Nebraska’s stunning fourth-quarter comeback Saturday night arguably overshadowed quarterback Brad Kaaya’s best performance of his young career. The sophomore from California picked apart the Cornhuskers’ secondary all night and was the main reason the Canes led Nebraska by as many as 24 points.
Kaaya was keyed in from the start, throwing two touchdowns in the first seven minutes of the game. They were the first career touchdowns for sophomores Christopher Herndon IV and Tyre Brady. The Canes took a 17-0 lead into the second quarter largely because of Kaaya throwing for 143 yards on 9-of-13 passing.
Kaaya didn’t throw another touchdown after the first quarter, but he consistently racked up big yardage to put the team in scoring position. The second-year quarterback finished the night with a career-high 379 yards on 25-of-42 passing and completed throws to nine different players. He also had his first interception of the season on a risky throw in the fourth quarter, but Head Coach Al Golden blames himself for a questionable play call, saying, “That’s on me.”
Nebraska came into the game with the No. 119-ranked passing defense in the country out of 127 teams, but Nebraska Head Coach Mike Riley gave Kaaya the credit for the quarterback’s huge night.
“I think he made good, quick decisions and threw, early on, some quick play action passes that moved our linebackers and isolated our secondary,” Riley said. “He appeared to play very confidently. We couldn’t get him to pull the ball down or throw him off of his rhythm for a long time.”
The Cornhuskers struggled to keep up with the quarterback’s quick decision making. The Canes had five scoring drives – all 50 yards or more – that took less than three minutes off the clock.
Kaaya struck Nebraska early and often. On first down throws, Kaaya racked up 207 yards and one touchdown on 12 of 18 passing. That success on first down allowed offensive coordinator James Coley to open up the playbook and to not worry about needing to pick up enough yards for another set of downs.
Kaaya had his career night despite the absence of sophomore receiver Braxton Berrios and limited play of junior receiver Stacy Coley. Both players suffered injuries in the season opener against Bethune-Cookman.
Redshirt senior Rashawn Scott stepped up with the two ailing receivers on the sideline. Scott made catches all over the field, resulting in a career-high nine receptions for 151 yards, second most to his 180-yard game against North Carolina State in 2012.
“I have a great quarterback to throw it to me,” Scott said after the game.
Although Nebraska’s fourth-quarter comeback is the main takeaway from Saturday’s game, Kaaya’s performance against the Cornhuskers should leave Canes fans optimistic going forward.