Big Ten teams know the highs, lows of last-play touchdowns
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) No play in football produces simultaneous joy and heartbreak more than the Hail Mary. The Big Ten has been involved in more than its share over the years.
Two years ago, in nearly the same spot where Mathews came down with the ball in Memorial Stadium's south end zone, Nebraska's Jordan Westerkamp caught Ron Kellogg III's tipped 49-yarder to beat Northwestern.
''It feels a lot better when you're the one catching it,'' Westerkamp deadpanned this week.
Westerkamp had taken a knee on the sideline before BYU's winning play unfolded.
''I was hoping to God it wouldn't happen, but it did happen,'' he said. ''I was kind of frozen, saying to myself, `Damn. That just happened.' "
Since 2000, there have been 12 major-college games decided on last-play passes of 40 yards or longer, according to STATS. Five of those involved a Big Ten team.
In addition to the two Nebraska games the last two years, Hail Marys decided Michigan State's upset of Wisconsin in 2011, Iowa's win over LSU in the 2005 Capital One Bowl and Northwestern's victory over Minnesota in 2000.
''There isn't a week that goes by that I don't think about it,'' said Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason, Minnesota's coach that year.
The best-known Hail Mary was the 48-yarder from Boston College's Doug Flutie to Gerard Phelan to beat the defending champion Miami Hurricanes in 1984. The play immediately became known as the ''Hail Flutie'' and might be the most replayed college football play of all time.
Ten years later, Colorado's Kordell Stewart launched the 64-yard ''Miracle at Michigan'' that was tipped and landed in the hands of Michael Westbrook to beat the Wolverines. In 2002, LSU's Marcus Randall threw a 74-yarder to Devery Henderson to beat Kentucky in the ''Bluegrass Miracle.''
Hail Marys rarely work, of course. The offense is in desperation mode when the quarterback throws to a spot in the end zone. Everyone in the vicinity converges on it, and the result usually is an incompletion or interception.
It's common for a team to practice end-of-the-game situations once a week or so. Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis said the Wolverines spend time on it at the end of every practice. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said he goes over Hail Marys on Thursdays, and if there was a successful one involving another team the previous weekend, he'll show it to his team on Monday.
''There is always something to learn from in those situations from other teams,'' Flood said. ''You go back as far as the Flutie play at BC.''
Nebraska coach Mike Riley said his team worked on the play three times in the month leading to the BYU game.
''I know it probably didn't look like we had,'' he said. ''We can correct how we played that. We were out of position with one player in particular who should have been underneath (Mathews) instead of trailing. There are other things we've talked about doing in those situations. Just like you do on third down, you have multiple options you can go to. That's where we're headed with more thought.''
While not having a defender in front of Mathews to knock away the ball was Nebraska's most glaring problem, the pass-rush may have played a role. Nebraska sent three men after Mangum, and he had no trouble rolling to his right and making a strong pass. A five- or even six-man rush would have hurried Mangum and made it difficult for him to get outside the pocket.
''Maybe next time we try to knock the quarterback's head off,'' defensive coordinator Mark Banker said.
Asked how he felt after Mathews caught Mangum's desperation pass that produced BYU's 33-28 win, Banker said, ''You're just dead inside.''
Other than that, he said, it was a lesson learned for his players.
''If someone doesn't wholeheartedly believe you have to play all 60 minutes, they're crazy,'' he said. ''A little thing like a Hail Mary is a big deal.''
Freelance writer Matt Sugam in Pisacataway, New Jersey, and Andy Reid in Ann Arbor, Michigan, contributed to this report.