LINCOLN, Neb. – All of Nebraska’s hexes come from Texas.
The Cornhuskers, a national championship in their sights, was playing at home, had an offense that had shredded its way to a 5-0 record and top-five ranking, Nebraska fans were confident their team would erase previous bad memories.
But thanks to half a dozen dropped passes – two that would have produced touchdowns – and an ineffective running game, the Huskers (5-1, 1-1) have another game to forget. The unranked Longhorns (4-2, 2-1), losers of two consecutive games, stunned a red-clad crowd of 85,648 with a 20-13 victory Saturday.
"I told the players before the game that this might be the last Texas-Nebraska game in college football history," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "What an opportunity. I wanted them to understand how special this game was."
Brown praised the Huskers fans, the atmosphere in Memorial Stadium, Nebraska’s winning tradition and how tough it is to win here. He was asked why he said that. "Pull out the (record) book, there aren’t many who win here," Brown said.
In three previous trips here with Brown as their coach, Texas won 20-16, 27-24 and 22-20 so the Longhorns are on a short list of successful visitors. Saturday’s seven-point margin was a relative blowout – especially when you mix in last year’s 13-12 UT triumph in the Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship game.
That loss plus Nebraska’s departure to the Big Ten Conference put the hype for this game in hyper-drive. The game was designated as a "Red Out Around The World," an annual promotion to unite Huskers fans world-wide. The Longhorns used the commercial slogan for Visine eye wash – they got the red out.
"Football comes down to execution, it comes down to fundamentals, it comes down to technique, it comes down to playing the right way," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "We didn’t play the right way. We had our opportunities to make plays, we didn’t. People run the ball when you don’t tackle well. We didn’t tackle well and it cost us the game."
Texas, a team that couldn’t run, gained 209 yards on the ground on 46 attempts. UT had gained 649 yards on the ground in five previous games.
"We challenged our guys and told them we had make yards on the ground," Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "They all bought into the game plan. I think we gave Nebraska some looks they hadn’t seen. We called on Garrett to run the ball."
Nebraska’s defense is predicated on tight man-to-man coverage in the secondary. UT’s scheme involved spreading the field with its receivers and turning sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert loose as a runner. He had gained 14 yards on 24 carries before gaining 71 on 11 attempts against the Black Shirts.
"Their defenders are so great at covering receivers but we took advantage of them turning their backs," said Gilbert, whose 25-yard keeper on Texas’ first possession was a tone setter. "I feel comfortable running the ball."
Gilbert, who completed just four-of-16 passes for 62 yards, was asked if he had studied any game tapes of Vince Young. "I don’t think you can compare me to Vince," he said.
"You can’t," Davis quickly answered, drawing laughs. "No. Not at all."
Nebraska was second in the nation in rushing, averaging 337 yards per game on the ground and 494 total yards per game. Redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez had inserted himself into Heisman Trophy discussion because his game-breaking speed and long scoring runs.
The Longhorns’ defense, which had played poorly in the team’s two losses, limited the Huskers to 125 yards rushing and 202 total yards. Martinez gained 21 yards on 13 carries and completed just four-of-12 passes for 63 yards before being replaced by senior Zac Lee in the third quarter.
"I’m glad we had two weeks to prepare," defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. "We wanted to have two sets of eyes (on Martinez) every time. It was assignment football, we played responsibility football. But I’m the same idiot who game planned and called the UCLA game.
"I told our guys this: If we execute, if we tackle, we win."
With the Longhorns trying to stop the run game, Nebraska had several opportunities for big plays via the pass. But the lack of execution and fundamentals that had Pelini fuming short circuited those chances.
But the Huskers dropped at least seven passes that would have resulted in big gains. Sophomore running back Rex Burkhead stumbled and dropped a sure touchdown pass in the second quarter and Brandon Kinnie let another six points slip away in the fourth quarter.
"I don’t want to point the finger at anyone on the team but we should have capitalized on certain plays," Nebraska offensive lineman Keith Williams said. "It isn’t fun losing, especially to Texas. I wanted to win that game."
Nebraska’s third-quarter field position was limited thanks to two Justin Tucker rugby punts of 55 and 67 yards. But a Tucker pooch punt and poor coverage gave the Huskers hope in the final minutes.
Instead of attempting a 50-yard field goal, Brown ordered Tucker – also the Texas place kicker – to nudge a punt inside the Nebraska 10. Eric Hagg fielded the punt and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown that made it 20-13 with 3:02 remaining.
After the score, Nebraska attempted an onside kick but UT’s Marquise Goodwin snared the high hopper and the Longhorns ran out the clock.
"That was my mistake to call the pooch punt, we should have just kicked it out of bounds," Brown said. "There wasn’t many ways for us to lose at that point. We missed about a dozen tackles; I thought we’d tackle him. We need to have our offensive linemen work more on tackling."