The most disappointing thing about Nebraska’s shellacking at the hands of No. 1-rated Southern California Saturday night wasn’t that the Huskers were embarrassed on their home field on prime time national television. It wasn’t that USC’s true freshman Kristopher O’Dowd, starting his first game at center, decisively beat Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in a matchup that, going into the game, the Huskers appeared to have a significant advantage in.
The most disappointing thing wasn’t that Sam Keller threw a pair of backbreaking interceptions that helped the Trojans run off 35 consecutive points in the midsection of the game, or that NU lost for the first time ever after hosting ESPN Game Day.
It wasn’t that the Husker defense appeared to be utterly confused every time Southern Cal put a wide receiver in motion. It wasn’t even the fact that USC ran for more than 300 yards, or that there were gaping holes in Nebraska’s defensive line on every other running play, or that the Huskers tackled poorly for the second straight week and allowed more points at home than they have in 60 years.
Something fundamental happened to the Huskers’ psyche midway through the second quarter of the game. It happened after the freakish kickoff return where Nebraska defensive back Ricky Thenarse decked USC’s Vincent Joseph, forcing a fumble that was picked up and advanced 35 yards into Husker territory by the Trojans’ Malcolm Smith. As Joseph lay on the Memorial Stadium turf for 15 minutes being attended by medical personnel, the Huskers turned into a different team.
During that long stretch, when they had time to stand there and think about it, the Huskers appeared to collectively decide that they didn’t belong on the same field as Southern California. That was the most disappointing thing about the Nebraska football team Saturday night.
This was despite the fact that Nebraska led 10-7 and, with the Memorial Stadium crowd getting more amped up with each passing minute, was gaining momentum with every series of downs. This was despite the fact that the Huskers had a big advantage in time of possession and were in exactly the place they needed to be to stay competitive through the second half.
Instead, the Huskers appeared to lose their focus when the crowd noise died away during the long delay. When play finally resumed, USC shoved the ball down their throats, sandwiching two rushing-dominated touchdown drives around a three-and-out by the NU offense before halftime. Suddenly, it was 21-10 Southern Cal at halftime and NU’s hopes of returning to national prominence were fading fast.
The Trojans turned it into a rout with three more unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter before the Huskers, trailing 42-10, recovered and fought back to make the final score more respectable.
College football fans around the nation will not be fooled by the 18-point margin in the final score. Southern Cal is far superior to Nebraska in talent and depth. The nation saw that Nebraska is definitely not ready for prime time. Maybe later this season, but certainly not now.