LINCOLN — Memorial Stadium in Lincoln was half full at the start of the fourth quarter on Saturday, as Nebraska’s systemic problems in all facets of the game were painfully on display in a 49-14 loss to Oklahoma.
This program is on the ropes, but that’s probably not a news flash.
Though Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts says Mickey Joseph essentially is auditioning for the head coaching job, you get the feeling that’s not where this is headed.
Never really understood what Alberts meant when he said Joseph would bring a new voice to a struggling program after the firing of Scott Frost.
Now it all makes sense.
This program is barely on life support and Joseph has been asked to steer the Titanic through rough waters until rescuers arrive on the scene.
“This comes back to me,” Joseph said about the loss.
“It’s not my kids’ fault, not my assistant coaches’ fault, this is on me. I gotta accept responsibility for it. We’re gonna get better next week. We’ve got eight games left. We got to do some individual work, some more drill work next week, less teamwork and get some fundamentals straighten up. We got to continue to tackle. I didn’t do enough tackling (in practice) I got to do more.”
Nebraska has a bye week before facing Indiana in Lincoln on Oct. 1. Joseph said he’ll be looking to younger players on the roster to see if they can help turn things around.
NU’s interim coach brought a lightning bolt, an energizer bunny, a high-powered bit of enthusiasm to Nebraska football this week heading into the game against the Sooners.
He picked up the pace of Husker practices, implored his defense to play fast, and talked with players about the importance of the Nebraska/Oklahoma rivalry.
If only Nebraska’s problems boiled down to motivation. Nebraska was unsound in its assignments on defense and lost the line of scrimmage.
By halftime the game was out of hand with OU leading 35-7 and Husker Nation fully deflated.
The struggles boil down to one simple fact: Nebraska can’t compete in the trenches and hasn’t in a very long time.
The 35-point loss is the culmination of all that has gone wrong with Nebraska football.
Though Joseph sees this new coaching challenge as an opportunity, it’s a tough spot for a guy who came here to coach wide receivers and is now asked to stop the bleeding.
All indications are Joseph has a chance to earn the permanent head coaching job, but to do that his team will have to string together wins.
That appears to be a tall order after Saturday’s collapse on the field.
Memorial Stadium was electric at the opening kickoff, as the Nebraska defense stopped OU on its first drive.
Yeah, Nebraska’s defense was “gap-sound” on that first OU possession.
Defenders were where they needed to be, made solid tackles and — for goodness sakes — got off the field.
Following an Oklahoma punt, the Husker offense drove 77 yards in what was a near-perfect drive capped off on a touchdown pass from Casey Thompson to Trey Palmer.
Then it all evaporated.
Then, OU went on a 35-0 run to close the first half. The OU defense went on a sack rampage — putting Thompson on his back three times in the first quarter as NU’s tackles were beaten like a drum.
OU’s defensive line simply dominated the line of scrimmage.
Where have we heard this before?
It is the broken record of all broken records if you dissect the reasons for the collapse of this program.
It wasn’t realistic to believe Joseph’s shot of motivation into this Nebraska team would have any real effect on the field, but NU was completely dismantled by a team it lost to by just a touchdown one year ago in Norman.
As much as the pomp and pageantry of the storied college football rivalry keeps pulling you back in, clearly these two programs are worlds apart with no discernible way forward for Nebraska football.
All the legends were on hand for this one — Tom Osborne, Husker killer Keith Jackson, Brian Bosworth, Johnny Rodgers, Eric Crouch and Zach Weigert, and many of the players from the 1971 Nebraska and Oklahoma football teams.
Nebraska’s performance on the field, however, is reason to believe this program will only return to relevance by moving on from the past.
Nebraska’s fan base is hungry, if not desperate, to build back some semblance of a winner.
Heck, Larry the Cable Guy showed up for the pregame on Fox Sports bragging to Urban Meyer about the “wide girth” of Larry’s checkbook and his willingness to open it up to Meyer. Fans were holding up signs in front of television cameras asking the controversial former Ohio State coach to sign on the dotted line.
Not sure Meyer is a builder, but that’s another subject for another time.
As much as you wanted a storybook finish for Nebraska with a win over OU in what has been a tough week, the reality is Oklahoma’s shellacking of Nebraska is the very reason why Scott Frost was fired.
Where does it all go from here?