One of the biggest plays of Nebraska’s 42-38 win Saturday at Illinois wasn’t a touchdown.
It came late in the third quarter. The Huskers trailed the Illini 35-21 and desperately needed a TD.
On third-and-8 on the Illinois 42-yard line, quarterback Adrian Martinez fired a short pass on the right side of the field to tight end Jack Stoll. It wasn’t a perfect throw by any means, but Stoll tipped the ball with one hand, then pulled it in.
“Adrian scrambled and he put the ball the one place he could and my number ended being called to make a play and I was going to do whatever I could to make a play for the team,” Stoll said. “It ended up happening like that, so whenever we get our opportunity we like to go out there and just make sure we do everything we can to make the team win and I’m just happy I could end up going out there and making the plays for us.”
By the time he was tackled, Stoll had carried the ball down to the Illinois 20. Two plays later. Dedrick Mills took it over from the 14 to pull Nebraska within 35-27.
Stoll ended the game with three catches for 35 yards. That includes a 6-yard TD pass from Martinez in the first quarter for the Huskers’ first touchdown of the night.
Stoll gave credit to fellow sophomore tight end Austin Allen, who has yet to score a touchdown in his college career.
“That was just a play we had designed, and to be honest I don’t want the credit,” Stoll said. “I think that was all Austin Allen. If you watch the play, he’s the one that got me open, so to me it was all Austin Allen on that play and we’re just trying to go out there to make sure he gets his first touchdown.”
So far this season Stoll has 10 catches for 153 yards and that one touchdown. For his career Stoll has 39 catches for 487 yards and six touchdowns, including 21 passes from Martinez.
“One of the best traits about Adrian is that he’s always composed,” Stoll said. “He’ll go out there and he’s willing to attack everything and it’s never going to get too high with him. It’s never going to get too low. He’s been a great leader on this team just leading us to victories like he did last Saturday.”
The Huskers were originally credited with 690 yards of total offense against the Illini. That number was officially dropped to 674, but that’s still the most against a conference opponent since Nebraska put up 710 against Kansas State in 2007.
“Obviously, we’d like to have a few of those plays back and change one thing here or there but at the end of the day we came out of there with a win and that’s the big thing,” Stoll said. “We’ve kind of struggled in the past at closing games out, so the fact that we were able to do that and nonetheless on the road is something I’m very excited about and is kind of the next step in this journey we’re on.”
Four fumbles and 10 penalties for 73 yards hurt the Huskers, but they closed out the win in the end.
“We made that game a lot closer than it needed to be. We shot ourselves in the foot with four turnovers, fumbling the ball,” Stoll said. “We just have to clean a few things up. We’re happy where we are. We can always get better. We’re just going to take everything that happened that game and learn from it.”
And now No. 5 Ohio State is coming to Lincoln on Saturday. That will be a challenge for the Husker offense.
“They probably have five or six first- or second-round (draft) picks on that defense,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters told reporters Wednesday after practice. “Overall, they fly around to the ball. They are physical (and) athletic. It really starts up front. They have some creatures up front with size, with strength, and they are athletic so they can rush the passer.”
Walter said if the Huskers fumble the ball away again like they did against Illinois, they will be in big trouble.
“When you have that football in your hands, you have to make sure you end with it in your hands,” Walter said. “The guys are focused on that. Sometimes the defense makes a good play and they put their (hand) on the ball and it happens. But, if you turn the ball over four times against Ohio State it is going to be a long, long evening.