USC-Nebraska: USC wins. Neither team shines. But NU fans are left to wonder.
LINCOLN, Neb.- Suffice to say the Bill Callahan era has taken another step back tonight.
Almost every Nebraska fan worth his salt that you ran into this week was saying the same thing: This was the biggest game in Lincoln in years.
Well it didn't turn out to be the biggest. It did possibly turn out to be the most telling.
(Bill Callahan said in the post-game that "he loves this team and where they're at". But does the Corn Nation feel the same way?)
Nebraska got a real close view at what big time college football looked like. The kind of big time college football that they used to set the example for. USC came into Memorial Stadium and played a smashmouth brand that even a Nebraska fan could look at longingly and admit they miss. SC had some late hiccups, but won convincingly 49-31.
Led by a punishing ground game that cranked up 313 yards on terra firma, the the Men of Troy were truly the men in this game. Stefon Johnson led the ground chuck by ripping off 144 yards on just 11 carries.
In all, the Trojans totaled 457 yards on the night and held the Big Red to just 31 yards rushing. In fact, most of NU's total of 420 yards came either in the first quarter or in mop-up time. Between the first and fourth quarters, USC imposed its will to the tune of 240 yards and four touchdowns, putting the game out of reach at 42-10.
Additionally, Sam Keller fell into a rut, throwing two picks to start the third quarter that jump-started the USC rout. Keller finished the night going 36-for-54 for 389 yards and getting constantly hurried into quick throws.
But Keller and Company didn't quit playing and ended up outscoring USC 21-7 in the final quarter. But to be fair, 14 of that total and 168 of their yardage total came in the final two drives of the night when the outcome was well in hand.
Can Pete Carroll be happy about his team's play? Not totally. John David Booty and the passing game didn't shine much and not every team is going to be so vulnerable up the middle on simple running plays like the Huskers were. If I had to guess, the Pac 10 will provide plenty of trap doors for this team.
NU's Bill Callahan, on the other hand, has the most to answer for. After tonight's destruction, Callahan leaves the field once again facing the thing that many Nebraska fans are probably secretly whispering to themselves: When are we going to get that marquee win with this guy? Hell, when are we going to get that marquee close game?
Or worse yet, maybe they're whispering: Didn't we get rid of another coach for games like this?
It's now midnight here in an empty stadium still flooded in stadium lights. And that last question will hang in the air long after they're turned off.
PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Easy, Stafon Johnson of USC, right? Well I'd like to vote for Freshman Center Kristofer O'Dowd. Most of the night he was knocking heads with Nebraska stop plug Ndamukong Suh. And correct me if I'm wrong here, most of those big gainers by Johnson and Company came right up the gut and into the teeth of the Husker D. In other words, right off the hips of O'Dowd.
PLAY OF THE GAME:
When USC return man Vincent Joseph got injured on the kick return.
Malcolm Smith picked up the loose ball that Joseph dropped and added 31 more yards to the return, allowing USC to start that drive at the Nebraska 45. This came right after NU had gone ahead 10-7 on Alex Henery's 37-yard field goal.
After the long delay to get Joseph carted off the field, USC's coaching staff just decided to go right at Nebraska with five running plays of 14, 11, 16, two and two, with Freshman Stanley Havili getting the touchdown. That not only put USC up 14-10, it also gave them the idea that the running game would be all they really needed. That's when the rout was on.
Nebraska (2-1) will host Ball State (2-1) next Saturday, while their fans continue to wonder if this Callahan thing will ever really work out and where that A.D. Steve Pederson that fired the other guy for losses like this is right now.
USC (2-0) will host Washington State (2-1) next Saturday, while the media continues to gush on them, but secretly they have to wonder if they're really up there with the LSU's, Oklahoma's and Florida's of the world.