EUGENE, Ore. — “We had a shot. As bad as it was, we had a shot.”
When coach Mike Riley took the podium following Nebraska’s 42-35 loss to Oregon, he knew his team could have won. The Huskers were so close.
Yet, still so far. And it was never more obvious than it was in the first half.
Oregon had 409 total yards of offense to Nebraska’s 171. Quarterback Tanner Lee was 9 of 16 for 105 yards and 1 touchdown. Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert was 21 of 25 for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Ducks went into the locker room ahead 42-14, and the Huskers were floundering. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf called it a roller coaster.
“We were just so up and down at times,” Langsdorf said after the game.
As the Huskers walked off the field for halftime, fans struggled to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The team saw it, though.
Both the offense and defense addressed their downfalls in the locker room. They felt they were inconsistent during the first half. More importantly, they felt they lacked the energy needed to win.
By the time the second half rolled around, the team was ready to go.
“Our tempo was kind of down [in the first half], and things like that,” offensive lineman Nick Gates said. “We came out the second half with energy, and we weren’t going to give up. We believed in ourselves, and it showed on the field.”
Wide receiver JD Spielman agreed with Gates. Spielman will learn more as he watches the film, but he felt good about Nebraska’s adjustments at halftime.
“The score at halftime was pretty bad. We could have easily quit,” Spielman said. “We could have got blown out 80 to whatever. That’s just not who we are. We have a lot of fight on our team, and we all learned to keep fighting.”
Yes, Nebraska could have gotten blown away (or run out of the stadium, as Langsdorf put it) by Oregon. When a team is down by 28 points heading into halftime, it can feel like a bit of a lost cause. But Nebraska never quit, which Langsdorf appreciated.
However, it’s not about moral victories. While the fight was there, Langsdorf is clear that his team still lost.
“I thought we did a great job of coming out in the second half, and we had two excellent scoring drives,” Langsdorf said. “We talked about it at halftime, just getting back into it one play at a time, and I thought we did a nice job there. I think they got settled in and got some confidence after those two drives after halftime and got back into it.
“But we have to finish it, too.”
Maybe it was the environment at Autzen Stadium on Saturday. Maybe it was being on the road for the first time this season, the change in time zones or countless other things. Whatever it was, Nebraska started the game slow.
The Huskers picked it up in the second half, preventing the Ducks from scoring any additional points, while adding another 21 points. Nebraska even had a chance to tie or win the game right at the end, until Oregon cornerback Ugochukwu Amadi intercepted Lee.
Nebraska had a shot. Maybe with a tweak here or an adjustment there early in the game, it could have been different. But on a Saturday afternoon in Eugene, it wasn’t.
“If we would have came out [to start] like we came out [after] halftime and played football that way, it could have been a lot different kind of game,” Gates said.