LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley considers Oregon’s Autzen Stadium one of the five loudest places he’s ever coached. He mentions two others — BC Place in the Canadian Football League and the Louisiana Superdome in the NFL — as being in the same conversation.
Both of those venues are domes.
Autzen Stadium, where the Huskers hope to steal a win Saturday, is an uncovered, open bowl that’s half-submerged in the ground. It seats 54,000, with standing room up to 60,000. Since 1997, Oregon’s average attendance has been greater than its seating capacity.
Former ABC college football broadcaster Keith Jackson once called Autzen: “Per square yard, the loudest stadium in the history of the planet.” So loud that Oregon football coaches have to sign a waiver that they won’t sue the university because of the noise levels.
Riley watched games there as a boy. He coached Oregon State there seven times, with a 1-6 record. Coupled with NU’s road record against nonconference Power Five opponents — 2-4 since 2006 — Saturday’s game is a daunting challenge.
“One of the great, tough environments that I’ve coached in,” Riley said.
“It’s really a rowdy crowd,” said offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, who has coached five games in Autzen. “We’ve had troubling hearing on the phones before between the box and field. It’s going to take a lot of concentration and poise.”
The Huskers have been preparing all camp for the environment, piping in crowd noise, including on-field noise, at practices. It’s likely, too, that NU will use more hand signals and silent counts in the stadium, although Nebraska uses a huddle, and thus has quarterback Tanner Lee verbally communicate plays to his teammates.
“We’ve done a lot of silent cadence stuff, so we’ll have to be really well prepped up because that can just mess up a game,” said Riley, noting that he recalled a USC-Oregon game where the Trojans struggled with the noise and committed false start penalties as a result. “The communication to run a play and not get false starts is just a big factor in having a chance to win the game.”
For Riley, presnap alignments, shifts and motions are important. A mistake made before the play tends to trigger his frustration more than other errors; in Saturday’s 43-36 win over Arkansas State, he ripped off his headset — the cord wrapping around him — because he had to use a timeout when Nebraska didn’t line up correctly.
Riley said he expects Nebraska to handle the noise well at Autzen, in part because he’s played there so often and knows what to expect. For Riley, Langsdorf, offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh and running backs coach Reggie Davis, nothing about this trip will be a surprise. They’ve all been through the routine at Autzen.
And although Riley lost his last three games at Autzen, the 2013 game — a 36-35 loss to the Ducks — might have been his team’s best performance, considering Oregon finished that season 11-2. UO quarterback Marcus Mariota had to lead a last-minute touchdown drive to stave off OSU’s upset bid.
“We were always pretty well prepared, and I think that we had the ability to make that a non-factor and (have) a chance to win the game,” Riley said. “We played some down to the wire that I was so proud of our team for just being able to function like they did.”
In recent years, two other Big Ten coaches — Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio — have coached in Autzen. Harbaugh, as Stanford’s coach, lost there in 2008 and 2010, while Dantonio’s Spartans lost there in 2014.
Dantonio said on the Big Ten teleconference that the noise didn’t bother his players.
“I don’t mean this in a mean way, or a negative way, but it’s no different than playing at Nebraska when they’re yelling,” Dantonio said. “It’s loud in every Big Ten stadium across the country, and I really don’t think they get that in the Pac-12 consistently, except at Oregon and some other places, whereas in the Big Ten you get that game in, game out whether you’re at Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa, all of the venues.”
Nebraska at Oregon
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene
Radio: 103.1 FM (Nebraska City)