LINCOLN — Bo Pelini says the outside influences did not factor, that emotion played no role Saturday for Nebraska and that the Huskers again lost to Texas only because they failed to make plays.
A mountain of evidence from this 20-13 Texas win suggests another conclusion: that NU wanted it too badly.
How else to explain the three dropped touchdown passes? Or the opening seven minutes that included uncharacteristic missed tackles and a key fumble by senior Roy Helu? It led to a 10-point hole from which NU never climbed.
“A terrible start,” said Pelini, who dropped to 1-4 in October home games as the Nebraska coach.
And not just the start. Nebraska (5-1, 1-1 Big 12), soon to fall from its perch at fourth and fifth in the national polls, struggled to convert opportunities all day until Eric Hagg returned a pooch punt 95 yards for a touchdown with three minutes to play to give hope to the Memorial Stadium crowd of 85,648.
It pulled the Huskers within a touchdown. But it was too late.
In this doomed series of Big 12 heavyweights, frustration climaxed for Nebraska on Saturday as Texas improved to 4-0 in Lincoln since 1998.
The Longhorns (4-2, 2-1) won for the ninth time in 10 games against NU as a conference foe. UT denied the Huskers and their fans of the moment they all so desired: redemption against Texas before the Huskers bolt next year for the Big Ten.
Barring a December rematch in the Big 12 championship game, they’ll never meet again as league foes. And if this is how it ends, what a disappointment for Nebraska.
“Losing to anyone is not a good feeling,” NU defensive end Cameron Meredith said. “but especially Texas.”
The all-too-familiar scenarios played out often for Nebraska on Saturday.
Notably, there were the drops by Rex Burkhead, Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie. All three passes were thrown well — the first a Taylor Martinez pass on the opening play of the second quarter; the others from Zac Lee, who replaced Martinez midway through the third quarter.
“It’s pretty obvious,” Pelini said. “We had our opportunities to make plays. We didn't make plays. They did. They won the football game.”
More than that, the Huskers’ normally dependable defense missed numerous tackles.
Nebraska miscalculations on special teams allowed Texas to dominate field position in the third quarter as the Huskers grew increasingly desperate. They trailed 17-3 at the half and 20-3 after a Justin Tucker field goal six minutes into the third quarter.
After Hagg capitalized on the late opportunity, Pelini called for an onside kick with 3:02 to play and two timeouts in his pocket. It backfired.
And in the last moment of hope came a fitting end as Bo and Carl Pelini, NU’s defensive coordinator, concocted a scheme to stop Texas on third and 1 from the NU 7-yard line.
Just one problem: The Huskers emerged from the timeout with 12 defenders. The resulting 5-yard penalty awarded Texas a first down and iced its victory.
“I take all the blame, ” Bo Pelini said. “I thought for sure we had 11 guys out there.”
It all points to a team conditioned to believe it had to beat Texas. Factions of the NU community pointed to Saturday for the past 10 months, since the Longhorns beat Nebraska 13-12 on a last-second field goal in the Big 12 title game.
Human nature for Nebraska to feel the pressure?
“It probably is for everybody,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said, “but we've got to learn a valuable lesson and move forward.”
Watson said he thought the Huskers were “too anxious” at the start.
“In a game like this, the difference will be big plays,” Watson said. “They made them. We didn't. We had them. We just didn't finish them.”
Nebraska players offered little explanation.
“It stings,” Helu said.
“We wanted it bad,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara, who helped hold Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert to a 4-for-16 passing performance.
Guard Keith Williams said the Huskers stopped themselves. They rushed for 125 yards and gained just 202 total.
“Emotions come in and people get frustrated,” Williams said. “We just can’t miss out on opportunities, and we really did. You guys saw it. We were just that close every time.”
Nebraska visits unbeaten Oklahoma State next Saturday, an opportunity to wash away the wounds of Texas.
“I’m a realist,” Pelini said. “Some of the things that hurt us happen in practice. You either fix them, you become better or you don’t. If you don’t you have issues.
“People around here want to make us out to be the ’85 Bears. We’re not there yet.”
|Yards per carry||4.5||2.8|
Nebraska is 4-10 all-time against Texas.
|Western Kentucky||Sept. 4|
|South Dakota State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 20|
Nebraska has played 17 games on Oct. 16. See them all »
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