The scoring in Nebraska’s 40-7 victory was finished early in the fourth quarter. But Tennessee-Chattanooga was looking for three more points, pride points, on a 37-yard field goal.
The attempt was blocked. Josh Williams was credited with the block, but Jared Crick claimed he got a piece of the ball. “A couple of other guys said they got a piece of it, too,” said Crick.
“We’ll have to watch the tape. Maybe it got batted by three dudes.”
The tape showed that a fourth, Cameron Meredith, got more than a piece of the deflected field goal. The defensive end grabbed the ball near the line of scrimmage and carried it 7 yards before being tackled at the Nebraska 26 – 74 yards from the Chattanooga end zone.
“I would have scored,” Crick said afterward. “It’s just a given I would have taken it to ‘the house.’ But that’s (for) another day, another time.”
Crick was joking, of course, offering some good-natured ribbing. The truth is, he was glad Meredith was playing. “After he got rolled up on, we were surprised he came back in the game,” said Crick, Nebraska’s All-America candidate at defensive tackle.
“I was just happy he was out there with us, let alone trying to return a blocked field goal.”
With 1:06 remaining in the first half, Meredith had to be helped to the sideline. But he was back on the field at the start of the third quarter, continuing to harass the visiting Mocs.
Meredith was credited with two quarterback sacks in the first half, then added the return of the blocked field goal and a pass interception in the second half. “I thought it was pretty productive,” he said of his performance. “I thought it was good day for the defensive line as a whole. I feel like there’s things we can get better at. But I thought for our first game, it was pretty good.”
Meredith’s performance reflected an off-season of commitment, coming back from surgery to repair a shoulder he “blew out” in the opener a year ago. Despite the shoulder problem, the junior from Santa Ana, Calif., started every game and earned second-team all-conference honors.
On a defense with three All-America candidates – Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard – Meredith could be overlooked.
“I don’t think opponents will overlook him,” said defensive line coach John Papuchis. “I think maybe he gets overlooked from a national perception, an outsider’s perspective, but we know how good he is, and I think our opponents certainly know how good he is.”
Those who compile watch lists for national awards also know how good he is. Meredith’s name is on watch lists for the Lombardi Award and the Hendricks Award.
In any case, “I know he was hungry to get out there,” Papuchis said.
Because of the surgery, Meredith missed spring practice. In retrospect, however, “I thought I became better mentally in the game because I started helping the younger players learn their techniques, their plays, so I think that helped me in the aspect of a more mental football player,” he said.
Answering questions and teaching others can be a learning technique.
That learning complemented his physical development, particularly his upper body. “I knew Cam was going to be a dynamic football player for us this year,” said defensive coordinator Carl Pelini. “He’s faster. He’s stronger, just more confident.”
Nebraska has more depth in the defensive line than it’s had during Bo Pelini’s first three seasons. The Huskers used four defensive tackles besides Crick: Baker Steinkuhler, Thad Randle, Terrence Moore and Chase Rome. And they used five defensive ends besides Meredith: Williams, Jason Ankrah, Eric Martin, Joe Carter and Alonzo Whaley.
The ends, as well as the tackles, can “all rotate in and there’s really no drop-off for (any) of us,” said Meredith, who estimated he played 55-to-60 percent of the snaps against Tennessee-Chattanooga. “So I think in order for me to get a break or, like, I got hurt on Saturday, someone can come in and replace me while I’m getting re-taped or something. That’s really helpful.”
As for Crick’s claim he would have scored on the return of the blocked field goal, “I don’t know what Jared’s talking about,” Meredith said. “I don’t think he would have scored, but I don’t know. After the game, he kind of said, ‘Why didn’t you score?’
“I was like, ‘I tried to. I just couldn’t do it.’ ”