‘Huskers hopes burnt by orange
LINCOLN, Neb. – The day had dawned golden over Nebraska; air crisp, streets flooded with red, everyone eager for the chance to mess with Texas.
This was the Huskers last shot at the ‘Horns, a chance to right the wrongs of the new (0:01 last December), the old (political haggling that fueled Nebraska’s move next year to the Big Ten) and everything in between (eight UT victories in the last nine games).
And here was Texas, slumping in, losers of two in a row, lacking a run defense. It was set up perfectly for Nebraska, unbeaten, ranked fifth and with a fleet-footed Heisman hopeful at QB. Everyone sought a lasting revenge, a goodbye punch to the burnt orange mouth.
As final seconds wound down though, there were the Texas players, standing on their bench, waving their helmets at the “wear red, be loud” crowd. There was defensive coordinator Will Muschamp hugging school president Bill Powers in the middle of emptying Memorial Stadium.
And there was coach Mack Brown, hair-mussed and horns up as he led the singing of the “Eyes of Texas” in the only jubilant corner of this state Saturday.
Texas 20, Nebraska 13.
“It’s pretty much settled,” Texas running back Cody Johnson said.
That’s why this one hurts on so many levels, such a rain on the scarecrow kind of afternoon. In one flex of Texas muscle, Nebraska saw its undefeated, national title-dreaming season flat-line. It saw its brilliant QB Taylor Martinez not just slowed, but eventually benched, icing his Heisman hopes for the season.
And it saw a hated Big 12 rival – both on the field and in the power circles – get perhaps the final word on them, leaving the City of Lincoln quiet, depressed and wondering why they never could get those guys.
“This may be the last Texas-Nebraska game in the history of college football,” Brown reminded his players before the game, trying to pound home how precious an opportunity was upon them. What with Nebraska leaving, only an unlikely Big 12 title game rematch or a more unlikely (at least for now) non-conference series can change that.
Forever is a long time but this at least felt like the end for everyone in the house.
Just this week the Nebraska regents approved the paying of a $9.22 million exit fee to the Big 12 and you wouldn’t have blamed league commissioner Dan Beebe, who somehow has to remain impartial, from asking for the check right then and there.
No matter who is originally to blame for the contention between Nebraska and Texas, it’s the ‘Huskers who in the end decided to file for the divorce, heading east to what they presume will be greener pastures. Texas, being Texas, was hardly going to shed any tears over the defection. To do so would indicate Nebraska ever meant anything in the first place.
The celebratory scene on the field told a different story.
So heartbroken were Nebraska fans they mostly forgot to engage their postgame tradition of applauding the visiting team. Not that they descended into the screaming and swearing of most college stadiums, but the silence was deafening.
“Nebraska fans are the best,” Brown said. “We’ve given them some tough times here but they’ve never been anything but great … This place is the best place to play college football.”
And that’s why this rivalry never should have gotten like this. The business of college sports made it happen though and there is no turning back. Nebraska thought it had its chance, in part because unlike last year’s controversial (at least up here) heartbreaker in the Big 12 title game, they now had an offense.
Martinez came in averaging 147.4 rushing yards per game, including an astounding 10.8 per carry. There was one problem, which ‘Huskers coach Bo Pelini noticed on tape and admitted to Brown during their pregame, on-field meeting.
“Boy, you can really run on defense,” Pelini said.
About the authors
Dan Wetzel and Jeff Passan write for Yahoo! Sports, the most-read sports site on the Web. Josh Peter, a former Yahoo! Sports reporter, is a freelance writer. Wetzel has coauthored four books, including the New York Times bestseller “Resilience: Faith, Focus, Triumph” with Alonzo Mourning, and lives in Michigan. Peter is an award-winning investigative journalist who has earned national attention for his reporting on the Bowl Championship Series. In 2005, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a series on race and high school football in the South. He lives in Los Angeles. Passan has won multiple Associated Press Sports Editors awards and lives in Kansas.
Brown and Muschamp had a simple plan, make the running Martinez pass the ball (“throwing is not their deal,” Brown said) by putting two of those speedy defenders on him at all times. Martinez averaged just 1.6 yards a carry and soon into the second half, with the ‘Huskers trailing 20-3, he was pulled for backup Zac Lee.
“I never did see him after the third quarter,” noted ‘Horns linebacker Eddie Jones.
It turns out forcing a running team to pass wasn’t as brilliant as making a running team catch. Nebraska’s receivers dropped everything thrown near their hands, including a couple of likely touchdowns. Pelini said he pulled Martinez in search of “a spark.” He then downplayed a quarterback controversy, declaring Martinez the starter.
It was that pronounced of a defeat – only a returned pooch punt for touchdown made it close in the end. The T-Magic spell was broken, the big season was gone, and people were wondering who the starting quarterback was.
“It’s really hard to win at Nebraska,” Brown claimed.
How would you know, he was asked?
Brown laughed lightly. He’s 4-0 here in his career.
“Pull out the [record] book,” he said.
Pull out the history book because on a glorious afternoon in their football cathedral, the kids of the corn wanted to write the last chapter before bolting off to play Ohio State and Michigan.
Only there was Texas again, big and fast and talented, just like ever. There were the ‘Horns, singing their victory fight song again, the final bars now free to echo around this old joint forever.