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Not a Lot of Happy in Half-Empty Memorial Stadium

October 15, 2017

Nebraska has felt tough losses before. There have been dark and cloudy days for a program that wants to constantly remind you of its five national championships and Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney and sell-outs and walk-on success stories and all the lore that comes with Memorial Stadium. Still, it maybe hadn’t felt a night quite like Saturday night against the Buckeyes before.

The 56-14 loss to No. 9 Ohio State (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) at home to drop Nebraska to 3-4 on the season – with back-to-back losses in Big Ten play for the third time in as many years under head coach Mike Riley – wasn’t the worst home loss in Nebraska’s history. It came close, but fell sandwiched between 48-0 and 41-0 shutouts to Oklahoma in 1949 and 1955, respectively, for third-worst.

The 633 yards surrendered to a relentless Urban Meyer – who elected to go for the end zone on a fourth-and-11 in garbage time – wasn’t the most the Huskers have ever given up, but, again, it was close. The sheer volume of first downs the Blackshirt defense allowed was, however, the most ever (41).

“Miserable night,” defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said, three different times for emphasis. “It was all disappointing. Nothing that wasn’t disappointing about tonight’s performance on every level.”

In its last two meetings with the Buckeyes, a team Riley has dubbed the “standard” in the Big Ten, the Huskers have looked incredibly inferior. Over the course of eight quarters of play, the Buckeyes have bludgeoned the Huskers 118-17. Riley said the lopsided nature of this series shows where Nebraska has to go to “do what everybody wants to do here.”

Riley seems to have run Husker Nation’s patience dry, though, as Memorial Stadium – to the shock and awe of some of the lifers on the Nebraska football beat watching the performance from the press box – emptied at halftime.

“It’s very difficult,” fullback Luke McNitt said after the game. McNitt grew up a Nebraska kid and said that moving forward, the locker room needs to stick together and try to make things better, but right now, in this moment, this was a hard pill to swallow.

“You never want to see Nebraska football like that.”

Think back to the Northern Illinois loss on Sep. 16, when quarterback Tanner Lee was struggling to protect the football and boos rained down from the stands as he and the offense went back onto the field in the third quarter. Some understood the fans’ displeasure, some took exception to it. Flash back to Saturday night and, for the most part, Nebraska’s locker room owned up to their role in emptying Memorial Stadium.

“Not a great feeling, but can’t blame them,” linebacker Chris Weber said. “We were at a point where we were down. That’s on us.”

In the locker room at halftime, after Ohio State blitzed the Huskers to the tune of 35 unanswered points, kicker Drew Brown said Riley challenged the team to compete. It’s something that echoed what Nebraska leadership said following the decision to dismiss the program’s athletic director three games into the season. It’s something that seemed like a measuring stick for how Riley would be judged by whoever was tabbed to lead the program next. It’s something the Huskers didn’t do in the first half.

Ohio State rolled up 366 yards and scored touchdowns on all five of its possessions in the first 30 minutes of the game.

“We have pride and you love football and you love this university and you love the game, so you never want to lose like we did,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “You just have to suck it up and get better.”

He said Nebraska’s bye week is coming at the perfect time, that it’ll allow them to heal and strengthen up before they face the final five games on the schedule, three of them on the road, one against the current No. 3 team in the country and one against Iowa.

When he met with the team in the locker room after the loss – the defense, at least – Diaco addressed the team’s preparation heading into games. He addressed “where we were, where we are, and where we can be” as a unit. He addressed the future. There will no doubt be similar conversations over the course of the next week.

“We certainly think we can make it better than that,” Riley said.

Almost every player that spoke with the media said the same thing, said they believe they’re headed in the right direction, that they’re a few mental mistakes away from righting the ship.

That’s not what a half-empty stadium saw Saturday. When asked if it was a step back, Diaco said he didn't want to fall into a "trap" and instead elected to talk about Nebraska's youth on defense.

Riley said something to that effect, though.

"There's not a lot of anything happy [or] good to say about that one," he said. "That was a really disappointing loss."

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