I should have expected this. I mean, there was no reason to expect anything else, but me being the oft-timed unobjective type that actually believes the hype because it's good for the team, well, I thought that when I read and heard all the great things about how intense the team was during the days leading up to this game, this contest would be different. Turns out it was the same thing, just a different location.
All year long, it's been Solich talking up the practice habits of his squad. They moved around well, they practiced well and they were ready to play great football. After each of those weeks, at least when facing quality teams, Nebraska may have practiced well, but their play on the field was hardly reflective. At times, it was basically inept.
All year I have been one of those supporters of Jammal Lord, seeing him for the physically gifted young man that he is. Unfortunately, his body can't do what his mind doesn't let him do and lately, it's basically him talking and not showing up on gameday. The team is going to do this, the team is going to do that and after yet another debacle, this one during bowl time, Lord even went so far as to say that next year, it was BCS or bust. The only thing that is busted is the NU offense and Lord is a big reason why. As physically gifted as he is, mentally, he resembles a practice-squad QB, because it's only during practice when he can manage to both pass and run well enough to spark any major optimism.
The positives were few and far between, but they were there. Chris Kelsay and Dahrran Diedrick made sure that if the Huskers did lose, it wasn't because of them. They were intense for the entirety of the game and if not for them, an ugly game would have been darn near repulsive. Lannie Hopkins was also a star for the game, his one highlight move a hurdle over the head of a standing Ole Miss blocker as he was trying to get to the QB. There were a few more here and there, but overall, you have to pick apart the game to realize the good, because so much was just plain bad.
Again though, it was the same thing. The same thing that has cost NU games all year long, cost them the game this last weekend. Poor play-calling, defensive lapses and a complete inability to slow down a decent passing attack as the game wore on.
The problem is, what makes anyone believe this isn't going to be the case next year? Pelini? A new defensive staff? A new offensive coordinator? That sounds like a lot. Heck, that sounds like a team rebuilding, but again, is it enough?
What you have seen this year is a team that tried to find itself game after game. After the Arizona State game, things were looking good as ASU was considered to be a good potential team and that actually turned out to be true. That game though marked the one true quality win that NU had. Though the Aggie game was an emotional lift for a team that needed one, the Aggies were consistently inconsistent and ultimately, a mediocre team. Nebraska came close against Texas, but as the microcosm continued, a mental lapse from Lord had him toss a ball two yards short of the end zone that was supposed to go to the back.
Basically, this game showed that NU has almost had to completely rely on it's players, because the coaching staff never could get together and when those same coaches found themselves more depleted than perhaps any NU coaching staff has ever been, well, you can see the result.
And please, let's not overstate Ole Miss's achievement. They were a mediocre team with a decent QB. It turned out to be enough though as they faced a likewise, mediocre team, but with a QB that could never get on track. Yeah, same story, different location.
The bright side to this entire season is that it's finally over. For fans, it's been a brutal reality check. Nebraska was simply not immune to the kind of fall off that every major team endures, they just simply fought it off longer.
Another bright side will be that the coaching staff as you knew it is done. Different OC, different DC, new secondary coach and before you know it, there could be a new RB coach, a new asst. O line coach and someone new for the interior D-line. The Nebraska team also, as you remember them could be done as well.
With the elongated time frame behind the hiring of an offensive coordinator, the belief that either Albin or Gill had the "in" to the job could be an inaccurate assumption. There's also a possibility that this continuing process in finding that OC is one that is not trying to evaluate everyone that has the capability of running the option, but of something a little different. Can you say "West Coast" offense? Unthinkable? So was a .500 season for the Huskers.
Face it folks, when the Nebraska goes .500, heads are coming off and this season is looking something like during the days of the Bastille and Frank Solich is operating the guillotine. There is a lot of speculation as to whether it shouldn't be newly hired athletic director, Steve Pederson pulling the rope, but for now, it's Solich trying to guide the rebuilding of a dynasty fallen.
The purists will say that you don't change the system, you change those proven incapable of running it as it was meant. You don't fall to knee-jerk decisions, you evaluate the true symptom of the problem and go from there. You would have to hope that, that has been done. The evaluation process thorough and complete. Whether all the changes have been made thus far, you hope that each is made not because of the record, but because of how that record was "achieved"
It's really all about faith.
The same faith that fans have put in the Husker staff and players since Devaney built the start of a tradition matched by few and in some ways, none. It's a tradition that people believed in because the people making it happen inspired that belief. Now, they are in disbelief. How the mighty have fallen is not only appropriate, it's an understatement. A cataclysmic fall has taken NU from a national title game to a national catastrophe. Now, it's a faith that NU is going to have to rebuild.
You knew it had to happen though. Eventually, it just had to happen. If only it could have held off for just say, another 20 years.
I do know one thing though. As nice a time as I had in Shreveport, I don't want to go back. I can get cold beer here.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619