BLACKSBURG, Va. – Maybe Alex Henery should try to play I-back. He seems plenty capable of everything else he attempts at Nebraska.
On Saturday in the Huskers’ 16-15 loss to Virginia Tech, the most accurate place-kicker in NU football history got more accurate. And more valuable to the Huskers.
Henery, a junior from Omaha Burke, was the only NU player to score Saturday at Lane Stadium. He kicked five field goals, a career record and two shy of Dale Klein’s seemingly untouchable NU record set in 1985 at Missouri.
Henery did more, though. He punted six times for an average of 41.5 yards, twice pinning Virginia Tech inside its 20 – including a clutch placement at the 12-yard line with 1:44 to play.
And that’s not it. No Husker looked more in control in Blacksburg than Henery on his 76-yard punt for a touchback in the first quarter.
After offsetting penalties forced a replay of Henery’s first punt of the game with Nebraska already down 7-0, the Hokies came after him, sensing an opportunity to bury NU.
Henery leaped to catch a high snap from P.J. Mangieri. And with the rush bearing down, the kicker ran to his right. He nearly reached the sideline before booming a soccer-style kick over the head of Jayron Hosley and bouncing into the end zone.
“I’ve done it before, but it’s not planned or anything like that,” said Henery, an all-state soccer player in high school. “It’s just something I do.”
Otherwise, his most noticeable work Saturday came as the place-kicker. Boots of 40, 27, 19 and two from 38 accounted for all of the NU points. He did not miss, moving his season total to 6 for 7 and career figure to 36 of 40 field goals.
“Alex is pretty much automatic,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “He’s a great kicker and he works hard. We put him in great situations and he’ll knock them down, and he did – five of them today.”
Henery said he takes little pleasure from his big day in a Nebraka loss.
“We wanted to win,” he said. “I’d like to win over any of my stats or anything like that.”
The one opportunity on which Henery failed to convert was not his fault. The Huskers, after reaching first and goal from the 6-yard line late in the third quarter, moved 30 yards in the wrong direction on two holding penalties and a pair of false-start calls.
Though Henery hit a school-record 57-yard field goal last season to beat Colorado, NU elected to punt instead of to let Henery try a 54-yarder on Saturday.
Too bad, because he made have made it and provided enough points by himself to win for the Huskers.
Nebraska has not won a game in at least 65 years – detailed records are not available before World War II – without scoring a touchdown. It nearly happened in Blacksburg, in large part because of Henery.
“We had them where we wanted them,” Henery said of costly third-quarter drive. “We just didn’t push it in.”