NU-A&M: Mistakes, Penalties Doom Nebraska

By at November 21, 2010 | 3:41 AM | Print

Here's our report card after the Nebraska-Texas A&M game!

He screamed, cursed, stomped, pointed and roared at the men in the striped shirts. But after the costliest of Nebraska's school-record 16 penalties, a dubious roughing-the-passer call that helped give Texas A&M a go-ahead field goal, NU head coach Bo Pelini glanced briefly to the heavens, as if to ask the pigskin gods: Are you done yet?

The Huskers' faint hopes for a BCS national title berth certainly are, as they lost 9-6 to the Aggies in front of a school-record 90,079 fans at Kyle Field in College Station. Nebraska committed 16 penalties – including several personal fouls – for 140 yards. Pelini himself picked up the second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of his career for appearing to call the side judge a name. Officials flagged A&M – normally one of the nation's most penalized teams – only twice.

“You guys can make your own deductions,” Pelini said afterward. “All you gotta do is look at the numbers.”

Pelini declined, several times, to delve into specifics with reporters. He said he received “no explanations” from referees on specific calls, although ABC cameras captured him having a series of animated conversations with them. He didn't make his players or assistants available for comment after the game, which turned on safety Courtney Osborne's roughing-the-passer penalty during the Aggies' final drive.

On third down from midfield, Osborne came on a blitz of A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who saw him and and flung a pass deep toward no receiver in particular. Osborne parked Tannehill on his rear but didn't use his helmet to make the tackle. He drew a flag anyway.

“That hurt us, obviously,” Pelini said. “We were off the field right there.”

That set up A&M (8-3, 5-2) at NU's 34-yard line. From there, Aggie running back Cyrus Gray carried the ball five times for 32 yards before kicker Randy Bullock trotted on the field for the game-winning 19-yard field goal with three minutes left.

Nebraska's final drive gained one first down before quarterback Taylor Martinez, who reinjured his tender right ankle, drew an intentional grounding penalty and took a sack. On fourth-and-long, he rolled to his left and threw to slot receiver Mike McNeill, who caught the ball out of bounds.

The 31,000 students at Kyle Field – some of whom were set up on metal folding chairs – rushed the field moments later. Pelini spoke to reporters for five minutes, called the loss “irrelevant” to NU's hopes of winning the Big 12 North, fended off officiating questions and explained why he reinserted Martinez into the game after he looked so hurt in the first half.

“If he's healthy, we go with him,” Pelini said.

Martinez reinjured his ankle when center Mike Caputo, blasted off the lime of scrimmage, stepped on his foot three yards in the backfield. Martinez crumpled to the ground, tried to limp off the field, stopped one yard short of the sideline and, on the instruction of wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, laid on the turf. He left for the locker room minutes later. Cody Green replaced him and was relatively ineffective despite NU enjoying terrific field position. He threw a costly interception in A&M territory just before halftime.

Before his exit, Martinez led NU to a field goal on its first drive, running for 17 yards on a zone read play and completing all four passes for 43 yards. Kicker Alex Henery nailed a 48-yarder against the wind after penalties on Ricky Henry and D.J. Jones pushed the Huskers back 20 yards. Martinez returned in the second half and also led a field goal drive in the fourth quarter, set up by his 24-yard pass to Niles Paul. It appeared that, on third-and-goal, Brandon Kinnie had drawn a pass interference penalty, but officials, in another one of their strange decisions, picked up the flag and waved the penalty off without much explanation. Pelini went ballistic, as he did much of the night after penalties went against the Huskers.

Lost in the sea of flags was a strong performance by the Blackshirts, which considerably slowed down A&M's high-powered offense, even if it didn't create any turnovers. NU gave up 310 yards, sacked Aggie quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times, forced seven punts, and gave up just 3.4 yards per carry.

“To hold them to six points or whatever it was – they got nine, but we held them to six,” Pelini said.

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