EZ Mortgages

No. 25 Nebraska – So long, Frank Solich

// Nov 28 - 2003

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November 28th – Boulder           No. 25 Nebraska 31, Colorado 22

Colorado played with purpose against their hated rival Nebraska, but in the end it was the Cornhuskers who prevailed, 31-22.

The loss ended the season for the 5-7 Buffs, sending the 53,444 in attendance home without a bowl trip for only the third time since 1987, but for the second time in four years.

Nebraska scored first on the cool November morning in Boulder, with quarterback Jammal Lord hitting tight end Matt Herian for a 58-yard touchdown less than five minutes into the game. The Buffs responded on their next possession, with Joel Klatt connecting with D.J. Hackett for a 33-yard score midway through the quarter.

Colorado took its first lead of the contest at 10-7 a few minutes later on a 44yard field goal by Mason Crosby. The lead was short-lived, however, as the ensuing kickoff was returned to the Buffs’ 35-yard line (with the ball placed at the 20 after a facemask penalty was tacked on). It took Nebraska only three plays and one minute of game time to regain the lead, with Lord giving the Cornhuskers a 14-10 lead on a five yard run.

Each team posted another touchdown before the break. A two-yard run by running back Cory Ross, who would rush for 103 yards on the day, gave Nebraska a 21-10 advantage. Just before halftime, though, the Buffs’ D.J. Hackett blocked a Nebraska punt, setting up the Buffs at the Nebraska eight yard line. Three plays later, the Buffs were to within 21-16 on a Klatt to Hackett touchdown (the two-point conversion attempt failed).

Colorado took its last lead of the game at 22-21 on a 31-yard pass from Klatt to Derek McCoy in the third quarter. The Buff faithful could revel in the lead for just over a quarter this time, but Nebraska took the lead for good at 24-22, with a 19-yard field goal at the 8:30 mark. Two interceptions of Joel Klatt sealed the Buffs’ fate. The first set up the Cornhuskers at the Colorado six yard line, leading to a touchdown run and a 31-22 Nebraska lead. The second was in the Nebraska endzone after the Buffs had driven to the Cornhusker five yard line.

The 31-22 defeat left Colorado with a 5-7 overall record, 3-5 in Big 12 play. While a 6-6 record would have been no guarantee of a bowl bid (in all, eight conference teams went bowling, a ninth would have set a record), it would have certainly given the Buffs some momentum for the 2004 season. “We didn’t play well enough to win,” lamented senior wide receiver D.J. Hackett. “We made too many mistakes that killed us and now our season’s over.”

Little did the Buffs realize, though, that they were not the only one’s participating in their last game of the season.

Despite defeating Colorado for the first time in three seasons, Nebraska head coach Frank Solich was fired the day after the Colorado/Nebraska game.

 

So Long, Frank Solich

Frank Solich was the prototypical Nebraska coach – home bred and loyal. Solich graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1966, and had been with the school ever since. A long time assistant under legendary Tom Osborne, Solich was given the head job upon Osborne’s retirement after the 1997 season.

All Solich did was win. His teams posted a combined record of 58-19. Solich’s teams won ten or more games in four of his six seasons, finishing in the top ten three times. The Cornhuskers had played for the National Championship only two seasons before.

But it was the end of that 2001 season which proved to be the beginning of the end for Solich. The 2nd-ranked Cornhuskers had strutted into Folsom Field with an eye on the Rose Bowl and the BCS title game against undefeated Miami. They left Boulder still ranked 2nd, but now only 2nd in their own division. The Buffs humbled the Cornhuskers, 62-31, in a game most Buff fans will remember as well and as long as the 20-10 win over Nebraska in 1986. Still, despite not even being a participant in their own conference title game, the BCS computers selected Nebraska as its nation’s No. 2 team anyway. The result of the computer selection was a 37-14 thrashing by No1 Miami in a Rose Bowl that was not even as close as the lopsided score would indicate.

Heading into 2002, Solich’s Cornhuskers were embarrassed, but not panicked. Yes, the Nebraska 2001 campaign had ended with two lopsided losses, but the Cornhuskers had finished in the top ten for the third consecutive year. Then the roof caved in – at least in the eyes of the Husker Nation. Nebraska finished 7-7, the worst showing in a generation. The Cornhuskers did rate a bowl appearance (the Independence Bowl), but the fall of many of the hallowed records (consecutive weeks ranked and consecutive nine win seasons amongst them), left a pit in the stomachs of the fan base. Had the Solich hire been a mistake? Was there someone out there who could do better?

A five game win streak to open 2003 quieted the skeptics, but more lopsided losses to the likes of Missouri (41-24), Texas (31-7), and – gasp! – Kansas State (38-9), were apparently too much for Athletic Director Steve Pederson to take. Even a 31-22 win over Colorado was not enough to save Solich’s job. Solich was let go the day after the Colorado game. Assistants took over the team, and coached the Cornhuskers to a 17-3 win over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.

What did the Solich firing mean for Colorado? After five seasons under Gary Barnett, the Buffs were 34-28. Even if the Buffs were to go undefeated in 2004, Barnett’s six year record would be 47-28, still a full nine games behind Solich’s six year mark. The Husker Nation went into apoplexy after a 7-7 2002 season, but there was little more than a murmur about Barnett’s future after his second losing season in four years.

Yes, the bar was set higher in Lincoln than it was in Boulder. But why did it have to be? Before Tom Osborne finally got it right in the mid-1990’s, the national championship title scoreboard for the previous 20+ years was Colorado 1; Nebraska 0. Colorado had six ten-win seasons between 1989 and 2001, and had spent every week between 1989 and 1997 a fixture in the national rankings. Colorado was able to recruit to Boulder consensus All-Americans and national trophy winners.

What happened to that standard?

How was it possible that the team with the 9-3 record got fired, and the one with the 5-7 record was off recruiting for next season? Were all of Barnett’s lopsided losses finally beginning to take its toll on the “Buff Nation”?

Gary Barnett coached seven seasons at Northwestern. His last two teams went 5-7 and 3-9 before he was rescued by Colorado. How much longer would he have lasted? Would the Wildcats have rebounded, or fallen back into obscurity?

Would the Colorado faithful have to face the question that the Northwestern faithful did not:

How long was too long with head coach Gary Barnett?

Here is the YouTube video of the game, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:

 

Game Notes

– The temperature at kickoff for the Colorado/Nebraska game was 31 degrees, perhaps resulting in a crowd which was only the 10th-largest to that date.

– The smaller crowd may also been attributable to the kickoff time – the 10:11 kickoff was the earliest in Folsom Field history.

– D.J. Hackett’s 94 yards receiving gave him 1,013 for the season, making him only the sixth receiver in Buff history to eclipse 1,000 yards.

– Meanwhile, Derek McCoy’s 51 yards receiving against Nebraska gave him 2,038 career receiving yards, making him only the sixth player to achieve that plateau.

– One last note – this one for the linemen! Guard Brian Daniels made his ninth start of the season against Nebraska, the most ever by a true freshman on the line (offensive tackle Clint Moore started eight games as a true freshman in 1991).

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