown two plays later.
Suddenly, performance trumped frustration and a lost cause had a modicum of hope. On this night reserved for an intersection of history between two of college football's top five programs in terms of overall wins, David turned crisis into opportunity and angst into hope. "That was the game-changing play and the turning point for us," Pelini said on his postgame radio show. "From that point forward, our offense struck quick, and we did what we needed to do to get a 'W'. It was a team effort. When you're down 21, it has to come from everybody. We made stops on defense. We got momentum going on offense, and our special teams stepped up."
Game-Changing Play Result of Practice, Not Luck
Pelini said David has been making "huge plays" since he arrived at Nebraska, and like most, he envisions the senior linebacker playing on Sundays instead of Saturdays next fall. After Nebraska outbattled Ohio State, 34-27, David said he was just chasing the quarterback down, and he had his back turned, so he seized the chance to strip the ball. "That's something we've been working on all week," he said. "I did it the same way they told us to do in practice. I just took a shot at it, and got it."
Sounds simple enough, but we all know that causing decisive change is almost always harder to do than talk about. We also know that Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead deserve game balls from this historic game, too, and we'll elaborate on that this week, but rest assured, each superlative performance grew out of the golden opportunity David created.
As Nebraska faces its first off-week at the halfway point of the regular season, the big question is simply: Did David and his stripping the ball from the quarterback and his subsequent fumble recovery define the Huskers in this history-making season?
I guess it all depends on how the rest of the season goes.
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Voices from Husker Nation
I'm a transplanted Nebraskan that now must live in the state of Texas. Love your articles, read them on a daily basis and was so excited for Saturday night's game so we could show our new Big Ten family who we are and how the Big Red bounces back from a loss! Even though I truly am a diehard fan and have been called a Husker billboard for the Nebraska clothes I wear as often as possible down in the heart of Texas, even I did not know how much more I could watch midway through the third quarter. I was already thinking about what the media would be saying about us Sunday morning! Just when I was thinking it would be another morning I would skip the sports section, Lavonte David came along, and he alone woke up every Husker player, coach and fan and made a statement - he wasn't giving up and neither should any of the rest of us! His determination and excitement made me start to ponder "could we do it?" And then the Nebraska team that I thought we would be all season emerged. Our defense looked as awesome as our offense! I watched true Blackshirts cause three-and-outs. I watched long passes, power runs and points added quickly like Nebraska from the '90s! It was one of the most fun games ever to watch. A BIG thank you Husker players and coaches - thanks for making history in front of all of us fans, and thanks for believing you could win and reminding ALL of us fans not to give up ... ever!! Donita Ristau Wise, Prosper, Texas (Scribner, Nebraska native)
That play was one of the most jaw-dropping defensive plays I have ever seen from a Husker defense. That should be on highlight reels for the rest of the season, and maybe beyond. It answers the question: How do you get a turnover from an offense with a 3-touchdown lead in the 3rd quarter when that team is running the football, running the clock and protecting its lead? That one should've made Suh proud. Allen Browning
Great column today! I, too, was ready to pack it in when I saw our Huskers down and out in the third quarter. After driving out to Madison and watching the game last week, I thought, "Oh no. Here we go again!" But thanks to Lavonte, Taylor and Rex, maybe our football team has found a heart again! Roy Conrad, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
That strip was most definitely the play of the game, but getting Braxton Miller out of the game was the real deciding factor. It could have been a very different story if he doesn't leave. The young Huskers should never forget that fact while celebrating the greatest comeback in NU history. It was a great turnaround and a great win. Biff Jones, New Orleans, Louisiana
I hope the play that Lavonte David made does define the rest of the season for the Cornhuskers! When I saw Lavonte take that ball away, I laughed in sheer joy. I saw that young man step up and become a leader that night and show the rest of the team how the Cornhuskers really play. I hope Lavonte continues to lead in that way. And I absolutely would give a game ball to Rex Burkhead. He has always been there for the team. He is a leader, and I love to watch him play. I did notice that Rex was getting up slowly towards the end of the game so I hope he is not seriously hurt. Personally, I wish the media would salute the entire Husker football team. It takes every member of that team for us to win, not just one guy. Becky Larson, Grand Island, Nebraska
I'm a Nebraska alum married to a Hawkeye, and our first Big Ten loss in Wisconsin was hard to take with everyone acting like we didn't belong in the league. Thank you, T-Mart, David, and my guy Rex for a fabulous comeback win. It made my Saturday night a complete joy!!! Peggy Gerlach, Omaha, Nebraska
My mom's family has been in Nebraska since 1860, and I honor the BIG RED whether they win their greatest comeback game ever or lose every game! The joy of being away is watching my LEGENDARY Huskers! There simply is nobody else! I'm glad I don't have to hear or put up with those cry baby CU Buffalo fans or Texas Longhorn fans anymore! However, I'm relieved we don't have to play OU this year. Just kidding! Nebraska will always be #1! Kevin Eckholt-Mowrey, Valley Ford, California
Lavonte David is an All-America athlete trying to make every Blackshirt around him better, and I can't help but think he's going to be a role model for Stanley Jean-Baptiste, the newest Blackshirt who made an All-America type interception last night on national television to make sure David's play can stand the test of time. Have to put a plug in for an achievement like that when two weeks earlier, he was still a wide receiver. We have a young team that is going to make mistakes, but grow as well, and last night, those young "kids" started to become men. Larry Smith, Omaha, Nebraska
David made a Goliath play in a game that was historic as our first Big Ten game ever at home and our biggest comeback ever. It was the best defensive play I've seen since I don't when. Steve Harrison, St. Louis, Missouri
Here's hoping Lavonte makes that play earlier in the game next time. I think we all would like to see the Huskers play a complete game. Thanks for your articles. Clark Swartz, Gilbert, Arizona
Glad to see I wasn't the only one disappointed that all of our celebrity guests Saturday night had to be introduced when Nebraska was trailing and fans were concerned. Yes, they all deserved more applause, but it was nice to see Ndamukong Suh emerge at the end from wherever he'd spent the game. Nebraska didn't get its first lead until the final minutes, and Suh, as always, showed great timing for ABC's cameras to catch him. Dan Morris, Lincoln, Nebraska