Before we turn our focus to Nebraska’s Big Ten opener with Illinois, let’s take one final look at the Miami game – specifically the play that was the final nail in Hurricanes’ coffin.
It was a thing of Blackshirt beauty and was no accident.
The Huskers settled for a field goal to go up by 10 with nine minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. Miami got the ball back starting from their own 25. Four plays and barely two minutes later, they were at the Nebraska 35 but had stalled out.
Now back to the play at hand. It’s 4th and 4 at the Nebraska 35. The Huskers had finally found an answer for Hurricanes’ screen passes and had all but shut down running back Duke Johnson. The most appealing option left for Miami would be a pass along the sideline to one of their hoss receivers. This is a well they dipped into throughout the night with much success.
As Nebraska lines up for the snap, notice how deep Nate Gerry is playing.
This is all just a ruse. As Miami’s Brad Kaaya begins his snap count, Gerry creeps towards the line of scrimmage but he’s not blitzing.
The play begins and Kalu starts shuffling back to cover Miami’s slot receiver until he breaks to the inside. Instantly, Kalu hands him off to Gerry who is positioned perfectly to continue covering the receiver.
Seamlessly “turning over” a receiver to another defender is a key element of pattern matching.
Kaaya releases the ball under the assumption that he’s throwing into one-on-one coverage, a situation where Miami’s receiving corps dominated the entire game- until Josh Kalu seemingly appears out of nowhere and intercepts the ball so effortlessly you’d think it was thrown to him on purpose.
Among all the big time plays Nebraska made Saturday night, this one was the biggest. A perfect, designed outcome in a clutch situation. Kalu’s grand entrance on the Blackshirt stage was reminiscent of an unknown kid by the name of Eric Hagg being turned loose at the end of the 2009 Gator Bowl and coming up huge with a pass break up and a sack when Clemson was looking at a 1st and ballgame from the Nebraska 10 yard line.
While the Husker peanut gallery would love a big play every time the Blackshirts are on the field, the years have shown Pelini doesn’t reach for the ace in the hole until his team is right on the edge of falling into one.
Think of it as the Blackshirt version of Hulking up.