NORTH PLATTE - Texas comes to Nebraska, pulls another Houdini escape, gets in the bus and leaves.
How long will this keep going on?
The Longhorns beat the Cornhuskers in a gut-wrencher of a game for the third consecutive time at Memorial Stadium. The Longhorns won the three games by a total of nine points, and the finishes just keep getting more unlikely.
Never mind that the Longhorns were favored to win this year and in 2002. Never mind that they are the defending national champions, and have one of the best programs in college football.
Nobody should be able to leave Lincoln a winner three consecutive times. Period. Only once since Bob Devaney came to town had that feat been accomplished – in 1984, 1986 and 1987 by Barry Switzer and the Oklahoma Sooners.
Now Mack Brown and Texas has done it, using two freshman quarterbacks to lead last-minute drives to beat the Huskers. Normally, you’d figure the more experienced quarterback is the difference in a tight game. Instead, Zac Taylor made more mistakes than freshman Colt McCoy. So much for the experienced quarterback advantage.
I can still see Jamaal Lord forcing a pass that Nathan Vashar intercepted at the goal line with 10 seconds remaining in the 2002 game, erasing a chip shot field goal attempt that would have sent it into overtime.
I remember the Huskers on the verge of taking control of the 1998 game on a cold, overcast Halloween day, and freshman Eric Crouch fumbling as he neared the goal line. It was Nebraska’s only turnover that day, but it was just enough to allow fuzzy-cheeked Major Applewhite to engineer a last-minute drive to beat the Huskers on a 2-yard pass to Wane Mcgarrity that a Husker defensive back barely missed swatting before the diving Texas receiver grabbed it just inches off the turf.
Now we’ll remember Terrance Nunn fumbling to give the nearly-dead Longhorns one last chance to win in 2006.
Nebraska owes Texas some payback – in fact, a lot of payback. Here’s an idea for starters: how about somewhere – say, the state of Missouri – and upsetting the highly-ranked Longhorns, who have just come off a national title season and rolled through the Big 12 schedule unbeaten, in the conference title game? Make it sort of a 10th anniversary affair. That seems quite fitting to me.
That dream sounds nice, but the Huskers have some cold reality to work through before then, like beating a dangerous Oklahoma State team at Stillwater next week, then facing a Missouri squad that may have a better passing game than either Texas or OSU. It will be important to use this heart-breaking loss to promote a steely resolve, as the “Unfinished Business” team of 1994 did, and not to let it lead to a slow breakdown of the Huskers’ morale, as it did in 1998, when NU lost three of its last five games.
One thing’s for sure: Nebraska defended the home field for all it was worth on Saturday against Texas. This was no repeat of the Kansas debacle of three weeks ago. The Blackshirts earned back all the respect they lost that night.
The Huskers made some heroic goal line stands, but has anyone else noticed that Adam Carriker continues to be the best defensive end in the nation at arriving half a count too late to prevent a big throw by the opposing quarterback? The Husker Nation continues to wait to see Carriker make a truly big play in a big game.
Steve Octavien made some big plays. In fact, I can take this loss if it turns out to be Octavien’s breakout game, because I think he can be a big-time disruptive force over the next season and a half.
In his first significant action as a Husker, Octavien had a team-high 10 tackles, including seven unassisted and two tackles for loss. He broke up a pass and forced a fumble.
Octavien looked like a world-beater in spring drills, but inexplicably reported overweight to fall camp. Then, in quick succession, he had an emergency appendectomy and suffered a pulled hamstring. “Here we go again,” groaned Husker fans, who remembered that he looked great for a few shining minutes in the 2005 season-opener against Maine before breaking his leg on punt coverage late in the first quarter.
Octavien was close to becoming the “great player who never was” for the Big Red. Now he will be counted upon to supply some much-needed speed to a linebacking corps that has been solid, but has been prone to getting beat on the edge.
The linebacking was better, but the special teams worse. They may have been the difference in wining and losing Saturday. Nunn’s fumble wasn’t the main problem Saturday; it was his failure to catch a punt inside the NU 20 in the second quarter. He let it roll dead at the Nebraska 1, setting up a Longhorn touchdown a few minutes later.
Note to Bill Busch, Husker special teams coach: You apparently have decided that North Platte’s Jordan Alegria cannot kick off into the end zone (Alegria has had only one kickoff all season). Surely, by now you would have let him give it another try if the NPHS graduate were regularly booting the ball deep in practice). So why not place an ad in the Daily Nebraskan announcing tryouts for any strong-legged student who wants to see if he can kick a football more than 65 yards in the air?
With a 15- to 20-mph wind at their backs on all four kickoffs, only once did the Huskers get a touchback. Texas returned the opening kickoff to the NU 9-yard line, which accounts for three points, and another was returned to the Texas 36. The argument that Nebraska is holding its opponents to poor field position with its short, directional kickoffs doesn’t make sense anymore.