Bloody October is finally over for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. But at least we know the Huskers still have some guts.
Nebraska squandered a 14-point lead in the third quarter, then made a belated rally and fell 28-25 at Texas Saturday. The Huskers couldn't churn out first downs and kill the clock when they had the opportunity, and opportunity may not knock again for this squad. This was their chance to vault back, not into national prominence, but at least national respectability. And their head coach barely missed a huge win that he could have leveraged to salvage his career.
It was only the second time in Bill Callahan's career at NU that the Huskers blew a halftime lead, and it leaves the Big Red with a 4-5 record, with road games at Kansas and Colorado and a home game against Kansas State still on the docket. Now Callahan is inching closer to Bill Jennings territory. Jennings went 4-16 in 1957-58, but he pulled off a memorable 25-21 upset over a legendary Oklahoma team on Halloween 1959, which delayed his firing for two more years. Callahan simply came close to pulling the upset, and he has the distinction of coaching Nebraska to its first winless October since 1948.
It could have been different, because the Huskers had a tremendous opportunity to win for the first time ever in Austin. The Husker defense played extremely well for three quarters, but suffered a relapse in the fourth, allowed a ton of rushing yards in the final 15 minutes. When the dust had settled, Kevin Cosgrove's defense had allowed more than 500 total yards for the fourth time in six games.
Well, at least the Huskers showed some fight. If they play this hard, they could win another game or two. They battled back on their final drive late in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown with just under two minutes left. Sam Keller left the game with a shoulder injury, and Joe Ganz came in to move the Huskers the final 24 yards, scrambling for 12 yards and hitting Maurice Purify with a 4-yard scoring pass and passing to Nate Swift for the two-point conversion to draw within three points. Unfortunately, the Huskers never got the ball again.
Ganz showed poise and confidence coming off the bench at a moment's notice and moved the team with efficiency. If he gets the start at quarterback Saturday, I like Nebraska's chances at Kansas. At least, I like the Huskers' chances better with Ganz than with Keller. The senior transfer from Arizona State has shown an increasing propensity to misfire on third down. He has not been the quarterback that I though he would be. He gets statistics, but has trouble finishing drives.
The biggest disappointment of the day came after the NU defense finally forced its first turnover of the month. When a blitzing Larry Asante deflected a Colt McCoy pass and defensive end Zach Potter picked it off at the Texas 41, the Husker offense came out with a 17-15 lead and went three-and-out.
Then Dan Titchener punted the Longhorns back to their own 2-yard line, and the defense failed, allowing Texas to move 98 yards in three rushing plays. The haymaker was an 86-yard run by Jamaal Charles, who beat the Huskers' gambling defense on the edge and dashed to the end zone untouched.
Can this team maintain the intensity it showed in the first three quarters? Can it cut down on its drive-killing mistakes? Can it at least find the consistency that it had in 2006?
The Huskers showed a pass rush that had been missing all season, knocking down Colt McCoy with frequency. Cosgrove finally gambled on defense, throwing blitz after blitz at McCoy, who had a lot of problems but kept his composure and got up off the deck to direct the Longhorns' comeback. The Horns beat the blitz a couple of times late in the game, but it was good to at least see the Huskers go down swinging.