The Day Looking Ahead to Ohio State Cost Nebraska Dearly
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

The Day Looking Ahead to Ohio State Cost Nebraska Dearly

November 01, 2018

The last three times Nebraska has played Ohio State, the Buckeyes have won by scores of 63-38, 62-3 and 56-14. Each has been embarrassing.

But for Husker fans of a certain age at least, Ohio State was involved in a more embarrassing loss, perhaps the most embarrassing loss in Nebraska football history.

Indirectly, it should be added. Sort of . . . 

Rewind to the 20th Century, midway, 1955 to be specific, the week before the Huskers played Ohio State for the first time, at Ohio Stadium – a model for Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium.

The season was Coach Bill Glassford’s seventh, and last, at Nebraska. Though his contract would have allowed another season, Glassford had had enough, including enduring a player revolt.

His Huskers opened the 1955 season on Sept. 17 against Hawaii at Memorial Stadium, after finishing the 1954 regular season with a 50-0 victory against the Rainbows in Honolulu. 

Nebraska, which improved to 6-4 with the victory, then represented the Big Seven in the Orange Bowl, just the second bowl game in Husker history. Undefeated and No. 3-ranked Oklahoma, a 55-7 winner against the Huskers six days before the Hawaii game (to extend a winning streak to 28), couldn’t go to Miami because of a no-repeat clause in the conference’s agreement with the Orange Bowl.

Never mind that Nebraska lost to Duke 34-7. A bowl’s a bowl.

So 10 months later, a bowl team and Big Seven runner-up played a team it had beaten 50-0, a team whose starting quarterback was sidelined by broken fingers, whose top running back was a 160-pound, tough ex-Marine nicknamed “Skippy,” and whose chances of winning seemed slim to none.

“These boys are not the top players produced in the Islands,” Hawaii Coach Henry Vasconsellos was quoted in The Lincoln Star. “The top stars are sent to the mainland by wealthy alumni. These are just kids – most of them from the outer Islands – who are playing football for the fun of it.”

That’s also why Vasconsellos’s assistants coached. They weren’t paid. One was a lawyer.

In addition, Hawaii didn’t offer scholarships. Nebraska did.

Neither team scored in a first half during which “the Hawaiians had gained about 23,000 supporters and the Cornhuskers were getting horse laughs,” the Sunday Journal and Star reported.

In the fourth quarter, after Hawaii had lost its back-up quarterback to injury, Rainbow fullback Hartwell Freitas scored from less than a yard out. Final score: Hawaii 6, Nebraska 0.

“Ridicule that everyone expected to be dumped on Hawaii was dumped on the Huskers, and rightly so,” wrote Don Bryant, The Lincoln Star sports editor. “Nebraska football no longer is something which a great state can point to with pride but a muddle of ineptness that defies the imagination.”

Courtesy of Mike Babcock
Ohio State-Nebraska game program from 1955.

So how does Ohio State figure into this disaster? During the preseason, the Huskers largely ignored Hawaii and prepared for Ohio State, Texas A&M and Pittsburgh, their next three non-conference opponents. They would handle Kansas State in their Big Seven opener, 16-0, after Ohio State.

Coach Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes were defending national champions, finishing 10-0 with a 20-7 victory against USC in the Rose Bowl in 1954. They were led by halfback Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1955 after finishing third in the voting in 1954.

Cassady, operating behind a line much bigger than Nebraska’s, got off to a fast start in his run to the Heisman, rushing for 170 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-20 victory. But the Huskers battled, coming from behind twice to take the lead, at 13-7 and then 20-14. 

The problem was fumbles, eight of them, three lost.

Ohio State threw only three passes, evidence of Hayes’ saying that when you pass the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad. One of the three was intercepted.

Nebraska completed 11-of-26 passes for 189 yards, also with one interception.

The Huskers “are not Big Ten caliber, but they played like it today,” Hayes was quoted.

That night a couple of hundred students and fans were on-hand at Lincoln Municipal Airport to greet the team on its return from Columbus, in marked contrast to post-Hawaii.

Two weeks later, following a 27-0 loss against Texas A&M in Lincoln, Aggies Coach Bear Bryant was quoted as saying Glassford deserved to be Coach of the Year for preparing his team for Ohio State.

He had done so at the expense of the opener, one of the most embarrassing losses in Husker history.

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