Allen makes Husker debut

The fondness with which Nebraska redshirt freshman Austin Allen looks back at his first appearance for the Huskers may be tainted some by the unfortunate outcome, but the former Aurora Husky made his mark nonetheless.
Allen took the field for the first time as a Husker Saturday in Nebraska’s 33-28 loss to Colorado doing everything he could to contribute.
Back in the locker room, before all the tunnel walk noise and the anticipation of game one, it hit Allen like a ton of bricks how different this scenario was compared to being a redshirt player last year.
“Getting a chance to run out of that tunnel as a player, knowing you’re going to play and not just sit on the bench as a redshirt is a completely different feeling,” he said. “It really means something now.”
Saturday’s game against Colorado signified Allen’s first career game as a Husker. However, during the now infamous Akron debacle a week prior, he was one of 11 Husker players to take the field in that one for the kickoff return.  
Saturday was no different as the Huskers again received the opening kickoff and Allen lined up on the front line ready to build a wall for the return team.
“Special teams are a huge part of the game,” Allen noted. “Those plays can switch the tide of the game at any point. The coaching staff likes my length and what that brings to those plays.”
The former Aurora multi-sport athlete also lined up for the Huskers on the field goal unit as the outside wing to the right side. As he explained, his length and wingspan are almost perfectly designed for the position and what the job entails.
“My length is an ideal spot right there on the field goal unit,” he said. “Any way you can contribute to the team is what you want to do and I’m happy to get out there.”
That length proved worthy of the position. On multiple occasions, Allen had one hand on different defenders and had his hands full on the outside. Maybe most importantly, nobody got around him.
However, the wait for Allen to take the field on offense was agonizingly long. Several drives went by with No. 11 pacing quickly behind the offensive coaches like a new puppy would its mom. Still, his number wasn’t called. It was no fault of his own, just the game plan not fitting his cards early on.
“I thought I’d get an opportunity a bit sooner than that, but the opportunity didn’t arise right away. The scheme wasn’t set for me early,” Allen explained. “Once I got in there, it was a surreal feeling. There are 90,000 people watching everything you’re doing. The feeling can’t be described until you’re actually doing it. Once you do it, it’s even hard for me to explain it. It was an awesome feeling.”
The Huskers drove nearly the length of the field on the first possession before the ball popped out and was recovered by Colorado. The Buffs led 7-0 early.
Nebraska was still moving the ball efficiently, but fumbled a second time in home territory. 14-0. The youth of the Huskers was evident.
At the 13:02 mark of the second quarter with Nebraska trailing 14-7, the offense broke the huddle on the sideline and this time, Allen entered the game. He played every snap of that offensive drive that ended with a touchdown that tied the game at 14.
Oh, the touchdown that never was.
It was a first and 10 from the Buffs 38 with 11:56 left in the second quarter. Allen lined up on the right side in his first series as a Husker and made a beeline for the end zone. I’m sure that the Buffaloes player guarding him wasn’t as small as Allen made him look to be, but the Aurora product had a considerable height advantage.
As he took each towering stride toward the goal line, I’m begging through the camera’s viewfinder for Adrian Martinez, who looked phenomenal in his debut up until his injury in the fourth quarter, to just throw it up and let the big guy come down with it. It was as sure of a touchdown as I could dream up.
Unfortunately, Martinez didn’t see Allen and scrambled for seven yards with a bit of pressure from the Colorado defense.
As the game went along, Allen had his shots on the field playing in different situations which the coaches believed gave the team the most success. He didn’t have a pass reception, but had his first opportunity to display his improved run blocking skills. There’s a ways to go, but he sees the progress.
“I thought it went pretty well. Coaches had us dialed in on technique and footwork,” Allen said. “It’s becoming second nature. We have some things to work on for next week but I’m excited.”
The second half, and more specifically the fourth quarter, was of such tense and high-pressure situations. For much of it, the Huskers desperately held on to a 28-27 lead as the time ticked away slower than sand in an hourglass.
Then, it all fell apart.
Martinez exited the game with an injury. J.D. Spielman dropped a third and 16 pass from walk-on QB Andrew Bunch.
The Blackshirts, who gave flashes of greatness, looked in prime position to seal the game with a third and 25.
But, an unnecessary roughness call on a defenseless receiver gave Colorado new life and the Buffs scored on the ensuing play with 66 seconds to play.
The Huskers got the ball to the Colorado 20 in the final seconds, but two shots to the end zone fell to the unforgiving turf.
“We beat ourselves,” Allen said. “You look at the stats and think we won the game. We killed ourselves with turnovers and whatnot. When we clean that up, we’re going to have a lot of fun. That’s what I’m looking forward to most.”
Allen said there’s no shortage of things that he and the team want to improve on. The missed blocks, improving technique, and growing closer and together as a unit. He’s looking forward to seeing how that progresses over the next three months.
Allen also noted that his efforts Saturday definitely didn’t go unnoticed within his social group and his hometown of Aurora as a whole. He had a genuine appreciation of the support and added that’s how it is around here.
“The support from Aurora is just crazy,” he said. “I had all kinds of text messages and tweets. I can’t even put a number on it. Everybody showed a ton of support and that meant a lot.”
Allen’s first game as a Husker is quite comparable to the outlook of the entire team. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t all great. Some aspects need some massaging. But, the flashes were there. The potential was visible. It was youthful and inexperienced, but man, something special is just itching to break out.
It’s not a storyline that the sportswriters in this state are trying to forcefeed Husker Nation. Allen echoed a lot of those sentiments.
“Our mentality towards football has completely changed,” he said. Now, it’s attack, attack, attack and just go fast. I saw a lot of things to be excited about Saturday.”
Scott Frost sort of hinted at something during Big Ten Media Days that I keep running through my mind, and it was there again on Saturday. Opposing teams better take their best shot at Nebraska now, because the gap is closing. The resurgence is real.
RICHARD RHODEN can be reached at sports@hamilton.net

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