ST. LOUIS — In the unlikeliest fashion Saturday, the Nebraska football team’s five-year run of conference championships and two-year run of national championships ended.
Texas, a 20-point underdog, gained 503 yards on a Husker defense touted as one of college football’s best ever and went on to pull a 37-27 upset before 63,109 fans at the Trans World Dome, including an estimated 35,000 dressed in red.
The unranked Longhorns scored the game’s first touchdown, led 20-17 at halftime and then produced two more touchdowns in the final nine minutes — one with the help of a fourth-down gamble at their own 28-yard line while leading — to hand third-ranked Nebraska its first conference loss since a 19-10 setback to Iowa State in November 1992.
“This one hurts,” NU Coach Tom Osborne said. “It takes us out of any possibility for a national championship. We’ve got a lot of players who have been in that mix for three straight years.
“It will be interesting to see how they respond in a bowl game. I hope they come back and play like they can.”
Which bowl game that will be was unclear Saturday night. Bowl, conference and school officials interviewed last week told The World-Herald that a loss probably wouldn’t knock Nebraska out of a Bowl Alliance slot. Most said a spot in the Orange Bowl would probably be available.
But the final announcement isn’t planned until 4:30 p.m. today.
Nebraska (10-2) had hoped to face No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl with a chance to keep its own national title hopes alive.
But Texas quarterback James Brown, who predicted victory by three touchdowns, completed 18 of 29 passes for 353 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown. Priest Holmes added 120 yards rushing, including a 61-yard touchdown.
The 503 yards that Nebraska allowed was the most in 44 games, dating back to Kansas State’s 565-yard day in October 1993. And the 37 points were the most since Georgia Tech scored 45 in the Citrus Bowl after the 1990 season.
“We have no excuses,” Osborne said. “Texas just played better than we did. For some reason, we didn’t seem to be quite as intense as we have been for other games this year.
“It’s been a long year, and we were dinged up a little. But we still should have been able to play better and win it.”
Osborne said he wasn’t surprised at Texas’ ability to throw the ball.
“But we didn’t think they could run on us as well as they did,” he said. “I think that was the main difference in the game. It kept us off balance to some degree.”
Nebraska’s No. 1 defense hadn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season. But Holmes scored on a 5-yard run on the game’s opening possession.
Nebraska, down 20-17 at halftime, took its first lead at 24-23 with 2:11 left in the third quarter on I-back DeAngelo Evans’ 6-yard touchdown run. The true freshman, making his first career start, gained 130 yards on 32 carries despite playing with a groin injury.
The Huskers increased their lead to 27-23 with 10:11 left in the game on Kris Brown’s 24-yard field goal. But the lead could have been more because on the previous play, tight end Vershan Jackson couldn’t hold an apparent touchdown pass from quarterback Scott Frost.
Texas regained the lead in three plays when Brown found Wane McGarity with a 66-yard touchdown pass for a 30-27 lead with 8:53 to play.
Nebraska again put together a long march, getting to the Texas 38. But on fourth-and-four, instead of trying a 55-yard field goal to tie with 4:06 to play, the Huskers tried to run a play. But offensive tackle Eric Anderson was called for illegal procedure, which led the Huskers to punt.
Texas, pinned at its own 7, got to the 28 but faced fourth-and-one with 2:38 to play.
But instead of punting, Brown took the snap, rolled left and hit tight end Derek Lewis with a 61-yard pass to the NU 11.
“I thought they were going to go into a freeze and not snap the ball and try to draw us offside,” Osborne said. “When they snapped the ball, I was kind of amazed. Then when I saw the quarterback run to the left, I was really amazed. Then when he threw the ball, I was even more amazed.
“We had a chance to get our hands on that pass. If the guy drops it or it isn’t thrown right, we’ve got a great chance to win the game.”
“Never in my dreams did I think we would have 503 yards of total offense against what I consider the best defense in America,” Texas Coach John Mackovic said. “Our coaches did a terrific job of putting a game plan together, and James Brown executed it beautifully.”
Texas started the game with a feat only Arizona State had accomplished before during this season — take the opening kickoff and drive for a touchdown.
The Longhorns never got to a third down and completed passes of 10, 10, 10 and 11 yards to get to the NU 20. Three plays later, Holmes scored from 5 yards out on a counter sweep.
After holding the Huskers in three plays, Texas stormed down the field again. Passes of 23, 11 and 17 yards moved the Longhorns to the NU 7.
On second-and-goal from the 9, Brown scrambled. Under pressure from rush end Jared Tomich, he threw what amounted to a jump ball into the end zone that Husker roverback Eric Stokes intercepted.
Nebraska responded by marching 80 yards for a tying touchdown. Frost’s 25-yard screen pass to Evans and Frost’s 16-yard option run helped get the ball to the 2. Evans ran it in from there for a 7-7 tie with 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, the teams traded long field goals.
After Texas defensive tackle Chris Akins batted away a Frost pitchout to set the Longhorns up at the NU 37, Phil Dawson eventually kicked a 49-yard field goal.
Nebraska came back to drive to the UT 34, but stalled. So Kris Brown drilled a 51-yard field goal to tie the game 10-10 with 8:39 to go in the half.
Texas struck back in three plays. Holmes, on a sweep right, cut back and darted 61 yards for a touchdown and a 17-10 lead with 7:24 left in the half.
Again, Nebraska countered on the next drive, going 80 yards. After 10 plays with no gain bigger than 11 yards, Evans took a toss right and swept 23 yards down the sideline to tie the game 17-17 with 2:23 left.
But Texas wasn’t done in the first half. Holmes’ 15-yard run and a 15-yard pass interference penalty on NU cornerback Michael Booker helped UT reach the NU 13. Dawson kicked a 30-yard field goal to put the Longhorns ahead 20-17 with a minute to go in the half.
|Yards per carry||5.4||3.9|
Nebraska is 4-10 all-time against Texas.
|Michigan State||Sept. 7|
|Arizona State||Sept. 21|
|Colorado State||Sept. 28|
|Kansas State||Oct. 5|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 19|
|Iowa State||Nov. 16|
|Virginia Tech||Dec. 31|
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