|Joe Dailey threw for 142 yards and one touchdown in NU's 24-17 win over Pittsburgh.|
Pittsburgh, Pa. - Nebraska’s Blackshirts played dominant defense and the offense played turnover-free football for 55 minutes to build a 24-7 lead, before the Huskers survived a furious Pittsburgh rally in the final five minutes to escape from Heinz Field with a 24-17 victory on Saturday.
After cruising to a 24-7 lead and maintaining a 24-10 lead with five minutes left and the ball in the fourth quarter, the Huskers made their first major mistake of the day when Joe Dailey’s pass was intercepted by H.B. Blades at midfield. The Panthers capitalized on the next play with a 46-yard touchdown strike from Tyler Palko to Greg Lee to cut NU’s lead to 24-17 with 4:44 remaining in the game.
The Huskers maintained a seven-point lead after picking up a crucial first down thanks to a pass interference penalty on third-and-long to leave Pittsburgh with just 1:18 to play and 76 yards of field to cover in order to send the game to overtime.
The Blackshirts appeared to have the game locked up, but miraculous conversions, including a fourth-down-and-10 pass that appeared initially to be intercepted by Daniel Bullocks but was instead caught by Darrell Strong for a 31-yard gain, put Pittsburgh with first down at the NU 15-yard line with six seconds left in the game.
On the game’s final play, Palko was forced out of the pocket to his left and dropped back nearly to the 30-yard line before lofting a desperation jump ball into a hoard of Pittsburgh receivers and NU defenders. The ball was batted to the ground to give the Huskers the win.
The Huskers forced four Pittsburgh turnovers on the afternoon, including three interceptions and a fumble recovery on special teams to produce their first road victory in their first try under first-year coach Bill Callahan. Nebraska improved to 2-1 on the season, while Pittsburgh slipped to 1-1 on the year.
Fabian Washington and Wali Muhammad each grabbed interceptions deep in Panther territory to set up Nebraska scores in the first quarter, which gave NU a 10-7 lead at the end of the opening stanza. The Huskers capitalized on Pittsburgh’s special teams miscues in the second quarter to build a 24-7 lead before a late Panther march ended in a field goal to close the half.
Washington’s interception and 19-yard return to the Pittsburgh 4-yard line set up a 26-yard field goal by Sandro DeAngelis that gave NU a 3-0 lead with 7:16 to play in the first quarter.
Minutes later, Muhammad snagged his first career interception and returned it four yards to the Pittsburgh 2-yard line. That Panther turnover set up a two-yard run by Cory Ross for his first touchdown of the season to give NU a 10-0 lead. Ross finished the day with 73 yards on 24 carries, despite slippery field conditions left in the aftermath of heavy rains caused by Hurricane Ivan in the Pittsburgh area.
Although Nebraska dominated the field position, time of possession and the scoreboard in the first 14 minutes, Pittsburgh struck quickly with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Marcus Furman to trim NU’s lead to 10-7 with 52 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Huskers answered with a sustained drive that stalled across midfield, but the Panthers stiffened to force an NU punt. Sam Koch’s punt was mishandled by the Allen Richardson and was covered by Kellen Huston. Nebraska capitalized immediately with a six-yard touchdown strike from Joe Dailey to Ross Pilkington to expand the lead to 17-7. Pilkington led NU's receivers with five catches for 81 yards on the afternoon and his first touchdown of the season.
After the Blackshirts forced a Panther punt, the Husker offense responded with its only sustained scoring drive of the day by marching 70 yards in eight plays capped by Dailey's 17-yard scoring run to put NU firmly in control at 24-7with 5:46 to play in the first half. Dailey closed the day with 142 yards on 11 completions in 22 attempts. He added one touchdown passing and threw just one interception.
Pittsburgh's Adam Graessle added a 38-yard field goal with four seconds left in the first half to trim NU's lead to 24-10 at halftime, before both defenses dominated the next 25 minutes to set up the excitement of the final five minutes.
For the day, Nebraska pounded out 265 yards of total offense, including 142 yards threw the air and 123 yards on the ground. Pittsburgh managed 258 total yards, including 228 yards passing while managing just 30 yards rushing.
Nebraska will enjoy next weekend off before returning home to Memorial Stadium to open Big 12 Conference play against Kansas on Saturday, Oct. 2. Game time and television broadcast information has not yet been announced.