Texas' defense doesn't rest till Nebraska is done

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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This was a slow bleed. A nick and a cut that turns into a flow, then in the end, it's a hemorrhage.

Texas puts on a soul-crushing performance in Lincoln on Saturday, with a 20-13 bloodletting that drained Big 10-bound Nebraska and its faithful.

And the reason for this latest Longhorn impaling was obvious: the defense that wore white.

Lost in all the bluster about one second back on the clock, the "Red Around the World" rally and making a statement on the way out of the conference, the entire college football community seemed to have lost sight of the most important component of this UT team: that nasty, overlooked defense.

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The same unit that let UCLA run roughshod through them two games ago, held the Cornhuskers to 202 total yards, ruined a Heisman Trophy campaign and forced a near three-tap submission on the way to another of their patented hard-fought wins in Lincoln.

"We knew this was the same team we played last December, only without Taylor Martinez," Mack Brown said afterward.

"Nobody talked about how good our defense played in that Big 12 championship game, just how bad our offense was. But we held them to 106 yards last time, so we knew we would come in here and play with a lot of confidence against him."

The Longhorns made Martinez look every bit like the freshman that he hadn't resembled this season, holding him to 21 yards rushing in 13 carries and 4 for 12 passing for 63 yards.

The 'Horns took away Martinez's option game, mixed up their stunts and played perfect assignment football against him, sending him to an early shower in favor of senior Zac Lee.

"We really just wanted to keep two eyes on him every time," defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. "There wasn't any magic formula, it was based on defensive calls just trying to keep two people to leverage him within the formation. That's all it was."

Sounds simple, right? Well whatever the case was, it worked so good the Texas defense made the entire Cornhusker offense look like freshmen.

"Martinez is an unbelievable athlete and is a Heisman candidate with his legs," D-end Sam Acho said. "So we went to responsibility football. We just stayed in our gaps and kept our responsibilities and that's all it took."

The other half of the equation was that Texas had NU bottled up all day long, playing the field-position game like a harp. The Huskers started drives from their own 20, 21, 20, 18, 38, 25 and 28 in the first half. And when Nebraska needed momentum to start the second half, Texas punter Justin Tucker sent his first two rugby-style punts of the second half 55 and 67 yards, pinning the Big Red inside their own 10 both times.

When Lee came in on the third drive of the second half, the Huskers got some mojo back and began to earn some first downs. But going 90-plus yards was just too much to ask against that swarming defense. They had to settle for an Alex Henery 28-yard field goal that cut the lead to 20-6.

Nebraska pulled within a touchdown when Eric Haag picked up an attempted pooch punt off of a field goal formation and returned it 95 yards against the UT field goal unit.

"That field goal call was my fault," Brown said. "I didn't think we'd let him go 90-some yards. But he must've broke about 12 tackles out there. So I guess we'll have to go back and get our offensive lineman into some tackling drills."

Make no mistake, Nebraska had plenty of chances. But eventually the Huskers would commit its own seven deadly sins that cost them the game.

Three times, the Cornhuskers had sure-fire touchdown catches in their mitts, only to see them inexplicably slip through and hit terra firma, sending their crowd into heavy groans. And four times the Husker defense came up with key stops, only to see an ill-timed penalty give Texas new life with a first down.

"I thought there was more pressure on them today than on us, which is unusual," Mack said when asked about the Cornhuskers' unforced errors.

"And I thought their fans hung in there with them, but after we got up 10-0 I could feel them saying, 'You gotta be kidding me. Not again.'"

The Nebraska faithful sit in stunned disbelief as the Longhorns' defense finishes the job. (AP)  
The Nebraska faithful sit in stunned disbelief as the Longhorns' defense finishes the job. (AP)  
Today's win was the ninth W in the past 10 games against the Huskers. Seven of those games have essentially come down to one big play, all going UT's way -- a fact not lost on Mack.

"It's really hard to win at Nebraska," he said. "I think the reason we've had so much success against them is because we come in here respecting them so much."

Offensively, there wasn't anything dazzling to the Longhorn show today. Garrett Gilbert's assignment was pretty much just go out there, make the right calls, don't turn it over and wait for your defense to put you in positive situations. Done, done and done.

Gilbert was held to 4 of 16 passing for only 62 yards, but he did end up using his feet more than he had the previous two games. The difference was noticeable as he accounted for 45 yards on the ground in their first two scoring drives, the second of which ended with him waltzing in untouched from 3 yards out.

"They did a great job of pass coverage all day," he said. "But [my running the ball] was a little bit bigger part of the game plan this week and the offensive line did a great job of opening up some creases."

When asked how much tape he watched of Vince Young the last two weeks, Gilbert paused.

"I don't know if you can compare me to Vince Young," he said, actually giving it some thought.

"Don't worry, we won't," offensive coordinator Greg Davis immediately snapped back with a big grin.

Despite impaling the Husker hearts once again, Brown was noticeably caught up in the emotion of the victory, with tears welling up in his eyes as he walked off the field. He knew his team had accomplished a great rebound victory, but he hoped the moment wasn't lost on his players.

"I've said it many times, but this place is the best place to play in college football. These fans were great. So many of them said 'good luck' and 'congratulations' after the game. By and large, Nebraska fans are the best and that's what I'll hate about Texas and Nebraska not being able to play each year," Brown said.

"We told our guys this may be the last Texas-Nebraska game in the history of college football. This game is so special. I did not want my players to walk out of here without realizing that they had the opportunity to do something special here.

"They did something special all right. And this time, there will be no rematch next year."

And maybe that's a good thing for the Nebraska fans.

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