LINCOLN — Ten minutes remain on the clock Saturday at Memorial Stadium, yet I'm standing outside.
More correctly, I'm bobbing and weaving to avoid the mass of humanity — many appropriately attired in black — swarming out of the gates.
This early departure isn't in celebration of a big Nebraska victory.
Those flooding south on 10th Street and others slow-stepping shoulder to shoulder north across the pedestrian bridge aren't yelling in anger or kicking trash cans in response to NU's 41-21 loss to UCLA.
What you see and hear is quiet resignation. And if that doesn't get Husker Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst thinking about the health of his football program, what will?
Utter collapses like the one that occurred Saturday — UCLA scoring 35 unanswered points in 15Ĺ minutes of game time to overcome a 21-3 deficit — have become far too commonplace at a school that — we think — still has championship standards.
“It went south quick, kind of like they normally do,'' said one early departee, Brent Beachler of Omaha. “Unfortunately, it's a very similar story.''
Adding to the woe this time is that it happened at home. According to university information cited by the Associated Press, the 18-point lead that Nebraska frittered away is the biggest at Memorial Stadium since 1920 when Washington State came back from 20 points down to beat NU 21-20.
Entering Saturday, one check mark in head coach Bo Pelini's favor had been that in six seasons at least his team hadn't been “housed at home.''
Now, even that positive is gone. Worse, fans like Beachler responded with a shrug.
“I'm as big a Husker fan as there is, and it still bothers me (to lose),'' he said. “But I've seen it before. I've become conditioned to it.''
When passion and ire give way to apathy in your “money'' sport, you have a problem.
This game carried the virus of previous Nebraska meltdowns, complete with the puzzled looks from coaches, the sad body language of players and the growing quiet in the stands.
It's a long season. Nebraska is 2-1 and plays in an average-at-best league (hey, Michigan, nice escape against longtime doormat Akron). Maybe a Big Ten title is still attainable.
Answers to postgame questions provide little reason for Husker fans to get their hopes up, though. Among them:
Ľ Pelini on UCLA's 28-point third-quarter explosion: “It wasn't anything they didn't do in the first half.'' (Some exotic strategic change would at least have given the Husker staff some cover.)
Ľ Pelini on his team's composure as the momentum swung: “When things started going the other way on us, we lost a sense of what our job was. ... At times, when I looked at our guys on the sidelines, it looked like they had seen a ghost.'' (A very scary admission for a sixth-year coach.)
Ľ Quarterback Taylor Martinez on seeing the 18-point lead evaporate: “The game turned around on us, and there wasn't much we could do about it.'' (Not what you want to hear from a fifth-year senior captain.)
In the biggest games, the quarterbacks have to make game-changing plays.
Martinez, a senior in his 42nd start, didn't and was fortunate not to lose any of his three fumbles. UCLA sophomore Brett Hundley, in his 16th start, completed all eight of his passes in the third quarter for 141 yards while leading touchdown drives of 89, 57, 53 and 44 yards.
Remember, this was No. 16 UCLA, which was picked to finish no better than third in the Pac-12, not some vintage Oklahoma or Miami machine.
Two other disturbing answers emerged from Husker interviews. First, there were far too many “I don't knows.''
More grating was Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck repeating the “failure to execute'' mantra. The execution talk has to stop. The reason Pelini and Beck get paid handsomely and have the word “Coach'' stitched onto their shirts is to get players to perform under pressure.
Watching Saturday's game reminded me of how much football history Nebraska and UCLA have for schools located 1,500 miles apart. Much of it has been good news for NU.
In 1973, Tom Osborne claimed his first victory as a head coach, 40-13 over UCLA.
In 1983, Osborne won his 100th career game and I-back Mike Rozier got his Heisman Trophy moment with a 2-yard touchdown run that covered about 70 yards in a 42-10 win.
In 1993, Nebraska's “Refuse to Lose'' team scratched out an important 14-13 win at UCLA to propel it to an undefeated regular season.
But this game flashed me back to a September night in 1988 at the Rose Bowl.
UCLA, ranked fifth, jumped to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter against No. 2 Nebraska and made it 38-7 in the second before finishing off a 41-28 victory.
That game knocked some polish off the Huskers' national reputation for the next few years. This Nebraska team, badly in need of some polish, simply suffered more scratches and dents from getting skunked 28-0 in a quarter by the Bruins.
So was there any good news Saturday for the Huskers?
Maybe. Word is UCLA won't bill them for the clinic it put on.
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Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:
Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
Video: NU's Taylor Martinez at the postgame press conference: