SAN DIEGO — The Blackshirt flag hung, menacingly, near the entrance to the tunnel snaking underneath Qualcomm Stadium and into the Arizona Wildcats locker room.
On a black backdrop, a skull and crossbones donned a white Nebraska helmet, the symbol of a defensive unit that has plundered and kidnapped offenses for generations.
The Arizona Wildcats ran past the flag and off the field to end Wednesday night’s Holiday Bowl. In doing so, they made history after a 33-0 drubbing at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Saying Arizona put together the worst offensive showing in Holiday Bowl history would seem to be too charitable.
No one had ever scored fewer than 10 points; the Wildcats were shut out.
No one had recorded as few as 109 total yards, 39 passing yards, six first downs or 51 plays, figures the Wildcats posted against Ndamukong Suh and his shipmates.
Arizona punted nine times — more than any team in the history of the game.
The Wildcats offense was, to be succinct, horrible.
“If there was a play where a guy got a little open, I missed him,” Arizona quarterback Nick Foles said. “Or if I got him the ball, we just dropped it.”
It took three plays for the Wildcats to hint at the destruction that would soon follow.
Arizona started the game with the ball at its own 19-yard line. Foles threw two incompletions to set up third-and-10, and Foles lobbed an interception returned 37 yards by safety Matt O’Hanlon.
The Huskers scored two plays later.
“I think we got a little rattled early and never could recover,” offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said. “It was just a frustrating day. Once the snowball started rolling, we never could get it stopped.”
Foles, who Dykes said had put in the best practices of the season entering the game, completed 6 of 20 passes for 28 yards and one interception. He was sacked twice.
“I don’t know if we rattled him or not,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “Especially here toward the end of the year, we’ve been really pushing our kids to approach the game with a sense of urgency.”
Had backup Matt Scott not been still feeling the effects of rib and shoulder injuries dating to the season finale, Foles likely would have removed sooner. As it was, Scott completed 4 of 11 passes for 18 yards.
The Wildcats went three-and-out in their first three possessions.
After running six plays that led to a punt, the team went three-and- out twice more before running the clock out with two plays to end the first half.
Arizona went three-and-out three more times in the second half.
The Huskers, who gave up 11.2 points per game entering the game, didn’t differ their attack much. They played zone defense outside and man defense inside, daring the Wildcats to throw deep.
Perhaps the most telling stat on a night full of them: The Huskers blitzed twice all game — the last two plays of Arizona’s final possession, when the team tried to score a touchdown to prevent a shutout.
Suh, the defensive tackle who was named Associated Press Player of the Year, anchored a defensive line that allowed 63 rushing yards on 20 attempts.
“They pretty much just man up against anyone and just say, ‘Beat us,’” Foles said. “They want you to beat them with your skill positions.”