Texas deprives Nebraska of parting shot
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Runza, the local fast-food chain that serves spiced beef baked in dough, should consider a special this week: spiced crow. There's suddenly a big demand in Nebraska.
The talk of redemption for the 10 months since the 13-12, last-second loss in the Big 12 championship game reached a crescendo this week. The 85,648 fans wore red as testimony of their devotion and desire. But all of that could not overcome one simple and overriding fact.
The opponent was Texas.
Time for a dope slap. All that discussion about No. 5 Nebraska going to the Big Ten for money, or stability, or competition, or academics, all of it overlooked the obvious reason that the Huskers made the move.
Texas is not in the Big Ten.
Mack Brown, as only he can do, sounded the perfect note after the Longhorns' 20-13 victory. Texas has gone 9-1 against Nebraska in the 15-year existence of the Big 12 Conference, which the Huskers will leave after this season.
"I've said it many times," Brown said, "but this place is the best place to play in college football. These fans, all the publicity of how bad the fans would be? They were great. I wish all college football fans could come here and learn how to be great fans, because we have given them some tough times here, and they have never, ever acted anything but very gracious."
But Brown also said, "I felt some of their fans saying after we got up 10-0, 'You gotta be kidding me. Not again.'"
That was seven minutes into the game. Never mind that Texas had lost two consecutive games while Nebraska had won five straight. Actually, that may have had something to do with it.
"I thought there was more pressure on them today than us," Brown said, "and that's unusual."
DESTINY IS NOT A MATTER OF CHANCE. IT IS A MATTER OF CHOICE.
That quote, uttered by famous Nebraskan William Jennings Bryan in 1899, stands in big letters above the entrance to the Osborne Athletic Complex on the north side of Memorial Stadium. The Huskers are choosing to run from the Big 12. After this latest loss to the Longhorns, a horror show that caused a run Saturday on over-the-counter sleep aids in pharmacies from Grand Island to Norfolk, you can't blame them.
Run, Nebraska. Run while you can. You couldn't do it Saturday.
Texas clearly put its off week to good use. The defense held Nebraska to 125 rushing yards, 213 fewer than the Huskers averaged. The Longhorns not only limited quarterback Taylor Martinez, the Big 12's leading rusher, to 25 yards on the ground, they forced Nebraska coach Bo Pelini to yank Martinez out of the game late in the third quarter in favor of last season's starter, senior Zac Lee.
"Our first goal is to win the Big 12," Pelini said. "It's still out there for us to go do but we're not going to do that unless we look in the mirror like men and take responsibility for what happened out on the field today and get better because of it. We'll let the fans and everyone else feel sorry for themselves and feel sorry for what happened."
Pelini said that Martinez remains the starter. The redshirt freshman's woes may have been only the beginning of the Huskers' problems. They didn't tackle well. They dropped a couple of touchdown passes. The offense didn't score a touchdown. Nebraska closed within seven points with 3:02 to play only because safety Eric Hagg returned a pooch punt out of field goal formation 95 yards for a score.
"It was a mistake by me to call the pooch at the end of the game," Brown said. "There weren't many ways they could beat us, and that was one of them. We need to go back and have our offensive linemen work more on tackling drills because they didn't tackle very well. We should have pooched it out of bounds if we were going to pooch it."
But the key to this game is that Martinez couldn't run the ball and Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert could. The thing is, the only way Gilbert could beat Martinez in a 40-yard dash is if Gilbert started 10 yards upfield.
"He looks deceptively fast," Texas safety Blake Gideon teased about his teammate. "I'll give him that. When nobody knows you have the ball and nobody's chasing you, you look pretty fast."
Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis sprung Gilbert with an array of quarterback draws and sprints -- called plays, not zone reads or a result of Gilbert counting how many defenders are in the box. Nebraska plays a lot of man defense, and running quarterbacks are always tough on that scheme.
Gilbert rushed for 51 of his 71 yards in the first quarter, when the Longhorns jumped to that 10-0 lead. And the way that Texas shut down Martinez, it became apparent that Nebraska would have a tough time catching up.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly said earlier this month that young quarterbacks are like tea bags. You don't know what you have until you put them in hot water. Martinez, aka T-Magic, had little magic and, by Kelly's measure, little tea.
The Huskers' offensive ills of last season appeared to be solved by the emergence of Martinez. He came into the game with 737 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, the latter leading the nation. But Martinez discovered quickly that the Texas defense closed on him faster than anyone who plays for Western Kentucky or Idaho.
"We didn't feel like they had played players, other than maybe Kansas State, like we had," Brown said. "Bo even said in pregame, 'Boy y'all can really run on defense. You're the first team we've seen that can run like that.'
"We also knew it was the same team we played in December, without Taylor Martinez. And we held them to 106 yards. We did feel like our defense would come in here with a lot of confidence."
It is possible that Texas and Nebraska could stage a rematch in the Big 12 championship game. The Longhorns would have to win out and Oklahoma would have to lose two conference games. But no one can count on that.
"We told the guys this may be the last Texas-Nebraska game in the history of college football," Brown said, "and what an opportunity for you, to remember this the rest of your life that you were there. I did not want them to walk out of here without realizing that they had an opportunity to do something that was really special."
They did it. They did it because they are Texas. And they played Nebraska.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.