DALLAS -- Nebraska fans surely were wondering after Monday's
17-14 Cotton Bowl loss to Auburn why coach Bill Callahan called a
fake punt inside his own 30-yard line early in the game and why he
didn't call for a potential tying field goal when the Cornhuskers
were on the Tigers' 30 late.
Callahan didn't second-guess either move.
The botched fake set up a 14-yard touchdown drive that gave
Auburn a 14-7 lead, and the decision to go for it on fourth-and-11
with about two minutes left resulted in a Zac Taylor incompletion.
Given the way his offense played on its first possession --
marching 80 yards for a touchdown -- a blown fake punt in the
opening quarter wouldn't have seemed insurmountable. But the
Huskers generated just one more touchdown and 150 yards on the next
11 series, including 63 yards in the second half.
"It was still early enough in the ball game where if it didn't
work, we were still in a good position, we felt, to come back,"
Callahan said. "Things got discombobulated. We fumbled the
exchange, lost critical yardage, and that hurt us. We got behind
the eight-ball on the short field."
Dane Todd took the snap and then, as he was running to his left,
was supposed to pitch to Andrew Shanle, who was coming around on a
reverse. But Todd, a fullback, couldn't keep hold of the ball, and
Tristan Davis recovered for Auburn.
Todd said Auburn's penetration up the middle caused problems.
"It just muddied up the pitch," Todd said. "You get disrupted
on something like that, and it can really throw a play for a
The Huskers have used trick plays regularly this season and had
been planning all along to spring the fake punt. Nebraska was bound
to use the play in its own territory, Todd said, because Auburn had
a tendency to set up its return game and not apply much pressure up
front on opponents' punts.
"You start getting up toward midfield and they start going
safe, especially with our record of running trick plays," Todd
said. "We knew we had to do it somewhere deep in our own end. It's
a gamble. We ended up losing on that gamble. It happens."
Callahan, in defending his decision to not try a field goal with
2:03 left, said a 47-yarder would have been out of Jordan Congdon's
"We come out in pre-game and check the distances and wind and
cut off where we feel we can make it and can't make it," Callahan
said. "It was beyond our cutoff point, so we made the decision to
go for it on fourth down instead of attempt the field goal."
Callahan declined to disclose the cutoff point.
"I keep that between me and the team," he said. "Jordan knew
what the cutoff was. Everybody was on the same page. That's the
decision we live with."
Taylor said he fully expected to go for it. Needing 11 yards for
the first down, Taylor rolled to his right and badly overthrew
Frantz Hardy along the sideline.
Auburn's only touchdown, other than the one set up by Todd's
fumble on the fake, was on a 9-yard scoring drive after Carib Dede
returned an interception 52 yards.
Linebacker Stewart Bradley, who led a strong effort that held
Auburn to 178 yards, said he regrets that he and his defensive
mates couldn't hold the Tigers to field goals on those two series.
"That," he said, "could have changed the game."