Commentary

Drive keeps Texas' BCS dreams alive

Updated: December 6, 2009, 1:28 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas coach Mack Brown's star quarterback was sacked nine times by Nebraska's defense in Saturday night's Big 12 championship game at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezNdamukong Suh hounded Tre' Newton and the Horns all night.

Texas star Colt McCoy also threw three interceptions in a miserable performance that might keep him from winning the Heisman Trophy next week in New York. The Longhorns ran for only 18 yards and finished with 202 yards of offense in perhaps their worst showing of the 2009 season.

"It was a night about defense," Brown said. "Once again, if this had been the SEC, we would have called it a beautiful game. That's what happens. You get in the Big 12, and we expect offenses to run down the field and two defenses played great."

In any conference, Texas' 13-12 victory over Nebraska would have been pretty unsightly.

But in the state of Texas, it will probably be remembered as one of the Longhorns' most remarkable comebacks. Trailing 12-10 in a game they had to win in order to earn a trip to play No. 2 Alabama in the Citi BCS National Championship in Pasadena, Calif., the Longhorns' winning drive was nearly gift-wrapped by the Cornhuskers.

And then at the end, Texas nearly tried to give the game back, after a series of its missteps almost became one of the biggest debacles in college football history.

The Longhorns won their first Big 12 title since 2005 only after game officials added one second to the clock. And then Texas senior Hunter Lawrence kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired to give the Longhorns a 13-12 victory over the Cornhuskers.

"I think in Lincoln it will be the clock, and in Austin it will be the comeback," Brown said. "That's about the way it happens in sports. We all like our team."

In nearby Fort Worth and in Ohio, the final gut-wrenching seconds will be remembered as agony for No. 4 TCU and No. 5 Cincinnati. For a few seconds, at least, the Horned Frogs and Bearcats had hope that they'd be playing the Crimson Tide at the Rose Bowl for the BCS national title.

Instead, the Longhorns were given new life and took advantage of it.

"To be an undefeated team at 13-0, you have to win in different ways," Brown said. "You've seen Alabama block field goals in the last second. You saw this offense run up and down the field [at Texas A&M] last week, and the defense struggled. You saw the offense do enough to win tonight. This team has been one of those that just figures out a way to win. They trust each other. They're very patient. They know they're going to win and it's usually somebody different that steps up and it's fun for them."

It wasn't much fun for the Longhorns for a long time. With McCoy being harassed on nearly every play, the Texas offense did nothing for most of four quarters. And it looked like the Cornhuskers would do what Texas did to them in 1996 -- knock the Longhorns out of a national championship game.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
AP Photo/Amy GutierrezColt McCoy struggled against the vaunted Blackshirts.

"Sometimes [the games] are going to be awesome and you're going to put up great stats and throw touchdowns and run," McCoy said. "Sometimes you have to dig way deep down as a team and find a way to win. You know, those are the ones that mean the most like tonight. In a big game like this, we couldn't get anything really flowing. They put the ball in our hands with one minute left and we made it work."

After Nebraska kicker Alex Henery put the Cornhuskers in front 12-10 with a 42-yard field goal with 1:44 to go, Texas started its last drive at its 40-yard line. On the very next play, McCoy threw a 19-yard pass to Jordan Shipley, and then the Cornhuskers were penalized 15 yards for a horse-collar tackle.

Texas had a first down at the Cornhuskers' 26-yard line with 1:37 to play. But then Brown, who is normally one of college football's best coaches, channeled his inner Les Miles. With chaos surrounding him, things got blurry and a little confusing. From there, the Longhorns handled the clock about as well as they handled Nebraska All-American Ndamukong Suh.

On first down, Suh sacked McCoy for a 2-yard loss. For most of the night, Suh looked like the most legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate on the field. He sacked McCoy 4½ times and finished with 12 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two quarterback pressures.

Suh should win every award for defensive players and linemen, including the Lombardi and Outland trophies. If the Heisman Trophy could be molded into a player squatting in a four-point stance, Suh would probably win the sport's most coveted individual honor, too.

"Yeah, we're best friends," McCoy said. "The guy's a playmaker. It's not just Suh. I thought their whole defensive line played lights out."

So much so that the Cornhuskers came darn close to turning out the lights on Texas' championship hopes.

Facing second-and-12 from the Nebraska 28, McCoy was stopped for a 1-yard loss with 25 seconds to play. On the Texas sideline, Brown said he was trying to use his team's last timeout, but officials didn't hear him. Neither did McCoy, who walked to the line and prepared for the next play.

"When we got the play call in there, there was 15 seconds left," McCoy said. "So I wasn't worried about it."

But by the time McCoy looked for Shipley down the right sideline, only to sail a pass over the Nebraska sideline and out of bounds, the game clock had somehow expired. Nebraska's players and coaches ran onto the field celebrating their enormous upset. A Nebraska player even threw a football into the stands.

[+] EnlargeHunter Lawrence
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesHunter Lawrence gave the Horns a second chance.

But Brown argued that one second should have remained on the clock. High above the playing field at Jerry World, replay official Jack McDonald agreed, and Texas was given new life at Nebraska's 29 with one second to go.

"I haven't gotten an explanation," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "It came down from the replay booth. I haven't gotten an explanation. I'm not going to answer any more questions about officiating or that call. Ask me about the football game. It was a hell of a football game."

And it was a hell of a kick by Lawrence, who hadn't made a game-winning kick in his four-year career.

"We went out there, and I knew I had to make it," Lawrence said. "Their defense was playing so well, and our offense did amazing the last minute to give us a chance. I just had to make it for them."

Lawrence did, and the Longhorns survived.

"I wasn't worried about the clock," McCoy said. "I figured we'd have one or two seconds left. When I saw everybody rushing the field, I thought, 'There's no way. We've got one or two seconds left.' It was close."

It was certainly much closer than the Longhorns wanted.

"These guys know how to win," Brown said. "They've got tremendous character. They never give up."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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