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Tad Stryker: Statesboro Blues – All Huskers

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The mood of the crowd as they exited Memorial Stadium and headed home late Saturday night was eerily familiar and completely out of place.

As someone who has covered hundreds of high school games in the state of Nebraska, I recognize the light-hearted conversational feel of people who know not to take their football team too seriously this year. Have you walked away from an eight-a-side game with parents who have dutifully watched and even appreciated their children’s efforts, but know in their hearts that their team is not a threat to win many games? Never in the world did I think I would experience this from the thousands of fans on the University of Nebraska campus.

For someone who covered Cornhusker football when it mattered, who was around during Tom Osborne’s age of stability in the 1970s and 80s, and his golden era of the 90s, it was a strange feeling to see fans made light conversation, some of them laughing, as they left the scene of a 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern. For crying out loud, Georgia Southern! But then again, there’s really no reason to take the Husker football program seriously right now, it’s 1-2 with a loss to Northwestern (who then lost to the hapless Duke) and to a Sun Belt Conference team. The easy part of the schedule is gone now.

For the first time ever, a Nebraska team that scored at least 35 points at Memorial Stadium lost the game. The defense gave up an incredible 642 yards, 34 first downs and six touchdowns to a team with no significant history whose all-new coaching staff is just two games away from making a drastic transition from an offense based on options at a quick pass. offensive. Presented with these nasty facts, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Huskers win even two more games, let alone the five it would take to make them eligible for bowling.

The Husker football program is so irrelevant now that ESPN’s website didn’t even mention on its College Football homepage the Huskers’ loss to one of the lowest BCS programs in the nation. Maybe because an ESPN editor didn’t take it as a surprise? If so, it’s hard to argue with that logic.

Indeed, the Huskers under Scott Frost have achieved Bill Jennings-era irrelevance, when there really is more reason for college football writers nationwide to write about the University of Kansas than Nebraska. . In fact, even in the unlikely event that Frost and his team pull off a stunner against Oklahoma next Saturday, why would that be much more in the scheme of things than Jennings’ Halloween 1959 upset against Bud Wilkinson and the Sooners? , a puzzle result that meant relatively little in the aftermath of a 4-6 season? It’s a shame, because the new offensive coaches and special teams coordinator that Frost hired late are starting to make a difference. This year it’s the defensive side of the ball, which has all the training stability you could ask for these days, that squanders all the rapidly diminishing reasons for sporting director Trev Alberts to seriously consider retaining Frost, who, in his fifth season at Lincoln, has yet to string together three wins.

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Frost’s tenure will be remembered as the non-complementary era, when the Huskers had enough talent to win well over half of their games, but instead only captured about a third of them. , because if offense was playing well enough, defense was just losing enough, or vice versa, and if offense and defense were keeping things together, the kicking game found a way to blow it up. Last year, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and his super seniors guarded Nebraska every game. This year, Chinander’s unit is expected to play the Huskers.

The main story in that loss to the small Statesboro, Georgia team was the complete inability to get a pass against a journeyman quarterback who, a year after failing to engineer a single touchdown with the Buffalo Bulls, returned to the same stage. and looked like Tom Brady throwing to NFL-caliber receivers that Travis Fisher’s defensive backs just couldn’t keep up. It’s debatable whether names like Derwin Burgess Jr., Jeremy Singleton and Khaleb Hood will find their way to the National Football League, but there’s no doubt these wides looked more athletic than the Huskers’ back seven when it mattered.

The Blackshirts couldn’t slow down Georgia Southern with a soft, “bend but don’t break” defense. They couldn’t slow down Southern with lightning and pressing man-to-man coverage. Even two interceptions by Marques Buford Jr. and two favorable video reviews that somehow sustained NU’s impressive 98-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter weren’t enough to secure a victory for the Big Red, who simply couldn’t. not stopping in defense when they needed to. In fact, the whole game had an eight-a-side, “defending is an afterthought” vibe.

I know there are angry fans. They were the ones pounding the Husker radio call shows and venting their frustration. But there was none of that angst in those people walking away from the stadium in the cool of the evening. It was a night of quiet resignation, which is probably the best way to lessen the pain of seeing another winnable game enter the loss column.

We are only at the quarter pole. The season is still young, but it’s a chilling omen when much of America’s most loyal fanbase begins to emotionally check in on something that once meant so much.