There is probably no majority rules when it comes to the opinion of the state of the Nebraska football program right now.

Some fans are ready to start over again with a new coach. Others hold out hope that coach Mike Riley can be a winner.

An announced crowd of 89,346 was at Memorial Stadium for Saturday’s game against No. 9 Ohio State, and the Nebraska fans were into it when the Blackshirts were on the field for the first time.

But by the end of Nebraska’s 56-14 loss, it was a much different scene.

When the game ended there were probably fewer than 20,000 fans left in the stadium. That's a scene that happens at other places in the country, but is still jarring to see in Lincoln. The temperature was 50 degrees and windy, and the Huskers hadn’t given fans enough reasons not to leave.

Steve Stehlik of Springfield left the stadium with about 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

“It was somber. It was sad," Stehlik said. “At least they didn’t boo the kids at halftime, but, man, it was dead.”

The fans were into at the start, Stehlik said. It was a night game at home against the program that is the standard now in Big Ten football.

“But after Ohio State's first offensive series it got really quiet in there,” Stehlik said. “I have a picture with 8 minutes left in the first half and parts of the top of East Stadium were empty.”

Memorial Stadium has been sold out every game since Nov. 3, 1962, a streak that reached 359 on Saturday.

The student section wasn’t quite full to start the game, but it’s worth noting there are no classes on Monday and Tuesday for fall break. By the end of the game the student section looked like one you’d see at a high school football game.

Justin Vandervort, a fan from Omaha, left the stadium in the middle of the fourth quarter.

“The energy is really at an all-time low, in my opinion,” Vandervort said. “I’ve been coming to games for 15 years and I rank this with Oklahoma State (in 2007) when everybody left at halftime.

“The feeling now is unreal. The resources, the passion, the fan base, we have everything, but we can’t get it right. We just keep hiring people that want to reinvent the wheel, and throw the ball 50 times a game. I’m leaving right now and we have 26 yards rushing (the Huskers finished with 44). We’re in the Big Ten. I don’t care what conference you’re in, you’re not going to win. You’re not going to beat anybody.”

Vandervort said he’ll keep supporting the Huskers, but he thinks Nebraska is now a laughingstock nationally.

“We’ve become Purdue, and maybe worse. With better facilities,” Vandervort said.

Vandervort says from he can tell Riley is a great guy, but he wishes there was more to say than that. Riley has an 18-15 record at Nebraska.

“In year three you’re supposed to have some sort of progress. Give me some hope to cling on,” Vandervort said.

Back in the stadium, Kathy Sanchez from Lincoln stayed until the end of the game. She clapped as the players walked off the field.

Her answer to why she has stayed until the end was simple, and also an example of why some people like to say that there is no place like Nebraska.

“My team is out there,” she said.

The players deserve the fans' support and respect, Sanchez said. She wants to see them win more, sure, but they’re growing.

“It’s a little depressing, but they’re still playing,” she said. “So if they’re still playing, the fans should still be here.”

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee gets why there were empty seats.

“That’s not what the fans want to see. They don’t want to see us go into half losing like that,” Lee said. “But I do appreciate the fans that stay, and I love playing in front of those people.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.


Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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