LINCOLN, Neb. — With 5:07 left in the first quarter, Nebraska punter Caleb Lightbourn sailed a punt 54 yards from his own end zone. It was a strong punt, and one Lightbourn expected Arkansas State’s Blaise Taylor to fair catch.
Instead, Taylor ran the punt back 63 yards for Arkansas State’s first touchdown of the game. It also gave the Red Wolves an early 7-3 lead.
Blaise Taylor didn't make it easy on himself, but he still managed to house this punt, in highlight fashion. pic.twitter.com/lzBrXtHoe5
— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) September 3, 2017
So, what happened exactly?
“It was weird,” Lightbourn said. “As soon as it came off my foot, I thought, ‘He is going to fair catch it,’ and that’s what he tried to do, but then he muffs it. We don’t really have a lot of practices with muffs because our returners in practice don’t really ever muff the ball. That’s not something we really practice, but we’re usually ready for it.
“The way it was muffed, it muffed off to the side and muffed off to the field where there was a lot of open space, so it gave the returner an opportunity to bring the ball back.”
Lightbourn attempted to tackle Taylor, but wasn’t close enough as he tried to catch him. In hindsight, there were a couple of things Lightbourn feels he could have done differently to prevent the touchdown once Taylor took off toward the end zone.
“I probably could have done a couple of things different as far as trying to tackle him and maybe using leverage,” Lightbourn said. “I could have maybe done a better job using leverage to maybe bring him back inside to my teammates, but there wasn’t a lot I could do. I just tried to chase him down and it didn’t turn out in my favor.”
Lightbourn plans to review the film with the special teams unit and learn from what happened.
“It’s one of those situations where we just have to go back and review it and make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Lightbourn said. “If we have an opportunity to down it deep, we want to be sure that play is executed well.”
The one upside? On the very next play, Nebraska receiver JD Spielman returned Arkansas State’s kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
While it doesn’t fix what has just happened on the muffed punt return for a touchdown, it was exactly what the Huskers needed to turn things back around quickly.
“After I saw their punt returner take it to the end zone, I remember looking over to their sideline and seeing them all jumping around. I remember thinking ‘I can’t wait to shut that down,’ and I got the opportunity to shut that down,” Spielman said. “It changed the momentum back toward Nebraska.”
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