By Steve Beideck
Georgia Southern finished an astounding hat trick for the Sun Belt Conference Saturday with its 45-42 upset victory over Nebraska.
Earlier in the day, the Eagles’ conference brethren Marshall and Appalachian State pulled off monumental victories over rated foe’s Notre Dame and Texas A&M, respectively.
The upset of the Huskers will be remembered as the least surprising of the three Sun Belt stunners if only because the Nebraska program is a shell of its former self.
Consider this: Since the beginning of the 2021 season, the Huskers are 2-11 against FBS teams. All 11 losses have been by single digits, with 10 of those being eight points or less. (Note: Fordham and North Dakota are FCS schools).
Here’s another stunner: This was the first time in 215 games that Nebraska has ever lost when scoring 35 or more points at Memorial Stadium. This is the 100th season of football at Memorial Stadium and the 133rd in the history of the program.
Coach Scott Frost reiterated that he doesn’t believe all those close losses are somehow keeping the team from winning.
“The new guys in the program, they don’t even remember those things,” Frost said. “The old guys I don’t think have that attitude right now. We just simply didn’t get a stop and we had a lot of chances to get a stop.
“You can’t give up that many yards and that many points and win very many games.”
The Georgia Southern setback is undoubtedly the most devastating of them all and will land in the history books next to the 2017 loss to Northern Illinois as evidence that the Huskers are in their worst stretch of football since the 1950s.
Scoring 42 points should be good enough to win most any game. Frost said that during his brief postgame media session. As 86,852 at Memorial Stadium witnessed, this time it wasn’t.
It wasn’t the fault of the offense, or even the special teams. This one all goes on the defense that gave up 642 yards of total offense to a program that is in just its ninth season of FBS play, formerly known as Division 1-A.
The Eagles missed being the team that gained the most yards in a single game against the Huskers by 14 yards. Oklahoma gained 656 yards in a 54-6 victory over the Huskers in 1956.
Georgia Southern’s offense was led by a player who was the quarterback for one of those FBS opponents Nebraska defeated last season. Kyle Vantrease was at Buffalo last season when the Huskers defeated the Bulls 28-3.
Exactly 364 days later, Vantrease is a top candidate for National Player of the Week after completing 37-of-56 passes for 409 yards and one touchdown. His completion percentage was .661, and his quarterback rating was 126.2.
Nebraska simply could never shake the Eagles. Derwin Burgess Jr., caught 12 passes for 119 yards. Jeremy Singleton had nine catches for 89 yards. The six passes Khaleb Hood caught from Vantrease accounted for 82 yards.
Trying to stop the ground game was just as difficult for the Blackshirts. The Eagles averaged 7.8 yards per carry gobbling up 233 yards on 30 carries. Gerald Green (10 carries for 132 yards) and Jalen White (17-85) both scored two touchdowns.
“I don’t think we got off blocks very well,” Frost said. “I expect more out of that group.”
Huskers quarterback Casey Thompson was again outstanding, guiding the NU offense to 575 yards of total offense, including his second consecutive game of 300 or more passing yards. The Texas transfer completed 23-of-34 passes for 318 yards and one touchdown, along with a passer rating of 155.9 and no turnovers.
Anthony Grant became the first Husker to rush for 100 yards in the first three games of his Nebraska career since Taylor Martinez in 2010. The last NU running back to accomplish that feat was Bobby Reynolds in 1950.
The stats are nice and show there’s at least some hope the next nine games. Barring some unforeseen changes in fortunes, it already appears that the Huskers are headed for a sixth consecutive sub-.500 season and no bowl appearance.
The immediate reality is that Nebraska is 1-2 when many preseason prognostications had the Huskers riding high at 3-0 entering Oklahoma week. What Nebraska used to be is certainly why the NU-OU game is the Fox feature game at 11 a.m.
What Nebraska is now continues to disappoint everyone tangentially attached to the program.