Nebraska football is my bread and butter. Although I’m in Chicago for most of the Huskers’ game days now, every Saturday my heart goes back home to Lincoln.
Nebraska is known for producing legends in college football. Some of the greats include 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny “the Jet” Rodgers, quarterback Tommie Frazier and 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier.
And trust me, there’s more than that. I could continue with Eric Crouch and Ndamukong Suh, but there’s more to Nebraska football than its legendary players.
There’s also its legendary coaches. Bob Devaney coached the Cornhuskers for 11 seasons and finished his career with back-to-back national championships, three consecutive Orange Bowls and a 101-20-2 overall record.
The Osborne era followed the Devaney era of Nebraska football. Tom Osborne — one of the best college football coaches in history — coached the Huskers for 24 seasons. The three-time national championship coach ended his career with 13 conference championships and an overall record of 255-49-3.
Ever since Osborne’s reign, there has been a string of coaches who haven’t proven to do much for the program.
Although the most recent head coach Bo Pelini was known for yelling at the refs and obnoxiously chewing his gum, he showed consistency year in and year out. In Pelini’s seven years as head coach for the Huskers, he plateaued and couldn’t get over the 10-win mark, but he never lost more than four games a season.
In March 2014, Nebraska’s Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst had utmost confidence that Pelini was the man to “lead the program to [the] future.” Eichorst extended Pelini’s contract through 2018 and gave him a $100,000 raise, which was added to his $3 million salary, according to Mitch Sherman.
Not even nine months later, Eichorst fired Pelini and the search for Nebraska’s next coach began. Let’s not forget the university still owes Pelini $7.9 million over the next 51 months.
Throughout the process, Husker fans and ESPN analysts speculated the former head coach of Ohio State Jim Tressel or former Husker and the current Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost would get the job. Somehow Eichorst signed a deal with a man whose name was never mentioned throughout the process: Mike Riley. Riley, 61, coached Oregon State and held a 85-66 overall record with no conference or national championship titles to his name.
With the hiring of Riley, many Husker fans questioned Eichorst’s reasoning.
But as a true Husker fan, I anxiously awaited fall, and as football season rolled around, I was excited to see what Riley had to offer. Unfortunately, all he had to offer was poor play calling, lack of time management and broken hearts.
This weekend’s loss to Wisconsin marked the Huskers fourth loss of the season — all of which resulted from the final drive by their opponents in the last minute of the game.
In case you missed it, Nebraska took a one-point lead with 3:38 left in the fourth quarter. The close score and lack of time was all too familiar. Yet, I wouldn’t let the memories burn out the little candle of hope I held inside. At 1:32, Wisconsin missed a 39-yard field goal.
I thought my prayers had been answered. That was until Wisconsin was set up with another field goal opportunity with nine seconds left in the game. When I watched the referees’ arm motions confirm the field goal, I realized Nebraska’s unfortunate fate.
Wisconsin won 23-21.
The feeling of defeat and disappointment is becoming mundane. Call it unlucky, or call it the football gods testing Nebraska fans’ dedication. Whatever you want to call it, it’s inexcusable. Nebraska’s legacy in college football is held at a high standard.
Since my parents were born, they’ve only witnessed two losing seasons for Nebraska, both in the early 2000s under Bill Callahan. Before that, the Huskers hadn’t had a losing season in more than four decades.
The two hardest pills to swallow this season were the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s loss and Brigham Young University’s (BYU) hail mary in the last play of the game. The Huskers should have won those. Nebraska has a history of dominating Illinois and BYU. The Huskers also had the home field advantage.
BYU’s hail mary shouldn’t have happened when Nebraska could have executed three third down conversions. Nebraska’s offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf acknowledged his poor calling and said he was “under pressure.” But clearly Langsdorf didn’t learn his lesson.
All of Illinois’ 14 points were scored in the last 14 minutes of the game. Nebraska’s quarterback threw an incomplete pass on third-and-seven. The clock stopped with more than one minute left in the fourth. Knowing Illinois had no timeouts to stop the clock, the Huskers should have called a running play, which would have wasted more than 30 seconds instead of stopping the clock.
With the Wisconsin game, time management was crucial. The missed field goal was a blessing. Nebraska should have capitalized on the opportunity to run down the clock.
But we can’t dwell on the past; we can only look toward the future, although the future isn’t too comforting when you look at Nebraska’s schedule. Let’s just hope this trend of losing in the final minute of the game ends, for the sake of the blood pressure of Husker fans everywhere.