LINCOLN — Southern California came flying in from the laid-back West Coast, where they play finesse football under the sun in pass-crazy games that last forever.
Nebraska was waiting in the land of hard-working folk, where they (used to?) play power football in the cold and pound each other until somebody submits.
After Saturday night, seriously reconsider if you were at all guilty of believing those stereotypes.
No. 1-ranked USC was the heavyweight and No. 14 Nebraska the featherweight in a 49-31 knockout at Memorial Stadium. Not a total shocker considering their current positions in the college football hierarchy.
It was surprising, though, in how it all went down before a crowd of 84,959 who dared to believe the stars were aligning for a Husker upset.
USC hardly needed Heisman Trophy candidate John David Booty other than to hand off. The Trojans (2-0) did the greater damage with 313 rushing yards, accumulated by running through a startling number of holes in the heart of the Nebraska defense.
USC scored on five straight possessions to turn a 10-7 deficit into a 42-10 lead.
"I thought the guys ran real well, and we had a lot of room to run," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "It was a real nice plan. We had all kinds of space up the middle."
Nebraska hadn't allowed an opponent 300 rushing yards since 2003, when Texas went for 353 behind Vince Young and Cedric Benson in a 31-7 win in Austin. USC hadn't run for this many yards since going for 403 against UCLA in 2005.
Trojan backup tailback Stafon Johnson, who needed just 11 carries to get his 144 yards, said he hadn't seen holes that large since coming to USC.
Not many Husker opponents had. The 8.2 average per rush was the largest NU had ever allowed. By comparison, Colorado averaged 7.3 yards a carry in a 62-36 thumping of the Huskers in 2001.
So what happened? NU linebacker Bo Ruud simplified it in a somber postgame atmosphere.
"We tackled terrible, and there were clearly some guys out of position," Ruud said. "So it was a combination of that.
"It's beyond disappointing to me. It feels terrible right now. This is a real bad performance from our team, and I don't think that shows at all the way we expect ourselves to play."
Nebraska had recovered from taking an immediate punch to grab its 10-7 lead on a 37-yard field goal by Alex Henery. With 9:04 left in the second quarter, the Huskers had taken 34 offensive snaps to just 15 for the Trojans.
But that would be the last time NU had the upper hand on this chilly mid-September night.
"We knew it was a great challenge coming into the game," NU coach Bill Callahan said. "We weren't at our best."
USC turned to the running game to demoralize Nebraska going into halftime. After Henery's field goal, 10 of USC's next 14 plays were rushing attempts, and the open road produced back-to-back touchdowns and a 21-10 lead.
The Trojans ran five straight times for the go-ahead score, a 2-yard run by fullback Stanley Havili with 6:50 left.
They had to catch a huge break just to start that series. Rickey Thenarse stripped Vincent Joseph on the kickoff at the USC 24-yard line, but the ball shot away from the pile and over to Malcolm Smith, who ran it 31 yards into NU territory.
"That play was a weird play," Callahan said. "We had the play covered. We made the play. The ball spits out and they recover, and take it up the right side."
The USC offense needed absolutely no help the next time.
Johnson had runs of 9, 5, 32, 7 and 7 yards on a nine-play, 73-yard scoring drive. The final three plays were a clinic in blocking and dominance by the Trojan front, and Johnson never was touched on his final scamper for the TD with 1:19 to go.
By halftime, USC already had run for 205 yards, averaging 12.8 on its 16 carries.
The Trojans started their first offensive possession with runs of 50 yards by Havili and 40 yards by C.J. Gable. On those plays, Havili made safety Larry Asante miss in the open field, and Gable shed a tackle attempt by cornerback Zack Bowman at the line.
The touchdown came on a 5-yard pass from Booty to Havili.
Nebraska retaliated as quarterback Sam Keller heated up, completing 4 of 5 passes for 40 yards as it pulled to 7-7. I-back Cody Glenn notched the touchdown on a 1-yard run.
Keller was 16 for 24 with 172 yards passing at halftime — and was NU's best hope to stay close. But that hope evaporated when the senior was intercepted twice in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
USC defensive end Kyle Moore tipped a pass that Terrell Thomas picked off near midfield. Moore then dropped into coverage on a zone blitz and intercepted Keller deep in Husker territory.
USC turned both into touchdowns to make it 35-10. Then it started clearing out some of the stadium with an eight-play, 62-yard drive that Chauncey Washington finished with a 1-yard TD run with 5:03 remaining in the third.
USC already had 278 rushing yards by the time NU fans gave a mock cheer for the Huskers' first defensive stop with 30 seconds left in the third.
Callahan was asked if the final outcome meant NU wasn't ready for this stage yet. He bristled.
"I wouldn't say that," Callahan said. "I would not say that. It's the third game of the season, and we plan on playing 14. We'll see how it turns out."
|Yards per carry||8.2||1.1|
Nebraska is 0-4 all-time against USC.
|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 6 games on Sept. 15. See them all »
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