AUSTIN, Texas — So many things seemed out of place Saturday when Nebraska took the second-half kickoff, scored after a handful of plays and owned a 17-3 lead on nationally ranked Texas.
It had been four weeks since the Huskers had momentum like this on their side.
It had been at least that long since they last had this sort of offensive rhythm. Even longer since they played so aggressively and effectively on defense.
It teased the NU faithful: Maybe things really weren't so bad after all. Perhaps NU had some sort of late-season run left in it.
It, it, it . . . it was too good to last.
Nos. 16 and 17 Texas decided it had enough of Nebraska, sped off in the fourth quarter and claimed a 28-25 victory at Royal-Memorial Stadium before a crowd of 85,968. Junior tailback Jamaal Charles scored three times in the final 12:23, and the Longhorns sidelined NU quarterback Sam Keller to conclude a winless October for the Huskers.
"You ask your team to empty their tank, and they gave everything they had today," NU coach Bill Callahan said.
Callahan called the effort "commendable," which raised the follow-up question: Where had this been?
"We can be a pretty good team when we play well on both sides of the ball, special teams included," NU tight end Sean Hill said. "It makes me wish we would have played this way all year."
If Nebraska could bottle and duplicate the first three quarters from Saturday, it could salvage what's left of a nightmare football season. Texas was in trouble heading into the fourth, even after Ryan Bailey made a pair of long field goals to pull it within 17-9.
Several Huskers said being "sick of losing" provided the spark that they hadn't been able to find since clumsily beating Iowa State 35-17 on Sept. 29.
"Something just clicked, I guess," NU offensive tackle Carl Nicks said. "I just wish we would have sustained it."
Alas, the fourth quarter became the reminder as to why Nebraska is 4-5 overall, 1-4 in the Big 12 and stuck in its first four-game losing skid since 1961.
Charles gained 216 of his career-high 290 rushing yards in the fourth, including touchdown runs of 25, 86 and 40 yards. Overall, Texas (7-2, 3-2) netted 261 yards out of its 21 fourth-quarter plays against an NU defense that had blitzed and tackled and made plays for three quarters.
"We just had guys flying around to the ball," NU safety Ben Eisenhart said. "Guys have been playing really tense lately. It worked for most of the game, but . . ."
Texas pulled within 17-15 when its first fourth-quarter series started with an incomplete pass but followed with runs of 25 yards by Charles, 24 by quarterback Colt McCoy and 25 again by Charles. A failed two-point conversion try kept the Longhorns from tying the game.
Nebraska had two chances to answer — the second after a Zach Potter interception — but punted both times. The latter was a 37-yard kick by Dan Titchener that the Huskers downed on the Texas 2-yard line.
Texas ran two plays to get to the 14 before Charles raced down the right sideline for his 86-yard run and a 21-17 lead with 7:33 left.
Coach Mack Brown, who improved to 100-24 in 10 seasons at UT, said the Longhorns "stayed with the running game when it looked like we shouldn't."
Charles further rewarded that faith with his 40-yard score, for a 28-17 lead, after defensive tackle Frank Okam forced and recovered a fumble by Keller.
The Longhorns finished off Keller when defensive end Eddie Jones hit him with 2:37 left, injuring his left shoulder. Backup Joe Ganz threw a 4-yard TD pass to Maurice Purify 42 seconds later, and his two-point pass to Nate Swift provided the final points.
A failed onside kick left the Huskers counting the chances they might have had earlier to put away the Longhorns, who now own a 7-1 record against NU since the inception of the Big 12.
"There was a bunch," Hill said. "We left plays on the field everywhere, both offensively and defensively. There's not a specific play that comes to mind. If we were just able to tighten things up just a little more, we would have had this one."
Keller snapped a 3-3 tie by throwing a 25-yard scoring pass to Swift with 36 seconds left before halftime. Another 23-yard strike to Swift less than two minutes into the third quarter made it 17-3.
The NU offense had 334 total yards at that point, but followed with five straight punts and the Keller fumble. The defense started to tire around the same time and eventually allowed a sixth opponent to go over 450 total yards — this time 545.
With uncertainty swirling week by week regarding Callahan and his staff, an upset could have cooled the hot seats. Potter said the Huskers never had a chance to think they may be on the verge of improving the outlook for their coaches.
"There was so much time left when it was 17-3," Potter said. "We just had to keep playing."
Falling short left another dent in the Huskers' quest to become bowl eligible. They travel next Saturday to Kansas, which is 8-0 and ranked 10th and 12th.
"We've just got to keep fighting," Eisenhart said. "I know we say the same thing every week, but we've just got to keep fighting. And one of these days we're going to catch a break."
|Yards per carry||7.6||3.5|
Nebraska is 4-10 all-time against Texas.
|Wake Forest||Sept. 8|
|Ball State||Sept. 22|
|Iowa State||Sept. 29|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 13|
|Texas A&M||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
Nebraska has played 19 games on Oct. 27. See them all »
©2018 BH Media Group