The Huskers entered the stadium solemnly, four-by-four, arms interlocked as a show of unity. A silent display to all, a statement that they would not be divided following a loss to Texas Tech the week before and and all the criticism that followed it.
The Cyclones entered the stadium not having won there since 1977.
As the old rhetorical question goes, "If you knew before the game that Nebraska's defense would hold the Cyclones, who were playing with a redshirt freshman at QB and another redshirt freshman replacing the Big XII's leading rusher, to nine points, would you think that the Huskers would win?" Yes, that was a bit longer than your typical rhetorical question, but the point is made. Most Husker fans would feel confident going into that contest, not knowing that the sum total of Nebraska's points would be a three-yard touchdown run by Dontrayevous Robinson.
Nebraska's first play from scrimmage resulted in a fumble (fittingly, it would later seem) by Roy Helu Jr. Nebraska's last play ended in an interception by Zac Lee. In between, there would be six more giveaways by the Husker offense.
The Cyclones, meanwhile, didn't turn the ball over even once, preserving the ball and a two-point victory that left Husker fans speechless, temporarily.
Temporarily I say, because my cell phone has already blown up with calls of "Fire Watson!", "Bench Lee!" and the suggestion that our trip next week to Waco, to watch the Huskers play Baylor, be canceled.
So, is the "pound of flesh" that Husker Nation demands warranted?
To be sure, an autopsy of this cold corpse of a game is needed, no matter how painful.
Following the Robinson score, Nebraska's defense stopped Iowa State and, after a punt, Nebraska's offense started at their own fourteen-yard line. They moved the ball methodically to the Iowa State sixteen where a bizarre play that changed the entire complexion of the game occurred. The Cyclones' Jesse Smith tipped a Lee pass intended for Mike McNeill which bounced around like an exploding kernel of popcorn and finally landed in his teammate's hands. The game wasn't the same after that.
To be sure, this is not your father's Cyclones. A fake punt on the next possession extended the Iowa State drive. Jerome Tiller (one of the aformentioned redshirt freshmen) threw a 47-yard bomb to Jake Williams for a touchdown. A recurring theme: Nebraska's defense played well overall, but gave up a huge, game-changing play. And while the extra point was blocked by Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska would not lead again, let alone score.
In the second quarter, Niles Paul dropped a sure touchdown catch as he was tripped up on his way to six points. The ball dribbled into the end zone and was pounced upon by a Cyclone defender. From touchdown to touchback in the blink of an eye.
On Iowa State's ensuing drive, it looked like Nebraska would force a turnover of their own as Barry Turner stripped a scrambling Tiller, but Jared Crick was unable to recover the fumble. Any momentum that Nebraska might have gained was thwarted.
The Husker offense tried to compose themselves and drove down the field following a Cyclone punt. Then Helu supposedly fumbled at the ISU two yard-line. I say supposedly, because the call on the field was overturned when it seemed fairly cut and dried to everyone not wearing Iowa State colors (or black and white stripes). Touchback.
Either way, Helu wasn't right. Robinson's number was called. For a while he shouldered Nebraska's offensive load and did it with an aggressive attitude, an attitude that ended up costing him and his team. While running through Cyclone defenders in the red zone, Robinson gained a first down, was stood up at the ISU five and, while he was fighting for more yards, stripped of the ball.
The Cyclone offense was stopped once more by the Husker defense. Nebraska again with the ball, their inconsistent offensive line playing almost the entire game without its starting center, Jacob Hickman, allowed a sack, bringing up third and fifteen. Lee completed a pass to Menelik Holt, who was also stripped. Cyclones' ball.
The Blackshirts again stopped Iowa State despite the Cyclones having their best field position of the day and Suh punctuated the defensive stop with another blocked kick that was returned by Sean Fisher to the Iowa State thirty-five. However, the offense failed to get anything out of it.
If this sounds repetitive, well, it was. All day, Nebraska's offense shot itself in the foot, the hand, the head and Nebraska's defense tried to keep the walking wounded of the offense in the game. They couldn't.
Two more interceptions by Lee in the fourth quarter, as he tried to make something, anything happen and, in the end, Nebraska would have more turnovers (eight) than points.
The turnovers would breakdown this way: Helu fumble, Lee interception, Paul fumble, Helu fumble, Robinson fumble, Holt fumble, Lee interception, Lee interception.
Did Lee throw errant passes? Yes. But, while it's easy to point at the quarterback for the loss, his receivers had too many dropped passes. The Huskers couldn't hold onto the ball when it mattered and tied their record for turnovers in a game.
Take nothing away from Iowa State. Yes, they got lucky at times, but they also forced turnovers. Again, Nebraska had eight giveaways. Iowa State had none. Nebraska lost by two points. They were lucky that the margin was that small. Against the powerhouses of the Big XII, they would have lost by five touchdowns or more.
So, you could blame Lee. You could blame Watson. But when the offense literally drops the ball on almost every possession, this is the result.
Needless to say, it ain't pretty. As ugly as a 9-7 game sounds in theory, this one was downright hideous.