STILLWATER, Okla. — In a 41-29 loss the featured numerous Nebraska breakdowns, coach Bill Callahan was especially critical of the Cornhuskers' special teams play Saturday against Oklahoma State.
"I felt coming into this game that special teams was going to be a phase that we had to at least match (Oklahoma State)," Callahan said. "We didn't do that."
Nebraska senior tri-captain Brandon Rigoni, a key member of several of the Huskers' special teams unit, took things a bit further.
"I think it was more than a little bit of a letdown," Rigoni said. "It felt like our kickoff coverage was very suspect."
On the final stat sheet, Nebraska limited the Cowboys to an average of 22.4 yards on five kickoff returns — well below their nation-leading average of 30.4 yards per return coming into the game.
However, a 39-yard kickoff return by OSU's Perrish Cox in the closing minute of the first half set up a 45-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left before halftime that cut Nebraska's lead to 23-20 at the intermission. Callahan said he felt that play helped the Cowboys turn the tide of the game.
"That was a killer right before half," Callahan said.
"That definitely changed the momentum going into the locker room," Nebraska safety Andrew Shanle said. "It was something that was unfortunately because we were going to have the ball back to start the second half and the feelings of the teams could've been different.
"Instead, they really carried themselves into the locker room with high heads, feeling good about themselves."
One thing that would obviously help NU's kickoff coverage team would be if the kickers would put the ball into the end zone. However, the Huskers' kickoff men have recorded touchbacks on five of 54 kickoffs this season.
NU also misfired on one field-goal attempt and two point-after-TD tries.
Kickoff coverage certainly wasn't the only special teams area of concern for Nebraska. The Huskers struggled with decision-making in terms of bringing the ball out of the end zone on kickoff returns, twice starting possessions inside their own 20-yard line in the fourth quarter.
"I wasn't satisfied with our fielding decisions, our coverage, our kicking — we had a complete collapse and meltdown in the special teams phase," Callahan said. "It really hurt us."
Nebraska's first missed PAT came when holder Jake Wesch couldn't handle the snap. Even larger, Callahan said, was Jordan Congdon's missed 42-yard field goal attempt with 10:53 left in the first quarter that helped OSU hold the Huskers scoreless on their first drive of the second half.
"I felt very good about our opportunity to come out and play well," Callahan said. "We missed that field goal right there and that kind of put us behind the eight ball and gave them a lot of momentum.
"We've got to go back to work and rectify those errors and do a better job altogether. I was just not satisfied with our kicking game."
Nebraska senior fullback Dane Todd said all the seemingly small mistakes tend to add up.
"Any time you're giving up big chunks of yardage on special teams, you're stuck in poor field position for the offense and good field position for their offense," Todd said. "Any time the opposing team has a short field to work with, it's more likely that they're going to get points out of the deal.
"So we need to correct some things on special teams — there's no doubt about that — and we'll get it done."
Rigoni said he took the special teams breakdowns personally.
"That's my squad — those are my guys," Rigoni said. "All I can say is that I take responsibility. Next week, we're going to grind on special teams. We've got to get things worked out."
Rigoni said that, without seeing film, he wasn't certain what happened on Cox's 39-yard kickoff return.
"Perrish Cox is a great return man and they're very well coached — you can tell that," Rigoni said. "They do some different things with blockers than we've seen, but we prepared hard for them this week and really expected to perform out there.
"I thought we did well on the punt (coverage) team, but man, that kickoff cover team just really thought we were going to perform better."