Huskers ponder Aggies' success on third down
BY BRIAN ROSENTHAL / Lincoln Journal Star
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Dumbfounded at how the Nebraska defense could look so brilliant 80 percent of the time, then fall apart on key third-down plays?
You’re not alone.
“We’d come off the sideline and look at each other like, ‘We’re winning this game. How are we letting this stuff happen?’ ” Nebraska linebacker Bo Ruud said. “It was a little frustrating, but we never stopped playing.”
That frustration was a little more manageable after Nebraska pulled out a 28-27 victory Saturday against No. 24 Texas A&M at Kyle Field.
The events that led to the Huskers having to come from behind after holding a 21-7 lead, though, are still a bit troublesome.
Texas A&M, a team that entered Saturday having completed 51.4 percent of its third-down plays, was 5-of-14 against Nebraska.
Well, consider that those five conversions covered 171 yards. The Aggies finished with 443 yards.
“A lot of teams have been having trouble with them on third down, and we shut them down early, and they went to some stuff we haven’t seen much of on film, and they were able to capitalize on it,” Nebraska linebacker Corey McKeon said.
“We should’ve adjusted better and played better. We made a few mistakes that cost us a little bit, but in the end, we were able to hold on.”
All five conversions came in the second half. Two came on the opening series of the third quarter. On third-and-6, Stephen McGee hit fullback Chris Alexander for a 13-yard completion; then on third-and-10, McGee, who somehow avoided a sack, scrambled and hit running back Mike Goodson for a gain of 15.
That drive ended in quick-kick punt that left Nebraska with starting field position at its 2-yard line.
On A&M’s third series of the second half, A&M faced third-and-10 when Goodson shook off an arm tackle by Stewart Bradley, broke another tackle attempt by Tierre Green and got past Andrew Shanle en route to a 53-yard gain. That set up a field goal to pull the Aggies within 21-13.
It gets worse. McGee, catching Nebraska in a rare blitz, kept the ball on a third-and-9 option play and darted 57 yards for a touchdown that made the score 21-19 following a failed two-point conversion.
“That was the one where they called a good play on what we were running,” Ruud said. “They just happened to get that one right. You have to give them credit for that.”
On A&M’s go-ahead touchdown drive, L’Tydrick Riley hauled in a pass over the middle on — you guessed it — third down. The Aggies needed 6 yards; they got 33.
This was a far cry from the first half, when the Blackshirts forced four consecutive three-and-outs.
“Definitely in the first half,” Bradley said, “we felt like we were in control of the game.”
Nebraska held 274-pound running back Jorvorskie Lane to 13 yards on six carries. Goodson had 11 carries for 80 yards, with 75 of those yards coming on two carries.
“We’d pretty much shut down the run, and then they’d just squeak a play out,” Ruud said. “It wasn’t like they were constantly gashing us. They were squeaking one here and there. That was a little frustrating.”
Nebraska, though, came up with the key stop at the end, stopping three running plays in NU territory. The first, Andre Jones forced Goodson out of bounds to save time for the Huskers. Nebraska blocked a field goal after the three stops and took over with 1:57 remaining to set up the winning score.
“Stop ’em, block ’em, go down the field,” McKeon said. “That’s what we did.”
Reach Brian Rosenthal at 473-7436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.