I-80 REST STOP NEAR TIFFIN, IOWA — A guy can’t even stretch his legs these days and get away from jokes about Nebraska football.
I wasn’t more than 10 steps out of my car during a pit stop on the way to Saturday’s Maryland-Iowa game when I heard three men in Hawkeye jackets yucking it up about the Huskers falling behind Purdue 14-3 in the second quarter.
“At least Nebraska is down to only three problems,” one said. “Offense, defense and special teams.”
Even the lady walking her dog nearby grinned at that oldie but goodie.
Nebraska fans need to grin and bear it. Flak flies when your team hasn’t been beaten by an opponent this bad in 60 years.
You read that right. You have to go back to 1955 to find a worse team the Huskers fell to than Purdue.
Hawaii came to Lincoln in 1955 on a 95-degree September day with a 27-man travel squad, a starting quarterback too injured to play and the knowledge that NU had pasted the Rainbows 50-0 on the island the previous year.
Final score: Hawaii 6, Nebraska 0.
The Rainbows used a nine-man defensive front. According to accounts from the game, Nebraska refused to pass until the fourth quarter, at which point it was moving into 30-mph wind.
Hawaii, though an NCAA member, essentially was a provisional Division I team. Seven of its 11 games were against naval and marine units, high school all-star teams or other island club teams. Six seasons later, UH dropped football for a year.
In the three other 1955 games against major-college foes (Arizona State, Fresno State and San Jose State), Hawaii went 0-3 and was outscored 93-24.
So that’s worse than losing to 2-8 Kansas State in 1959 or 4-7 Iowa State in 1992 or 2-6 Purdue in 2015. But the Purdue loss — on top of already falling to Illinois and Northwestern in the same season — will leave a permanent scar.
It’s nice the Huskers could give third-year coach Darrell Hazell his first home Big Ten victory. Hazell (6-26, 2-18 in the Big Ten) now has three FBS wins to go with his three lower-division wins.
NU coach Mike Riley will dutifully conduct his Monday press conference as usual, gracefully owning the mess this season has become.
The person who needs to show up at the podium but won’t amid this historically ugly time is Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. The million-dollar man needs to earn some of that loot by facing the music on his rapid-fire hire of Riley last December.
A true leader in times of trouble speaks to the body politic, takes questions from the people’s representatives (the press) and offers insight into the current situation and comfort for the future.
Apparently, Eichorst is too busy assigning his coaches books to read or burying them in legalese and paperwork on how to run their camps and clinics. The frustration level among the troops is growing.
Eichorst has already broken his personal policy once about never commenting on a coach or results during a season. It’s time to break it again. Riley deserves some relief in explaining this.
Nebraska at 3-6 entering Saturday’s home game against No. 6 Michigan State (8-0) creates interesting dynamics.
The Memorial Stadium sellout streak is intact. Tickets are gone before the season. But what about no-shows? Booing? Or will Husker fans all show up and cheer louder and harder than ever?
Much of the state is shaking its collective head, including many of us who cover the program.
From January to the end of fall camp in August, what I saw and what I heard from people in the know led me to believe a smooth transition was ahead. The general organization of the football complex is better, the recruiting system is better and the analytics available are better.
At practice, people who know way more football than me said they liked what they saw. They noted issues with depth of talent and injuries, and cautioned that the offense likely would take time. But no one talked about missing bowl season.
It’s puzzling how on game day, every wire you can imagine seems crossed or shorted out.
This is starting to resemble the Steve Pederson-Bill Callahan Era, from the A.D.’s office on down to the Cosgrove-ian defense. For those new to the program, that’s not a compliment.
I never dreamed Nebraska would rank last in Big Ten football. But there the Huskers are, and there they will stay at the current level of play.
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