LINCOLN — Texas pulled the plug Saturday on Nebraska's hopes that already were on life support.
The Longhorns' 20-16 victory killed the seventh-ranked Huskers' slim chances of repeating as national champions. There won't be any trip to St. Louis in early December — barring some late-season Kansas State collapse — to defend the Big 12 Conference championship that Nebraska won last season.
Disappointing? Yes, but that paled when compared to the dejection the Huskers felt in seeing Texas become the first team since 1991 to leave Memorial Stadium with a victory. The Longhorns' win, which came before 76,434, snapped Nebraska's 47-game home winning streak — the fifth-longest all-time in Division I — that stretched back to a 36-21 loss to Washington in the third game of the 1991 season.
"It's strange to lose in this program, but to lose at home — that's what hurts the worst," Nebraska rush end Chad Kelsay said. "Being a senior, I didn't want to be the class that lost at home. I'd have to say it's the lowest point of my athletic career.
"I feel like I've let so many guys down, guys I don't even know who started this tradition and this streak at home. When you play at home, you have to play at another level. This is our house, and you don't want someone to come in here and beat you. That's what they did today."
The unranked Longhorns did it by relying more on their big-play passing attack than the powerful legs of Ricky Williams. The Huskers kept Williams, the nation's leading rusher and scorer, out of the end zone for the second time this season. They gave up 150 yards to Williams, but subtract his long runs of 38 and 15 yards and he gained 97 yards on his other 35 rushes. His output still was 62 yards below his nation-leading 212-yard average.
"He had a couple of long runs, but for the most part we did well against him," Husker linebacker Jay Foreman said. "It was almost like last time when they beat us with the pass. It's like deja vu."
The Longhorns won the last meeting between the two teams, riding quarterback James Brown's 353 yards passing to a 37-27 victory in the 1996 Big 12 championship game. Saturday, redshirt freshman Major Applewhite threw the daggers into Nebraska's heart by completing 14 of 26 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
The second, a 2-yarder to Wane McGarity on third down and goal, proved to be the game-winner. Applewhite, rolling to his right to avoid a blitz, slipped the pass into McGarity, whose diving catch came with 2:47 to play and erased the 16-13 lead Nebraska had taken six minutes earlier on Kris Brown's third field goal of the game.
Nebraska's final bid to retake the lead lasted all of five plays.
Dan Alexander opened Nebraska's last possession with a 22-yard burst up the middle to the Huskers' 45-yard line. Texas linebacker Anthony Hicks then dropped Alexander for a 4-yard loss on the next play.
"That play cost a little bit in field position," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said, "and it stopped the momentum."
Crouch came back with an 8-yard pass to Shevin Wiggins, but the quarterback sailed his final two throws over intended receiver Matt Davison. That left Texas with the football at the Nebraska 49-yard line and 1:58 to burn. An 11-yard run by Williams after the Huskers had used their final timeout did the trick, leaving the Longhorns to count down the seconds on a fifth straight win that left them 6-2 and 4-1 in the league.
As time expired, backup defensive back Chad Patmon grabbed a huge Longhorn flag from a cheerleader and waved it crazily. The Longhorns hoisted coach Mack Brown on their shoulders. As the glum Huskers filed toward their locker room, they were serenaded with "The Eyes of Texas" by the Longhorn marching band.
"For a football team that had to come from behind to beat Baylor last week to be the first one to beat Nebraska in 47 games at home, it's just a great accomplishment," Brown said later. "I'm so proud for the kids. What a great win for the University of Texas and the great state of Texas."
And an equally disappointing loss for Nebraska. The Husker seniors, who came into the season having lost just twice in their careers, have matched that total in becoming the first Nebraska team since 1981 to lose two games before November.
At 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12, Nebraska finds itself facing another character check in its remaining games against Iowa State, Nos. 3 and 4 Kansas State and Nos. 24 and 25 Colorado.
"It seems like everybody has great character on this team," Nebraska center Josh Heskew said. "Everybody has pride in what they do. They could either be giving a good acting job or it could be for real. I guess we're going to find out now that our chances of winning a Big 12 title or a national championship are over.
"The only thing we have to play for now is pride. If pride's not good enough for these guys, then I don't know what to tell them."
The Huskers bounced back from an Oct. 10 loss to Texas A&M — Nebraska's first in 40 regular-season conference games — with victories over Kansas and Nos. 18 and 21 Missouri. Now, knowing that this season will yield no championship hardware, can the Huskers rebound again?
"I'm concerned a little bit," Foreman said. "This is a hard team to read. Before a game, you think we're ready and then we don't come out and play up to our potential. It's going to be interesting to see how we bounce back. I hope we're up to the challenge."
