EUGENE, Ore. — It looked like senior receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El had a good lane to return the final punt of the game. But he fair caught the ball at the Nebraska 43-yard line instead. And he really wishes he didn’t.
“That’s on me,” Pierson-El said. “I should’ve returned it. If I could have that one back, I would. But it is what it is.”
Pierson-El didn’t return any punts against Oregon. The senior said Oregon was kicking it away from him, which made it difficult to see if his blocks were set up by the time he got to the ball.
“I knew where our guys were but I kinda lost where they were because I had to run over there so fast, so I just wasn’t as comfortable as to who was around me,” Pierson-El said. “Once I caught it I looked up and I was pretty upset.”
The next play, junior quarterback Tanner Lee threw his fourth interception, which closed out the game.
Pierson-El finished with four catches for 67 yards and one touchdown.
Kalu, Bryant suffer injuries
Nebraska may have lost two key players after Saturday’s game, but coach Mike Riley isn’t sure yet what the prognosis for safety Joshua Kalu and running back Tre Bryant might be.
Kalu left late in the first half with a hamstring injury and spent the second half in street clothes. He limped off the field afterward. Bryant left with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. He was helped off the field favoring his right knee. He did not get out of his uniform.
“Tre, I don’t know for sure, but I did get a little bit better news than I thought about him,” Riley said. “They’re not sure. It’s a knee for sure, but I don’t know.”
On Kalu, Riley said: “Hamstring, hope it’s not a big one.”
Diaco pleased with Reed
Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said he was happy with the way junior safety Antonio Reed played in the second half. Reed forced a fumble in the fourth quarter which led to Nebraska cutting the Oregon lead to 42-35.
Reed replaced senior safety Joshua Kalu after Kalu left the game with a leg injury. Kalu was in street clothes for the second half.
“Good, good,” Diaco said of Reed’s game. “A challenging circumstance. He’s gonna play a lot, and he’s settled into his game. He learned in the game, in the second half he learned in the second half.”
Redshirt freshman corner DiCaprio Bootle also was pleased with the way Reed performed.
“Antonio did his job, he stepped up, I’m happy for my brother,” Bootle said. “He’s a funny guy. Always making somebody laugh, always joking on somebody. We go back and forth on the jokes, but when it comes down to it, we know we can depend on him.”
Diaco went even broader, adding he liked the way his entire defense played.
“(There’s) not one player I’m not just in love and on fire for and to teach,” Diaco said. “And they’re all trying as hard as we can try. We’re all trying as hard as we can try. And we’re all getting better.”
Farniok steps in line for start
Starting right tackle David Knevel did not suit up for the game. He’s out with a foot injury. That meant redshirt freshman tackle Matt Farniok got the first start of his career.
Farniok, one of Nebraska’s highest- rated commits in the 2016 class, said he found out Wednesday he’d be getting his first start, and his approach was the same as it’s always been.
“It’s just playing football. That’s what I’ve done since third grade. It’s the same thing, just a bigger stage,” Farniok said.
Overall, he thought he could’ve played better. The offensive line helped running back Tre Bryant rush for 107 yards, but they didn’t protect quarterback Tanner Lee all that well.
Farniok said he knows of a thing or two he needs to improve on for next week. But he was happy how quickly he settled into his role, despite starting his first game on the road.
“I was really amped up really ready to go and then as I got into the game, the more I got comfortable and felt more ready to play,” he said.
Lightbourn plays close to home
Caleb Lightbourn had a chance to kick in front of more family than usual Saturday afternoon. His hometown of Camas, Washington, is, after all, only 130 miles north of Autzen Stadium on Interstate 5.
The sophomore punter’s review of his performance — coming in front of his mom, grandparents, aunt and uncle — was merely so-so.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a game and you just gotta focus on what you gotta do,” Lightbourn said. “Regardless of where you are, I always have people supporting me. I just have to focus and do my job, and at the end of the day that’s what matters.”
Lightbourn’s least impressive boot may have been his first, which went 31 yards to the Oregon 48-yard line. His best was a 37-yarder in the third quarter that Kieron Williams corralled at the Oregon 5 (the Ducks went nine plays on the ensuing drive but eventually fizzled on downs).
The punter also set up the Ducks at their own 15 and 14, respectively, with fourth-quarter kicks. Overall he boomed seven balls for an average distance of 40.3 yards.
“I just gotta eliminate those (bad punts) and just really capitalize on the opportunities I get in just flipping the field,” Lightbourn said. “I had a couple opportunities I could have done that and I didn’t. So I have a lot of work to do and just gotta focus and work even harder every single week.”
Ducks look to cut penalties
Oregon coach Willie Taggart acknowledged the Ducks have some work to do to lower the number of 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
The Ducks finished with 12 penalties for 103 yards, including a 15-yard flag Taggart earned for arguing about a call he thought should have been assessed on the Huskers because an NU player’s foot made contact with the Oregon quarterback’s helmet.
“I’m a jughead for that,” Taggart said. “That’s what I was (mad) at. I can’t tell you what I said. I didn’t say it to the ref, I just said, ‘That was B.S.’ Kicking our quarterback while he was laying on the ground and we all saw it. And he saw it, too.
“That’s on me. I’ll run some laps for the team, but that’s not who we want to be. We want to get better at that. We have to be better at that.”
When asked what it meant for him to have his head coach stick up for him like that, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert said it was appreciated.
“It’s great to have him in my corner,” Herbert said. “He’ll defend every player on this team, and it just shows how much he cares about us and he’s a really respectable guy.”
Husker faithful impress
Nebraska coach Mike Riley isn’t surprised any more by the turnout of Nebraska fans at road venues. The Huskers had an estimated 10,000 fans — perhaps more — inside Autzen Stadium, comprising nearly 20 percent of the crowd.
But Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert had never seen anything like it inside Autzen.
“That’s really cool for Nebraska,” Herbert said.
As a result of Nebraska fans traveling so well, NU’s offense didn’t seem to struggle too much with the Autzen noise. The Huskers had zero delay of game penalties, although they had a false start on a fourth-and-1 from Pierson-El and tight end Connor Ketter leaned a bit on another play to pick up another false start. He didn’t appear to be affected by the crowd noise, though.