SHREVEPORT, La. — Did you hear that thud that shook the upper regions of Louisiana on Friday night?
Nebraska's season finally ended.
The Huskers sealed their first non-winning season in 41 years on Friday night, closing a page of history with a 27-23 loss to Mississippi in the Independence Bowl.
By the time Ole Miss fans swarmed the field-and the books read 7-7 for Nebraska-all the talk about using Friday for a springboard to 2003 slipped into the chilly night.
Eli Manning changed it all with his 313 yards passing. Nebraska Coach Frank Solich had seen it all as he trudged off the field in a stadium that was full of empty seats.
"It's been a hell of a time, both good and bad," NU center John Garrison said of a season that started 3-0 but ended with the first three-game losing skid since 1961. "I think we'll be better men because of it.
"I sure hope they can turn it around. It's embarrassing. It's embarrassing for myself, and I think it's embarrassing for the rest of the guys, too."
Just an hour or so earlier, the Huskers thought they had this game, played in front of a pro-Rebels crowd of about 40,000. Nebraska's offense was moving the chains, and a rag-tag group of Blackshirts who spent the month with just one full-time assistant coach appeared to be rattling Manning.
If you ask Ole Miss, one play changed everything.
Nebraska was up 20-17 late in the third quarter when the Huskers bungled a fake punt. Fullback Judd Davies heaved the ball to Marques Simmons, but the pass fell short.
Ole Miss had the ball on the NU 35. Manning marched the Rebels downfield, they punched in a quick touchdown, and never trailed again.
"All those decisions come back to me," Solich said, "and really, there's no good answer for that other than it did not work."
Neither did Nebraska's offense in the second half. In what has become sort of a recurring theme, the Huskers showed flashes in the first two quarters, racking up 262 yards, then flickered out at the end. They had just 97 yards in the second half.
Manning, on the other hand, was just getting warmed up. The hotshot junior quarterback, who's pondering a move to the NFL, bounced back after being dropped for three sacks early in the game. He led the 7-6 Rebels on a 73-yard touchdown drive, just when it looked as if the momentum had swung Nebraska's way after DeJuan Groce's 60-yard punt return touchdown.
Manning was named the offensive MVP for hitting 25 of 44 passes and keeping his cool.
"Eli is a great quarterback," Nebraska rush end Chris Kelsay said. "You put a guy in his face and he'll still complete a pass from time to time."
Nebraska did play Friday without two starters on defense. Sophomore rover Philip Bland, the team's leading tackler, sat with a hamstring injury. Senior linebacker Scott Shanle was sick and didn't play.
And then there were the monthlong distractions for the defense. They lost their coordinator, Craig Bohl, who was fired on Dec. 2. The Blackshirts refused to use the shakeups as an excuse.
"We really thought we had a handle on this team and this game," Kelsay said. "We felt very confident coming in. To end it this way, it's pretty bitter. But that's part of the game and you've got to move forward."
As of late Friday, there were plenty of questions about which direction Solich is headed. He's expected to hire an offensive coordinator soon, and other shakeups on offense could be coming.
For now, Solich said, his focus shifts to recruiting and hiring a couple of position coaches on defense. And repairing some fragile egos.
"BCS or bust next year," Nebraska quarterback Jammal Lord said as he stood in the hallway of the postgame gloom. "Why can't we?"
Then Lord was asked what made him most optimistic about next year's offense.
"I have no idea."
|Yards per carry||1.6||5.1|
Nebraska is 0-1 all-time against Mississippi.
|Arizona State||Aug. 24|
|Troy State||Aug. 31|
|Utah State||Sept. 7|
|Penn State||Sept. 14|
|Iowa State||Sept. 28|
|McNeese State||Oct. 5|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 19|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 26|
|Kansas State||Nov. 16|
Nebraska has played 3 games on Dec. 27. See them all »
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