NORTH PLATTE - Nebraska’s road trip to Oklahoma State was widely referred to as a “trap game,” because it was sandwiched between two big home games against Texas and Missouri, and sure enough, that dismal prediction came true as the Cornhuskers fell to the unrated Cowboys. But the ugliest disappointment came when the Huskers, after being caught in the trap, seemed resigned to their fate and didn’t fight back. Nebraska not only gave away a big first-half lead, but staged a shocking and embarrassing full-scale retreat in the second half.
It’s election season, but try as I might, I can’t be politically correct about this one. After winning back-to-back Big 12 Conference road games and playing defending national champion Texas within an inch of its life, it seemed that Nebraska had gained back a lot of the consistency it lost over the past five years. So why was I suddenly having flashbacks to the 40-15 debacle in Lawrence, Kan.
, last November? There’s no denying that the Huskers took a huge step backward Saturday in their 41-29 loss.
Nebraska was badly gashed at Stillwater. Yes, it’s true, as Bill Callahan said, “Our goals are still intact. We can still win the Big 12 North.
” The question is, will anyone be able to stop the bleeding? What kind of emotional resolve does this team have? The players seemed to be well-focused and filled with resolve after suffering a huge disappointment at the end of the Texas game. Now the Huskers have opened themselves to mass speculation about whether they will suffer another three-game losing streak, as they did last year after losing a heartbreaker to Texas Tech in Lincoln One week after hearing Texas players tell them, “We’ll see you again in Kansas City,” the Huskers suddenly look like a team that doesn’t really have its heart set on a rematch with the Longhorns at all.
The nature of the collapse was a surprise, but the fact that the Husker special teams planted the seeds that led to disaster was not. Nebraska kick coverage was shaky at best against Texas last week, and the NU return game has been subpar and often hamstrings itself with penalties and bad decisions.
Losing a Big 12 road game is not a stunner in itself, but the way the Huskers collapsed after taking a 23-13 lead less than a minute before halftime was discouraging. When Maurice Purify grabbed Zac Taylor’s sideline pass and tight-roped it all the way to the end zone with 56 seconds left in the half, things looked promising. NU had the ball at the start of the second half, and it seemed possible – even likely – that Nebraska would have a 17-point lead after driving the ball for a score to open the third quarter.
Instead, the Husker kickoff team failed. Nebraska, which has not yet found a kicker who can reach the end zone with any consistency, tried a squib kick and still gave up a 39-yard return to OSU freshman Parrish Cox, setting up the Cowboys with the ball at the NU 45. In one play, Oklahoma State grabbed the momentum, and on the next play, it chopped the lead to three points when quarterback Bobby Reid hit Adarius Bowman for a 45-yard touchdown pass.
From that point on, the Huskers played as if they’d each been hit across the back of a head with a two-by-four. Nobody seemed to have the heart to fight back.
The Husker Nation had hoped that a four-game Big 12 road winning streak meant that the Big Red had become a battle-hardened fighting unit. The Husker Nation had assumed that a come-from-behind win over Michigan in the Alamo Bowl meant that the Huskers’ West Coast offense had proven it had the moxie to come from behind. But Saturday at Stillwater, the Husker Nation looked on in disbelief during a second half that evidenced no fight whatsoever from a Nebraska football team that looked more like conscientious objectors than Big 12 road warriors.
There was no battling back. In fact, there was little resistance at all from a bewildered Blackshirt unit that had looked proud and determined against Texas last week. There was a serious lack of execution from an offense that dropped passes, missed assignments on blitzes and generally mailed in its second half performance. Even Zac Taylor seemed out of synch, suffering through a passing drought for most of the second half. Nebraska wilted under the pressure of a very ordinary Cowboy defensive unit. For the second consecutive week, he was outplayed by a younger, less experienced quarterback.
Even the Husker placekicking, which was so solid throughout last year and during the first half of this year, fell apart. Jordan Congdon went one-for-two in field goals, but his streak of 70 consecutive successful extra points ended when he sailed a kick wide right, and the Husker holder, Jake Wesch, fumbled the snap on a second-quarter attempt.
Wesch, who several times this season has taken over for Congdon on kickoffs, could not get the job done. His short kickoffs were in stark contrast to the four touchbacks for OSU’s Bruce Redden.
Bill Busch, the Huskers’ special teams coach, will have 85,000 fans looking over his shoulder – as well as Callahan’s – on Nov. 3 against Missouri, in a game that the Huskers’ season will hinge upon.