Huskers Slip Past Pitt, Improve to 3-0
Lincoln - In a wild ending to a game filled with missed scoring opportunities, Nebraska linebacker Adam Ickes blocked Josh Cummings' 46-yard field goal attempt with no time on the clock to preserve Nebraska's 7-6 victory over visiting Pittsburgh at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Ickes' blocked field goal was the second field goal block of the day for the Huskers, joining freshman defensive end Zach Potter's first-quarter block on Pitt's opening drive. Cummings also missed a 49-yard field goal with 11:19 left in the game. Nebraska added a pair of missed field goals, but a stellar defensive effort by Nebraska's Blackshirts and spectacular play from the Husker punt teams allowed NU to improve to 3-0 on the season.
Playing in front of 77,336 fans in the NCAA-record 271st consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium and an ABC regional television audience, Nebraska kept the defending Big East champion Pitt Panthers (0-3) out of the end zone, while sacking 2005 All-Big East quarterback Tyler Palko four times.
Defensive ends Adam Carriker and Wali Muhammad powered a strong defensive effort that kept the opponent out of the end zone for the second straight week. Carriker, a junior from Kennewick, Wash., finished the day with a team-high seven tackles, including four tackles for 26 yards lost and two sacks for 21 yards. Muhammad, a senior from Bloomfield, N.J., added three tackles with a pair of sacks.
Along with the solid play of NU's defensive line, the Huskers also received stellar strong teams play from Ray Guy Award nominee Sam Koch. The senior punter from Seward, Neb., smashed the longest punt of his career for the third consecutive week, booming an 84-yard punt, the second-longest punt in school history, in the third quarter.
Koch's punt flipped the field on the Panthers, burying them inside their own 10. Koch hit three punts of 50 or more yards on the day and pinned Pitt inside their own 20 on five of his eight punts. He already owns three punts of 70 or more yards this season.
The Huskers also received another big day in the punt return game from sophomore wide receiver Terrence Nunn, who had two returns for 75 yards, including matching his career long with a 62-yard return in the first half.
Nebraska Head Coach Bill Callahan commended the efforts of the defense and special teams after the game.
"I'm really proud of the defense again and the way they played with their backs against the wall in the two-minute drill and the way they responded with the block," Callahan said. "I can't say enough good things about the way Coach (Kevin Cosgrove) is coaching that defense and the way the players have responded. We talk about it every day. We pay attention to special teams, and I'm just so proud that it paid off in such a crucial situation."
Missed field goals certainly played a prominent role in creating Saturday's nail-biter. Cummings' missed 49-yard field goal attempt with 11:19 left in the game would have given Pitt its only lead of the day. The Huskers missed a first-half scoring opportunity of their own when freshman Jordan Congdon missed a 26-yard field goal early in the second quarter. He also missed a 38-yard field goal with 1:28 left in the game that would have given the Huskers added breathing room.
After Nebraska's first missed field goal, the Blackshirts kept the pressure on Palko, flexing their muscles to force the Panthers to punt on fourth-and-22 to give the Huskers excellent field position. Junior quarterback Zac Taylor then found Nunn deep down the middle of the field on a 36-yard pass play, before Taylor capped the drive with the first rushing touchdown of his career on a one-yard scoring plunge with 7:51 left in the second quarter.
Senior I-back Cory Ross carried the offensive load for the Huskers, carrying 16 times for 83 yards in the first half alone before adding 19 yards on his first carry of the second half to go over 100 yards for the second straight game and 11th time in his career. Ross finished with 32 carries for 153 yards, while also leading the Huskers with three receptions for 23 yards.
Taylor finished the day 10-of-20 through the air for 93 yards, while Palko struggled to complete just 11-of-26 passes for 190 yards against the Blackshirts. Greg Lee hauled in three catches for 101 yards, including a 73-yard catch in the third quarter to set up Pitt's second field goal, a Cummings' 27-yarder, to cut NU's lead to 7-6 with 1:44 left in the third quarter.
Cummings connected on his first field goal of the day with his 38-yarder with 12:39 to play in the third quarter. Pitt's first score was set up by an on-side kick to open the second half.
After Congdon missed his second field goal of the day on a 38-yard attempt with 1:28 remaining in the game, Palko drove the Panthers from their own 22 to the Nebraska 29 to set up a potential game-winning field goal on second down with seven seconds left. After Nebraska took two timeouts, the Panthers snapped the ball off holder Adam Graessle's helmet when he was not looking, but the ball zipped off Graessle's head directly into Cummings' hands.
Carriker sprinted untouched toward Cummings, who threw the ball incomplete into the open area behind the Nebraska defense. The Nebraska sideline erupted into celebration, but one tick remained on the clock, giving the Panthers a second chance for the win on third down.
But Ickes sent the crowd and Nebraska sideline into a frenzy again when he sprinted off the corner of the right side of Nebraska's line and smashed Cummings' kick into the ground. It was the first blocked kick of Ickes' career. He also scored a special teams touchdown on a blocked punt return last season in Nebraska' win over Missouri.
The Huskers finished the day with 267 yards of total offense, while the Panthers accumulated 304 yards of total offense. Nebraska did own an edge in time of possession, controlling the ball for 32:43, while Pitt maintained possession for just 27:17.
Although the game featured a total of 15 penalties and the two teams were a combined 4-for-29 on third-down conversions, including a dismal 1-for-14 effort by Pitt, neither team committed a turnover on the afternoon.
Callahan said overcoming adversity to pick up a one-point win could help the Huskers later this season.
"I am just so proud of them and their efforts and ability to hang in there under the circumstances today," Callahan said. "I think we took a step as a football team, I really do. You couldn't have been in more adverse situations as we were today."
Nebraska will enjoy an off weekend next Saturday and have two full weeks to prepare for its Big 12 Conference opener against Iowa State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 1. The kickoff time and television information have not yet been announced.