In the aftermath of the Nebraska-VA Tech game I was calling it a “stomach punch”. Why? Well, let me refer to Bill Simmons and his levels of losing. Appropriately, I thought the loss was a Level III loss on his levels of losing. There are 16 levels. Level III is “The Stomach Punch”. Here’s how Bill Simmons puts it.

Level III: The Stomach Punch
Definition: Now we’ve moved into rarefied territory, any roller-coaster game that ends with (A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play or (B) one of your guys failing in the clutch. … Usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all. … Always haunting, sometimes scarring. … There are degrees to The Stomach Punch Game, depending on the situation. … For instance, it’s hard to top Cleveland’s Earnest Byner fumbling against Denver when he was about two yards and 0.2 seconds away from sending the Browns to the Super Bowl.

Best Example: Wouldn’t it have to be the Titans-Bills playoff game from ’99, when the Bills kicked the alleged game-winning field goal in the final seconds, then Tennessee pulled off that miracle Wycheck-to-Dyson lateral play for the game-winning TD (on the kickoff, with no time remaining)? Not only was that a top-five Stomach Punch Game, it doubled as the greatest Gambling Moment of all-time (since Tennessee ended up covering by a half-point). That was un-beeeeeeeeeeeeeee-lievable. 

I think Huskers fans were in stunned disbelief after that improbable pass play at the end of the game that gave the Hokies the victory. After the first drive of the game, the Huskers dominated the Hokies on both sides of the ball. However, the Huskers could never score a touchdown. Husker fans have to wait a bit longer for that so-called breakthrough victory.

In the first half, the Huskers were down 7-6 and had first and goal from the 3 yard line. Not once did they give the ball to Roy Helu Jr, instead they passed twice. The Huskers settled for a field goal. They took the lead, 9-6, but it was a missed opportunity. It was maddening at the time because it was starting to become evident that the Huskers couldn’t be stopped on the ground.

The third quarter was a joke. The second time the Huskers had the ball they were driving, and then Lee threw an interception into triple coverage. That was just the opening act for the main event of the quarter. Nebraska has first and goal from the 6 yard line. Then what? Penalty, penalty, incomplete pass (which was a dropped touchdown pass), penalty, incomplete pass, penalty, loss of a yard, and then punt. Fourth and goal and they had to punt! Heck, even a field goal there helps. This was when I realized that they weren’t putting VA Tech away and that it could come back to haunt them.

Fourth quarter and the Huskers had chances again to put away VA Tech. Lee makes a tougher than it should be pass to a wide open WR that forces the WR to go out of bounds instead of running it for a touchdown. Instead, the Huskers stall and tack on another field goal to make it 15-10. They appear to stop VA Tech on downs with just over two minutes to play. Nebraska gets the ball and runs three straight running plays. VA Tech has all their timeouts so they manage to get the ball back with just under two minutes on the clock. Once again, the Blackshirts have to step up.

They sack Tyrod Taylor on the first play. (And, for the record, Tyrod Taylor played horribly.) Next play, they are chasing Taylor (again) and he heaves it down field to a wide open WR. 81 yard play to the 2 yard line. (You almost wish he scores so there is plenty of time left on the clock for the Huskers.)  Amazingly, the Huskers sack Taylor (again) on first down. They stop them on second down, but on third down they finally score. Ball game. VA Tech wins by one, 16-15.

The Blackshirts, led by an incredible performance from Ndamukong Suh, played well, but at some point it’s almost like you’re asking too much from them. They shut down VA Tech all game. The Hokies’ opening drive touchdown was set up by a huge kickoff return. They weren’t doing much on the Blackshirts for most of the game. Hate to see the loss come on such a play where one of the defensive players was exposed.

The Huskers should’ve won, but didn’t. When you lose by one point you can think of numerous plays that could’ve made the difference. I still go back to the play calling with first and goal and you don’t let Roy Helu Jr run it once. He had 168 yards on the day, a new personal best. Zac Lee wasn’t throwing well, and the offense just didn’t execute when it needed to. (Again, first and goal from the 6 yard line and you end up punting. That is awful.)

By the smallest of margins they lost, and by the smallest of margins the Huskers are not back among the best teams in college football. The best teams win these games, not squander them away.

Any positives? Nebraska can go into Columbia and Lawrence and beat Missouri and Kansas if they can go into Blacksburg and almost beat VA Tech. With Ndamukong Suh and Roy Helu the Huskers will always have a chance. If they stay healthy, they have a realistic chance to play in the Big 12 Championship Game.

Like I said, the Huskers have a chance to win every game they play, but they won’t win every game. Today encapsulated that statment perfectly. Had a chance to win, but they didn’t.

Thankfully, Liam helped me snap out of the post game funk quickly.

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