LINCOLN — All it took Saturday was for Oklahoma State to throw the first punch or two.
That negated any boost Nebraska might have received from a Friday pep talk by Tom Osborne. Negated any mystical benefit of the 1997 national championship team working its corner.
It trumped a good week of practice and a sense of urgency. Historical dominance of the Cowboys. Homecoming.
"We started out horrible, and we let that get to us," Nebraska linebacker Bo Ruud said Saturday.
Nebraska took another shot in what is looking more and more like a glass jaw, succumbing meekly to Oklahoma State in a 45-14 loss at Memorial Stadium. The Cowboys started scoring on their first possession and never took a break until they led 38-0.
With time left before halftime.
NU head coach Bill Callahan said the Huskers started pressing, trying too hard. It wasn't a reach to think that some in the crowd of 84,334 instead saw preparation and effort and confidence as bigger factors once Nebraska fell behind — much as it had a week earlier at Missouri.
"We're a team that comes back, and is really resilient, but we just haven't been lately," said offensive tackle Lydon Murtha. "A lot of people are saying, 'They're not doing their job. They're not doing this. They're not trying.' I think we're trying really hard. We're doing the best we can."
The home loss was NU's worst since a 31-0 setback against Missouri in 1958. In modern times, it eclipsed the 38-9 home loss to Kansas State in 2003 that contributed to Frank Solich's firing.
Unfortunately for Callahan and his staff, those kind of conversations are only going to gain steam now that Nebraska is 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big 12, and potentially flirting with bowl ineligibility if it doesn't right the ship.
"I just feel terrible for these players," Callahan said. "It just hurts to watch these kids hurt.
"I'm not worried about my job. I'm just going to do the best I can, and whatever happens happens. I don't think you can coach in fear or coach like you're scared of something. I've never coached like that in my life."
Oklahoma State (4-3, 2-1) used its first three possessions Saturday to take a 17-0 lead. By that point, Nebraska had more yards marked off in offensive penalties (25) than rushing and passing combined (20).
Instead of retaliating, the Huskers allowed the Cowboys to score on their next three possessions for a 38-0 lead. When quarterback Zac Robinson scored on a 3-yard run with 2:36 left before halftime, OSU already had 361 total yards and was averaging 9 per snap.
Last week at Missouri, the Tigers led 14-0 after two possessions, NU couldn't answer and it snowballed into a 41-6 loss.
"We've just been starting games out really, really badly," Ruud said. "I think the biggest problem is when you start out so bad, it's hard to build on anything. And today things went from bad to worse in a hurry.
"The frustrating part's got to be the reaction to it. As a unit, we sometimes let the scoreboard affect what we're doing on the next play."
The slow start was puzzling for a team that has now trailed in the first half of all seven games.
Callahan said Osborne delivered a "great message" when he met with the team before Friday's walk-through. Osborne and the 1997 team trotted out of the locker-room tunnel first and whipped fans into a frenzy Saturday, with many of the former Huskers trying to fire up the current ones when they followed.
Once the clock started, the success of 1997 seemed longer ago than 10 years.
"It's discouraging that we couldn't put a top-notch showing for them," Murtha said. "It really excited me that they were there. They were all there for us, pumping us up when we came on the field, and I really wanted to go out there for them and really roll up on Oklahoma State.
"For that not to happen, and things to go the way they went, it's pretty disappointing in everybody's eyes."
Even at 17-0, it could have been salvaged.
Nebraska pushed to the OSU 10-yard line minutes into the second quarter before I-back Quentin Castille was stopped on third- and fourth-down runs. The offense's next two possessions ended with quarterback Sam Keller losing a fumble and getting intercepted by Perrish Cox.
"Sometimes when things start going wrong, people try and do too much," linebacker Lance Brandenburgh said. "I think maybe that happened a little bit."
Nebraska ran the football on 16 of 18 third-quarter plays before starting the fourth with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Keller to tight end J.B. Phillips. Keller added a 1-yard scoring pass to fullback Thomas Lawson in the final minute.
NU trotted off to some polite applause. Callahan was subjected to a couple of sarcastic calls of "Good job, Callahan," and a middle-aged woman barked "You're a loser, Callahan!" before turning to go home.
Callahan shrugged it off. He said his players hurt more than anybody.
"They're embarrassed," he said. "Those kids in that room I just left, they're gutted. They're mentally, emotionally, physically gutted. They are sick."
|Yards per carry||6.2||4.1|
Nebraska is 37-5 all-time against Oklahoma State.
|Wake Forest||Sept. 8|
|Ball State||Sept. 22|
|Iowa State||Sept. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 13|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
Nebraska has played 17 games on Oct. 13. See them all »
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