A year’s worth of work can turn on a single play in college football.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers were on the verge of another embarrassing defeat halfway through the third quarter of their Big Ten showdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Trailing 27-6 and with yet another three-and-out in the books, things looked like they were about to go from bad to worse in a hurry for the Huskers.
And then, miraculously, everything turned on one play.
Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David had stood out from the rest of his defensive counterparts all game long. Whereas they were lackadaisical and sluggish, he looked quick and crisp. When they missed tackles, he would rush over to help bring down the ball carrier. But his biggest play of the night didn’t come on a traditional sack or tackle.
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Rather, in a play that exemplified David’s ingenuity and unique nose for the pigskin, he managed to rip the ball out of Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s hands midway through the third quarter in a play that left Miller’s Buckeye teammates staring in awe. Just as quickly as they had gotten the ball, they had to give it back.
Nebraska refused to let David’s forced turnover go to waste. On the very next series, much-maligned quarterback Taylor Martinez zipped past the defense on an 18-yard rush to record the first of what would be four unanswered touchdowns.
The offense did their part to secure the win and Martinez undoubtedly redeemed himself after a horrible showing the prior week, but the player of the game who likely salvaged his team’s season was still David.
“That was a game-changing play," Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said. "He's been doing that since he got here."
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After getting absolutely destroyed in a 31-point romp by the Wisconsin Badgers one week before, the Huskers could not afford a second consecutive conference loss. Although this was clearly the toughest two-game stretch of the year for the squad, there are a number of other potential in-conference pitfalls down the road – and a 0-2 start would have been a death sentence.
Instead, Nebraska gets to go into their bye week on a high note, still ranked No. 14 in the nation, and ready to regain their focus.
"Our football team is ready for a bye," Pelini said. "I think they need a break, mentally and physically."
The break couldn’t come soon enough for Martinez, who has often been blamed for Nebraska’s offensive shortcomings – justified or not. He and his unit finally found a winning formula during the second half of the game, though. And, mentally, the squad appeared to be on the same page.
"We were just playing together as a family," he said. "That's been our motto all week: togetherness and 'familiness.' We just came together. I'm glad we came through with the win."
Thanks to one clutch play by one clutch player, Nebraska gets to live another (two) weeks and has the opportunity to keep on fighting.
David’s game-changing play just goes to show that in college football, sometimes the heroes come from the least likely of units, in the most unlikely times, facing the most improbable of circumstances.
The Huskers’ next game will be against the Minnesota Gophers on October 22.