It was a heartbreak start to the Mike Riley era for the Nebraska football team.
“OK. Am I supposed to make an opening statement after that?” Riley started his postgame press conference.
Nebraska (0-1) dropped its season-opener for the first time since 1985 with the loss to BYU on Saturday, after the Cougars converted a Hail Mary on the final play to win. The 42-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Mangum to Mitch Mathews lifted BYU to a 33-28 win over Nebraska in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
For Nebraska, the loss starts the season on a sour note. “I think there were more Hail Mary’s completed last year at the end than I’ve ever heard of,” Riley said. “But I don’t remember that happening at the end of any of our games.”
The play happened after Nebraska missed a field-goal attempt with just 48 second remaining in the game. The kick would have given Nebraska a four-point lead. But the miss gave BYU more time to work on the final drive.
Following the game, Nebraska kicker Drew Brown said he let the wind get into his head, “It shouldn’t have. I just thought about it too much.”
Nebraska was led offensively by quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. who completed 24-41 pass attempts for 319 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw one interception in the game.
Armstrong focused on missed opportunities to close out the game, “We kind of killed ourselves in certain situations when it came to getting first downs. False starts, holding calls. Just being able to move then chains with a set-back.”
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill ran for two scores and threw for another, but was injured during the game. Coach Bronco Mendenhall announced following the game that Hill’s injury will end his season. Back-up quarterback Tanner Mangum led two scoring drives for BYU, including the Hail Mary drive.
“I saw it, so I was pretty confident,” Mendenhall said of the Hail Mary. “But until it’s confirmed you don’t know. Small price to pay, I guess, as long as it was a touchdown.”
Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker says the game should have never reached that point. “We had some stuff that we didn’t execute in the first half,” Banker said. “If somebody doesn’t wholeheartedly believe that, number 1, you have to play all 60 minutes then they’re crazy.”
Nebraska’s defenders said they had practice Hail Mary defense during Friday’s final practice before the season-opener. Banker and Riley both say Mathews came from the far side of the field to catch the pass in the south endzone at Memorial Stadium.
“You kind of see the quarterback just running around,” safety Nate Gerry said of the Hail Mary. “Kind of nerve racking. You don’t really know what to do, just hope for the best and try to make a play. That dude made a nice play.”
With the loss, Nebraska begins the season 0-1 and the first time since 1985, ending the nation’s longest streak of season-opening wins.
Riley says the team captains addressed the team following the game. “One thing that we have and I know we can build on after watching this team today, is that this is a competitive, fighting football team,” Riley said. “We came back, scored a couple times, made some plays and just kept fighting. Right down to the very end. We can use all that if we continue to fight like that. We can correct some of this stuff. We’re going to be all right.”