BLACKSBURG, Va. | Call it the maroon miracle - or, as one Nebraska coach dubbed it, a crime.
Grand theft may be the only way to describe Virginia Tech’s 16-15 victory against Nebraska on Saturday at Lane Stadium.
“We played great defensively,” dejected Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “It’s a crime.”
After being dominated by the Cornhuskers’ daunting defensive line for more than 58 minutes, Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies stunned Nebraska with an 81-yard desperation heave and a scrambling 11-yard touchdown toss to Dyrell Roberts to steal a victory in front of 66,233 euphoric fans.
Taylor nearly doubled his passing totals for the game with two completions covering 92 yards on the Hokies’ final possession.
“This is just one where you don’t give up, you don’t give in,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “Bottom line, we don’t win this game without a quarterback as athletic as Tyrod who can keep a play alive. We don’t win this game without Tyrod.”
When Virginia Tech took possession of the ball for what would turn out to be one of college football’s most memorable last-gasp strikes since LSU’s Hail Mary prayer was answered against Kentucky in 2002, the No. 13 Hokies (2-1) had given their orange and maroon army little or no reason for hope.
No. 19 Nebraska (2-1) had totally snuffed Taylor and the Tech offense all day behind preseason All-American defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and a relentless push from its front four. The 6-foot-4, 304-pound Suh (eight tackles) had already set a Nebraska record by batting down four of Taylor’s passes, and the Cornhuskers’ defense had held the Hokies to a paltry 53 yards of second-half offense.
But Nebraska had only been able to parlay that dominance into five field goals from junior kicker Alex Henery, the last of which gave the Cornhuskers a 15-10 lead with 4:33 remaining.
Virginia Tech proceeded to turn it over on downs on the following possession, leaving Taylor and Co. with no timeouts and just 1:44 to go 89 yards when Henery drilled a punt out of bounds with some Tech fans already heading to the exits.
But after a near-flawless performance on defense, coach Bo Pelini’s defense made the ultimate late-game miscue, allowing a receiver to run free behind coverage.
On second-and-6 from his 16, Taylor retreated into a collapsing pocket, located sophomore flanker Danny Coale streaking unchecked down the sideline and fired a perfect strike in the face of the typically heavy rush. Coale collected the ball in stride around the Nebraska 40 and nearly outsprinted senior safety Matt O’Hanlon to the end zone before O’Hanlon made a diving tackle at the Nebraska 3-yard line.
“We all take responsibility for not finishing the deal,” said Pelini, refusing to single out O’Hanlon for his busted coverage. “We had plenty of opportunities to put that football game away, and we didn’t do it. And they made the play at the end. I take my hat off to them. End of story.”
After his egregious error on the pass to Coale, O’Hanlon attempted to make amends on the next play, sacking Taylor for an 8-yard loss with 33 seconds remaining.
After an incompletion on second down, Taylor rolled left and then right on the game’s deciding play, buying valuable seconds against a tired defense with his legs as he waited for a receiver to break free. That receiver was Roberts, who only one series before had dropped a pass that would have moved the chains on fourth down.
This time there would be no costly bobble: Roberts separated momentarily from a Nebraska defender in the back of the end zone, and Taylor delivered a perfect throw to the lunging receiver to send Lane Stadium into meltdown mode. With Virginia Tech leading 16-15 and only 21 seconds left, none of the delirious fans cared when Taylor’s two-point-conversion toss sailed incomplete.
The junior quarterback and his victorious mates deserve to bask in the glow of Saturday’s last-minute heroics for a few hours; perhaps fate owed them such a miracle after Boston College and Matt Ryan pulled off a similar Houdini act against the Hokies two seasons ago.
But the Hokies were outgained 343 yards to 278 and recorded just three second-half first downs before the fateful final drive - just a week before Miami visits Blacksburg. Behind sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris, the Hurricanes (2-0) looked masterful in their 33-17 decimation of Georgia Tech on Thursday. It likely will take far more than a packed house and a horseshoe to stop the Hurricanes.