The Huskers fell short of meeting Saturday's challenge, coach Frank Solich said, because Nebraska failed to take advantage of its opportunities. Three times the Huskers had to settle for field goals when scoring drives stalled. Crouch's fumble at the Texas 5-yard line killed another drive at a time when the Huskers were in position to take control of the game.
Crouch, who put some spark into Nebraska's offense after taking over for starter Monte Christo in the second quarter, gave the Huskers their first lead when he bolted 38 yards for a touchdown with 3:28 left in the third quarter. That capped a personal five-play drive that saw Crouch carry all five times and gain 49 of his 108 yards rushing.
Three plays later, Nebraska found itself on the Texas 12-yard line following Ralph Brown's 17-yard return of an Applewhite interception. I-back Correll Buckhalter picked up 4 yards on first down, and fullback Joel Makovicka got 1 on second down.
Crouch kept it on third down and, as he fought for extra yardage, saw the football stripped at the 5 by defensive end J.J. Kelly.
Longhorn strong safety Donald McCowen recovered the loose ball at the Texas 8-yard line.
Nebraska lost a chance to bottle up the Longhorns when Williams raced 11 yards for a first down. Then, on third and 10 from the Texas 19-yard line, Applewhite came up with one of the big plays that victimized the Nebraska defense all afternoon.
He found split end Bryan White behind the secondary, and the pass play covered 76 yards before Mike Brown caught up to White at the Huskers' 5-yard line. The Longhorns tied the game at 13-13 four plays later on Kris Stockton's 19-yard field goal.
"We'd be looking good one time and the next thing you know, we shot ourselves in the foot," Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said. "I thought Applewhite did a good job of finding the receivers and getting them the ball. But we didn't do a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback, and we didn't do a good job of covering at times.
"At other times, we did. It was kind of like hot and cold, and we were turning it on and off." Texas, which held a 398-311 advantage in total yards, used big plays to produce three of its four scores. Penalties also played big roles in two of the drives, including the 85-yard, fourth-quarter march that produced the game-winning points.
Applewhite got Texas on the scoreboard in the first quarter with a 16-yard scoring pass to Derek Lewis that came two plays after Nebraska's Erwin Swiney was called for pass interference in the end zone. The call came on a third-down-and-11 play from the Nebraska 32-yard line.
On Texas' final scoring drive, Applewhite again hooked up with White for a 37-yard gain to the Nebraska 28-yard line. On the next play, Mike Brown was flagged for a face-mask penalty while stopping for Williams for no gain. The 15-yard penalty moved the ball to the Huskers' 13, and the Longhorns scored the game-winning touchdown six plays later.
"Penalties played a role in the game, there's no question about it," Solich said.
But they didn't decide it. What did, Solich said, was Nebraska's inability to cash in on its scoring chances.
"We had our opportunities," Solich said, "and we didn't get enough points on the board when we had those opportunities. That was the ballgame."
Nebraska, operating against a team that ranked No. 77 in total defense, struggled at the outset under Christo, the former walk-on who was making his first start. Nebraska played without starting quarterback Bobby Newcombe, who didn't suit up while resting a lingering knee problem.
The Huskers ran just eight plays in the first quarter and gained 15 yards. Meanwhile, the Longhorns followed their initial touchdown with a 69-yard drive — 38 of the yards coming on Williams' longest run of the day — that set up Stockton's 36-yard field goal on the second play of the second period.
Christo did direct Nebraska on a 60-yard drive that ended when Kris Brown pushed a 37-yard field-goal attempt wide to the left.
Crouch then took over and, just before half, directed an 88-yard drive that produced Brown's 27-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter.
Brown got the Huskers within 10-6 when he kicked a 47-yarder with 10:53 remaining in the third quarter. Brown's final field goal, from 42 yards with 8:33 to play, gave Nebraska its 16-13 lead and capped a 57-yard drive that included runs of 17 and 12 yards by Alexander. The sophomore I-back finished with 60 yards on eight carries after replacing Buckhalter, who started and gained 18 yards on eight rushes.
"We just felt that Dan, being fresh, gave us an opportunity late to bust it and maybe give us a big play," Solich said. "We were just searching for ways to make big plays."
Texas countered Brown's final field goal with its winning 85-yard drive that featured the big pass play from Applewhite to White and the equally big face-mask call. Following the penalty, Williams carried twice for 9 yards and Applewhite picked up a first down with a 1-yard gain to the Nebraska 3-yard line.
Williams gained 2 yards on the next play but Mike Brown and Mike Rucker combined to drop him for a 1-yard loss on second down.
Rucker almost got to Applewhite on the next play, but the quarterback got his decisive pass off to McGarity just before the Husker rush end unloaded on him.
|Yards per carry||3.0||4.1|
Nebraska is 4-10 all-time against Texas.
|Louisiana Tech||Aug. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 3|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 10|
|Iowa State||Nov. 7|
|Kansas State||Nov. 14|
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