Dramatic victory keeps Nebraska’s season on track

If Nebraska makes it back to the Big Ten championship game, the

Cornhuskers might look at Jordan Westerkamp’s tipped-ball touchdown

on the last play against Northwestern as the one that saved their

season and maybe even Bo Pelini’s job.

The Huskers (6-2, 3-1) head to Michigan this week alone in

second place behind Michigan State (8-1, 5-0). If they win –

Wolverines coach Brady Hoke is 19-0 at the Big House – they would

play the Spartans for a share of first place and the tie-breaker

Nov. 16 in Lincoln. Michigan State has a bye this week.

Had Westerkamp not come up with Ron Kellogg III’s 49-yard

desperation heave to beat the Wildcats 27-24, Nebraska would have

had to immediately turn to other teams for help to win the

division, and sixth-year coach Bo Pelini’s seat would have become

hotter.

”After a play like that, it can change the whole momentum of

the season,” Kellogg said. ”We still have four games left before

the Big Ten championship game, and we have to win them all, so we

just have to keep driving.”

The Huskers had come into the Northwestern game off a loss at

double-digit underdog Minnesota. That, combined with the

second-half meltdown at home against UCLA in September and the

70-31 loss to Wisconsin in last year’s Big Ten title game, fueled

media and fan speculation that Pelini’s days in Lincoln might be

numbered.

That talk is on hold now.

”It sounds crazy, but sometimes a win or even a loss masks

things one way or another,” Pelini said. ”Whether we caught that

ball in the end zone or didn’t catch that ball, we’re still the

same football team coming in tomorrow. The same challenges lie

ahead. It’s just a little easier to handle. It’s easier to go in

tomorrow. Hopefully, the momentum will carry over into next week

and, hopefully, help propel us forward.”

Nebraska has a number of injury concerns heading into the game

at Ann Arbor, Mich.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez’s status for the rest of the season

remains in question as he recovers from foot, shoulder and hip

injuries. Pelini said he plans to have Tommy Armstrong Jr. and

Kellogg continue to share playing time.

The Huskers’ best offensive lineman, Spencer Long, was lost to a

season-ending knee injury Oct. 12. Another starting offensive

lineman, Jack Cotton, went out with a sprained ligament in his

right knee in the second half against Northwestern. A groin injury

kept receiver Kenny Bell on the sidelines in the second half, and

receiver Jamal Turner has been battling hamstring problems all

season.

A maligned defense put the Huskers in position to win Saturday,

and it will go into the Michigan game with a shot of

confidence.

Northwestern used two 75-yard drives and a short field set up by

an interception to lead 21-7 early in the second quarter.

But the Wildcats punted on 10 of their next 11 series, and the

other ended on an interception. Only one of those 11 possessions

lasted more than five plays, and there were five

three-and-outs.

The biggest stop came after Tyler Scott returned Northwestern’s

fourth interception of the game to the Nebraska 7 with 2:25 to

play. Kain Colter ran to the 1 before Ciante Evans and David Santos

combined to tackle Treyvon Green for a 1-yard loss and Randy

Gregory hit Colter for a 2-yard loss. Jeff Budzien’s 21-yard field

goal put Northwestern up three points.

Even though the Huskers went into their final drive with no

timeouts and just over a minute to play, it wasn’t quite

desperation time, Kellogg said.

”I was thinking field goal,” he said, ”especially when I

threw the ball to Quincy (Enunwa) and he dropped it” on the

second-to-last play. ”I figured we would go into overtime.”

The comeback from a 14-point deficit marked the fifth time in

two seasons that Nebraska has overcome a double-digit deficit to

win a Big Ten game.

”Hopefully, we’ll take all that momentum and bring it back this

week to get ready for Michigan,” Westerkamp said.