Jack looks back | Cornhuskers seek return to glory years

Jack Park For The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State Buckeyes running back J.K. Dobbins (2) receives blocks from offensive lineman Demetrius Knox (78) and offensive lineman Malcolm Pridgeon (66) as he runs past Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive linemen Khalil Davis (94) and Carlos Davis (96) on his way to a 42-yard touchdown during the fourth quarter of the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium on Nov. 3, 2018. Ohio State won 36-31. [Adam Cairns]

Ohio State will be in Lincoln on Saturday evening for a 7:30 start against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Nebraska football program during the past 77 years has had three distinct segments that can be described as 1) struggling, 2) outstanding, and 3) rebuilding.

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Over the 20 seasons from 1942 through 1961, Nebraska struggled with an overall record of 67-120-5 (36.2%). The Cornhuskers were led by seven coaches during this period, and all seven finished with a losing record. Nebraska had only three winning seasons over this 20-year period — 1950 (6-2-1), 1952 (5-4-1), and 1954 (6-5). Bill Glassford was coach during these three winning seasons. Glassford grew up in Lancaster, Ohio, and had been an All-America guard at the University of Pittsburgh in 1936.

The Nebraska program abruptly changed from struggling to outstanding from 1962 through 2003, with a 42-year record of 415-88-5 (82.2%). The turnaround clearly resulted from the hiring of three outstanding coaches: Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne, and Frank Solich. Devaney was head coach 11 seasons from 1962 to 1972 with a record of 101-20-2 (82.9%), Osborne compiled a 25-year mark of 255-49-3 (83.6%) from 1973 to 1997, and Solich led the Cornhuskers six seasons from 1998 to 2003 with a record of 59-19 (75.6%). Nebraska won five national titles and did not incur a losing season during these 42 years.

To the surprise of many followers, Solich was removed from his position after the 2003 season, even with his team posting a record of 10-3.

Suddenly, Nebraska found itself in a period of rebuilding. Present coach Scott Frost is the school’s fourth since Solich was removed. None of the four has been able to match Solich’s winning rate of 75.6%. From 2004 through 2018, Nebraska accumulated a 15-year record of 119-78 for a winning rate of 60.4%. The Cornhuskers endured five losing seasons during this 15-year period.

Ohio State is 4-1 in the series since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011. It was the first change in league membership since Penn State became a member in 1993. OSU’s single loss to the Cornhuskers came during OSU’s first visit to Lincoln in 2011. The Buckeyes led 27-6 early in the third quarter before surrendering four consecutive touchdowns to lose 34-27. Last season, Ohio State was able to win in Columbus 36-31 after trailing 21-16 at halftime.

The Buckeyes also defeated Nebraska at home in the season openers of 1955 and 1956. Ohio State twice came from behind in 1955 for a thrilling 28-20 triumph that wasn’t certain until the contest’s final minutes. Howard “Hopalong” Cassady rushed for 170 yards and scored three touchdowns. The three scores increased his career TD total to what was then a team record of 25. Chic Harley previously held the record with 23 career TDs in 1916-17-19. In 1955, Cassady became Ohio State’s third Heisman Trophy winner.

OSU dominated the 1956 contest, winning 34-7 before what was then an Ohio Stadium-record opening-day crowd of 82,153.

Sophomore halfback Don Clark, playing in his first collegiate game, led the offense with thrilling touchdown dashes of 35 and 38 yards. Coach Woody Hayes used 10 ball-carriers who gained 416 yards on the ground. The Cornhuskers were coached by Pete Elliot, a former All-America quarterback who had led Michigan to an undefeated national title in 1948.

Ohio State and Nebraska will clash in both 2020 and 2021, then not meet again until 2024.