Hagg may have saved Huskers' seasonLINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Even Eric Hagg had to admit it. He might have saved ninth-ranked Nebraska’s season.
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Even Eric Hagg had to admit it. He might have saved ninth-ranked Nebraska’s season.
His interception on Iowa State’s fake extra-point try in overtime Saturday let Nebraska escape Ames with a 31-30 victory. With a loss, the Huskers would have had to rely on help from other teams to win the Big 12 North. As it is, they control their destiny.
That realization came to Hagg on the bus ride back to Lincoln.
“It was make it or break it,” Hagg said Monday. “We already lost one game, which kind of hurt us. It’s just one play. It was a pretty good play, I guess.”
It wasn’t Hagg’s first. He intercepted Jake Locker to set up the Huskers’ first touchdown against Washington, and he ran back a punt a school-record 95 yards against Texas.
The coaching staff was so impressed with Hagg last season that it reconfigured the defensive scheme to keep him on the field, making him a linebacker-safety hybrid.
“He’s a man who we’ve asked to do a lot in our system,” secondary coach Marvin Sanders said. “A lot of times he goes unnoticed because he’s just doing his job. They may not throw the ball his way. When he has an opportunity to make a play, I’m going to put my money on him.”
The senior from Peoria, Ariz., got a big opportunity after Iowa State tied it 30-30 and lined up as if it were going to kick the extra point to send the game to a second overtime.
Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini yelled from the sideline to be ready for a fake, but Hagg said he couldn’t hear him.
ISU holder Daniel Kuehl popped up when he took the snap and ran to his left before throwing a wobbly pass in the direction of Collin Franklin.
Hagg, who was lined up at middle linebacker, sprinted right and stepped in front of Franklin just in time to make the interception.
“It seemed like it was hanging up there for a while,” Hagg said. “If it was a really well-thrown ball out to the corner, it would have been a really hard play to make.”
Had Kuehl thrown a tight spiral, Hagg probably would have gotten there too late. Hagg said Kuehl could have been affected by the wind, or possibly nerves.
“I don’t know if he choked or not,” Hagg said.
Sanders said the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hagg began to show playmaking ability late in the 2008 season. Late in a 26-21 Gator Bowl win over Clemson, he broke up a pass to save a touchdown and a sack for a 16-yard loss on the next play to preserve the victory.
For most of last season, Nebraska used a standard 4-3 alignment. Hagg, who played nickelback, would be replaced by a linebacker when offenses were in run situations.
Sanders said he remembers coach Bo Pelini wondering aloud why Hagg ever came off the field.
“Bo looks at me one day and says, ‘Coach Sanders, are we crazy? I’m sitting here watching one of the best athletes in the country jog off the field when he should be playing.’”
Nebraska’s base system now employs two linebackers. “You don’t have to take Eric out, and you know he can hold up against the run.”
Sanders said it’s hard to tell whether Hagg would project to safety or cornerback in the NFL next season. In a way, Sanders said, he’s like Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
“I’m not saying Eric is Heisman Trophy (worthy),” he said. “Tim Tebow was such a valuable college football player for what he did for his team. That’s the same way I feel about Eric Hagg on defense. If you started any team, that’s one guy I think would be a starter on almost any defense.”