LINCOLN — At the end of a long week that sent Nebraska and its football fans on an unprecedented emotional ride, the Huskers on Saturday took another plunge.
And this time, no one could offer any answers.
"I have no idea what just happened," linebacker Phillip Dillard said after Texas A&M blasted Nebraska 36-14 at Memorial Stadium.
A&M outscored the Huskers 20-0 after halftime in a third straight ugly NU loss sure to heighten the scrutiny — if that's possible — on Bill Callahan.
"I don't know how to explain it," receiver Nate Swift said. "I don't know what's going to happen. Who knows what's going to happen?"
Quarterback Sam Keller said he thought NU simply "ran out of time." Then he thought again.
"I don't know. I really don't know," Keller said. "I can't tell you exactly what happened."
At least they're honest.
Nebraska (4-4, 1-3 Big 12) tried to pull out all the stops four days after former coach Tom Osborne replaced the deposed Steve Pederson as athletic director.
NU painted the walls outside of its locker room red and adorned the hallway with paintings of its former All-Americans, packed up last year and placed in storage. It ditched the fancy Tunnel Walk entrance, a Steve Pederson favorite, for highlights of past glory.
Callahan even surrendered his play-calling duty to offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.
Sure, Nebraska showed a spark in the first half. It made several defensive plays and missed by a few seconds a chance to kick a long field goal that would have given it a halftime lead.
But A&M gashed the Blackshirts, who turned in their coveted practice jerseys Tuesday, for 359 rushing yards and 459 total. Safe to say, they'll still be wearing red this week.
Junior quarterback Stephen McGee ran 35 times for a careerbest 167 yards, nearly all of it the product of an option keeper on which he faked to the tailback and gutted the middle of Nebraska's defense.
Big tailback Jorvorskie Lane rumbled for 130 yards and four touchdowns.
The Aggies (6-2, 3-1), in fact, completed only four passes for 36 yards on three second-half touchdown drives, which covered 236 yards.
Many remaining among the crowd of 84,473 booed as Texas A&M lined up for a two-point conversion, ahead by 22 points after a Lane touchdown with 4 1/2 minutes to play.
It was a revealing moment — the fans reduced to such a trivial complaint. The conversion failed, and so, apparently, did Nebraska's attempt to save its season with trips to Texas and Kansas on the horizon.
Bowl eligibility looks like a long shot.
"Obviously, we're hurting again," said Callahan, who dropped to 0-16 at Nebraska when trailing at halftime. "It's a very tough ballgame to swallow. Our kids played with a better effort from a week ago, but not enough.
"Our kids are hurting. They're down."
The Aggies put the hammer to Nebraska with a pair of 80-yard drives to open the third quarter.
McGee ran untouched up the middle for a gain of 19 yards on third and 9 during the Aggies' first drive of the second half. Lane then took it for 31 yards to the 2 before he scored on an option pitch to give his team a nine-point lead.
Nebraska stalled, and the Aggies went right back to work on the ground, rushing 10 times out of 11 plays. Lane scored from four yards out to make it 30-14 with 4:36 to play in the third quarter.
From the too-little, too-late department, the Huskers put together a nice 70-yard drive to reach the A&M 6. But it stalled after A&M leveled Keller on third-down rollout and the senior QB threw wildly for Maurice Purify in the back of the end zone on fourth down.
The Aggies iced it with a seven-minute march that covered 76 yards, again with all but one play on the ground.
"Anytime you play a team that runs the zone read like we do, you can take two of the three (options) away," said A&M coach Dennis Franchione, himself embattled this season amid controversy and blowout road losses to Miami (Fla.) and Texas Tech. "If we execute and do what we're supposed to do, hopefully they can't take all three away.
"We did that today. We executed very well."
NU started slowly again Saturday, allowing the Aggies a touchdown and field goal on two first-quarter possessions. The Huskers haven't managed a defensive stop in the first quarter during any of their past three games.
But when Ndamukong Suh blocked Matt Szymanski's first extra point and NU answered by going 80 yards in eight plays, with freshman Quentin Castille scoring on a three-yard plunge, the Huskers had their first lead since the fourth quarter against Iowa State on Sept. 29.
It was short lived.
Szymanski kicked a 39-yard field goal to put the Aggies on top for good five minutes later. And while Nebraska controlled the second quarter, it managed only to trade touchdowns with A&M. The Aggies scored on a one-yard Lane run two plays after Nebraska junior Nate Swift fumbled a punt at the A&M 28-yard line.
And so the Aggies left Lincoln with a win for the first time in six visits.
The three-game skid for Nebraska, by a combined score of 122-34, marks its third in four years under Callahan. It also happened in 2002. The last one before that came in 1961.
Looking for answers? Don't ask the Huskers.
"I still have confidence that we're going to do special things this season," Keller said. "There's nothing else to do but be men and keep working. I can't tell you why things are happening the way they are. I can't, but they have to get better."
|Yards per carry||5.4||5.0|
Nebraska is 10-4 all-time against Texas A&M.
|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 19 games on Oct. 20. See them all »
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