BLACKSBURG, Va. — The look on Jacob Hickman’s face said it all.
As the Nebraska senior center trudged off the field at Lane Stadium following Saturday’s heart-breaking 16-15 loss at Virginia Tech, his eyes looked blankly to the sky in disbelief. For the Huskers, who appeared to have an upset of the No. 13-ranked Hokies all but in the bag, this one’s going to hurt for a while.
“It’s just a terrible feeling,” Hickman said. “Very frustrating.”
Coming into the game as the trendy “upset special” pick for several ESPN types, Nebraska seemed destined to make them all look like experts. Instead, a defensive breakdown and Tyrod Taylor’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Dyrell Roberts with just 21 seconds remaining flipped the script on the Huskers.
With hordes of their fans already streaming out of Lane Stadium, the Hokies took over with 1:44 to play and drove 88 yards in five plays to erase a 15-10 deficit.
No one could’ve felt more frustrated than Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The All-American candidate was just an eyelash away from sacking Taylor on his 81-yard pass to Danny Coale to set up Virginia Tech’s winning score and also thought he had a shot at Taylor on his winning TD pass.
“It’s tough, but that’s the name of the game: You’ve got to finish to the end,” Suh said. “We obviously didn’t do that, so we ended up losing. We didn’t make the plays that needed to be made, even though we played a great game.
“It’s something we’ve got to move forward on and let it make us stronger.”
As regular-season losses go for Nebraska, this one has to rank right up there among the most gut-wrenching in recent memory. Maybe it didn’t remind anyone of the days when “Sooner Magic” robbed victories from the Huskers, but it was close.
More recently, there was the 2005 Texas Tech game when Le Kevin Smith failed to hit the ground after what would’ve been a game-clinching interception. There was also Terrence Nunn’s lost fumble against Texas in 2006 when he appeared to have the game clinched after a third-down reception.
“It’s right up there,” Suh said when asked if he’s experienced a more disappointing loss. “It reminds me of the Texas game in ‘06.
“We were that close. We just didn’t finish.”
While Nebraska’s defense yielded the winning score, the offense shouldn’t evade criticism. Five trips into the red zone with no TDs typically isn’t going to get it done on the road against a top-15 team.
“I’m frustrated, obviously,” Hickman said. “I’m almost embarrassed. I can’t believe that just happened. I’m kind of dumbfounded.
“I really felt like we had a good game there and they just made the play at the end.”
While it was obviously a crushing loss, the Huskers know they can’t let one setback ruin their season. We’ll see where the Hokies go from here, but this might wind up being a source of confidence, especially when it’s easy to argue that the better team didn’t win.
“We showed we could come out and compete with good teams,” Nebraska cornerback Anthony West said. “We really proved that we are a good team. We knew that going into it, but we’ve just got to make the plays when they come up.”
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said his team’s effort was on the mark.
“It was great — great effort,” Pelini said. “I take my hat off to Virginia Tech. It was a hard-fought football game. In the end, we had plenty of opportunities to put that football game away and we didn’t do it.”
What’s next for the Huskers?
“We’ve got to have selective memory,” Nebraska receiver Niles Paul said. “We’ve got to forget about it and focus on the next game coming up.”
Suh said the team has to stick together.
“Basically, we’ve just got to all man up and not look to blame each other and other situations and take the blame on yourself and see what you could’ve done yourself to get it done and just move forward,” Suh said. “You can’t do anything about this game right now. We’ve got to move forward to the next game.”
Terry Douglass is sports editor for The Independent.