Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska came within a couple of plays of escaping Virginia Tech with a breakthrough victory that would have signaled that the Cornhuskers’ program is moving back among the national powers.
Instead, Nebraska was torched by two late passing plays by Tyrod Taylor that led to a dramatic 16-15 victory for Virginia Tech that took a long time for Pelini to put aside.
“That was as hard a loss as I’ve ever encountered in football,” coach Bo Pelini said. “I’ve had some hard ones, but that was difficult.”
But after watching game films and dabbing at his team’s collective psyche, Pelini thinks the defeat will help them grow.
“Situations like this will help define me and our football team,” Pelini said. “To face a disappointment like that is a challenge. But I look forward to getting this thing fixed.”
The Cornhuskers won’t linger on the loss too long, Pelini said. Louisiana-Lafayette arrives Saturday night in a game that will honor the 300th straight sellout in Nebraska history dating back to 1962.
And for a program built on the tradition of storied fan support and winning championships, Pelini vows his team will quickly forget about its loss.
“We’ll come out Saturday and you’ll see guys who will play with passion,” Pelini said. “Nobody will be crying about what happened. We’re going to play our tails off.”
One area of immediate concern is the health of quarterback Zac Lee, who didn’t practice Monday and appeared at Tuesday’s press conference with a small cast on his left thumb.
Lee described his injury Tuesday as “a little thumb thing.”
Pelini called it a “splinter fracture in the top joint.”
For his part, Lee said his missing practice was nothing out of the ordinary and he expects to play Saturday. He missed Monday’s workouts, he said, after taking an anti-inflammatory medication.
“I just took a day of rest yesterday,” Lee said about the injury, which occurred early in the second quarter of the Tech game.
The injury helped account for Lee’s worst day as a starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers. He completed only 11 of 30 passes for 126 yards with two interceptions. The Cornhuskers’ offense produced only five Alex Henery field goals despite cracking the Virginia Tech 25-yard line on six different occasions and three times at or inside the Tech 10.
“You always think back after a loss like this and wonder about the what-ifs,” Lee said. “But you just have to learn from it and go on. You need a short memory and to get right back out there.”
That sputtering offense still almost provided the victory until two late plays in the final 90 seconds of the game turned the game around. Taylor hooked up with Danny Coale on a miraculous 81-yard pass. And two plays later, Taylor evaded Nebraska’s pass rush for 12 seconds before finally hooking up with Dyrell Roberts for the game-winning touchdown with 21 seconds left.
Pelini said that his team played strong defense except for the late coverage busts. He doesn’t expect those mistakes to have any carryover for his players.
“I’ve been there before and you just recover,” Pelini said. “You just get it corrected. There were a couple of breakdowns.”
The Cornhuskers will face a Ragin’ Cajun team that has already beaten one Big 12 team this season with a home triumph over Kansas State two weeks ago. That was only Louisiana-Lafayette’s second victory over an opponent from a BCS-affiliated conference in the school’s modern football history.
Despite the angst from the Virginia Tech loss, Pelini doesn’t expect his team’s nightmarish finish in Blacksburg to linger with them.
“It’s not something that concerns me,” Pelini said. “I like the way the guys have come out the practice and put last week to rest. It’s a part of the past and it’s time for us to move on.”