Five Costly Mistakes on Special Teams

The Nebraska Cornhuskers defense didn't get any favors from the Nebraska special teams on Saturday, with multiple quick turnovers and short fields.

Ann Arbor, MI - For a unit classified as "solid" all year, the Nebraska special teams squad is looking for answers tonight. Their performance against Michigan on Saturday noon could be called "uncharacteristic."

Special teams units had five major mistakes: Two fumbles lost on kickoffs, a long snap dropped resulting in a blocked punt, a poorly defended fake field goal resulting in a first down, and a 15-yard roughing the kicker penalty resulting in a first down.

But only those miscues directly put points on the board. There were other missed blocks, penalties, and blunders that left special teams coach John Papuchis lost for words after the contest.

"I can't really explain it," said Papuchis. "It was a combination of errors, it was obviously uncharacteristic of what we have done this year."

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini echoed Papuchis' answer.

"I thought our guys were ready to play, I don't have an answer on why we put two balls on the ground in the second half," said Pelini. "The punter dropped the punt? You can't do those things. I don't know why they happen; I don't know why we drop the ball.

"We had been playing good on special teams."

Nebraska opened up the second half down a touchdown and receiving the ball – things didn't look exactly bleak. But Kenny Bell fumbled the kickoff and Michigan recovered – resulting in a seven-play 33-yard drive for a score.

After getting near midfield on their next possession, the Huskers were forced to punt. Brett Maher took the snap and fumbled it – trying to get a late kick off that was blocked. Maher was shaken up on the play, but reported after the game he is fine – just a little banged up.

"It's my punting leg, but nothing serious," said Maher. "We needed to be a little sharper today, I definitely didn't put our team in the positions I needed to this week. I think it played a big part in the whole day."

In the 4th quarter, with Nebraska starting to steal the game's momentum, the Huskers went for an all out block on a Michigan punt. Deemed a "questionable officiating" call by the Twitter universe, Nebraska was flagged for roughing the kicker. The play resulted in a first down and eight players later, the Wolverines added another touchdown to the scoreboard.

"We felt like we wanted to make a play at that point, we were done 14," said Papuchis. "We debated a little bit on what would give us a better opportunity, it's something we worked on in practice and it almost was there."

Pelini wouldn't get into the details of the explanation he got from the officiating crew on the call after the game, but thought it was a mistake.

"It was not the right call, the bottom line," said Pelini.

As far as the other mistakes: "It's huge. We are talking about giving away possessions and giving them short fields. It hurts, like I said, we have been good on special teams. The special teams hurt us today."

What was Nebraska safety Austin Cassidy's thoughts on the special teams unit putting extra pressure on the defense?

"It's part of the game; you have to be ready for anything," said Cassidy. "It's just like a turnover. All types of different things you have to be ready for. Unfortunately they just snow balled on us today."

Josh Harvey has covered college football and recruiting for Fox Sports & since 2008. He is now the Publisher of Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics.
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