The Cornhuskers dropped seven passes — including three sure touchdowns — and fumbled the ball five times. They committed 10 penalties for 94 yards, one of which gave Texas the ability to kneel on the ball to win the game. And in general, Nebraska struggled to find any sort of rhythm offensively.
Give the Texas defense some credit for that. The Longhorns held 'Husker QB Taylor Martinez to 21 yards on 13 carries, keeping him out of the spotlight while holding the 'Huskers without an offensive touchdown.
"Our players did a great job of executing today," said Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
Offensively, Texas largely avoided the mistakes that had plagued the unit and rediscovered the power funning game, rushing for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 46 carries. Perhaps most importantly, the Longhorns ran the ball four times for 35 yards after the Longhorns received the ball with 3:01 left and needed to run out the clock.
"That's why we play offensive line," said offensive tackle Kyle Hix. "You want situations like that where you can win the game for your team by running the ball. "It was a great feeling," Hix said.
Texas scored first, using a 24-yard punt return from Curtis Brown and a 25-yard Garrett Gilbert run to move the ball down the field. But the drive stalled at the Nebraska 10, and Justin Tucker booted a 27-yard field goal.
The Longhorns' next drive didn't stall. Eddie Jones knocked the ball from Nebraska runner Roy Helu Jr. and Keenan Robinson recovered the miscue at the Nebraska 21. Gilbert again made a big play with his legs, running for 10 yards and a first down on third-and-8. Two plays later, Gilbert ran in from three yards out for a 10-0 Texas lead.
On the two drives, Gilbert carried the ball five times for 45 yards and surprised a Cornhusker defense that expected to be tested more through the air. "I feel comfortable with (running)," Gilbert said. "It was just a little bigger part of the gameplan this week."
Texas continued its offensive play on the next drive, traveling 78 yards on seven plays, ending with a one-yard plunge by Gilbert. The big play on the drive was a 41-yard catch-and-run by Fozzy Whittaker on a third-and-5.
Texas took a 20-3 advantage midway through the third quarter on Tucker's second field goal. The drive was set up by another nice Brown return.
But this was Texas-Nebraska, so the game wouldn't have been complete without a little drama.
Aaron Williams stopped Niles Paul for a two-yard loss, setting up what would have been a tough third-and-12. But Williams celebrated after the play and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The flag aided a Cornhusker drive that added three points to the Nebraska tally.
The next mistake, according to Mack Brown, was a coaching error. Up 20-6, the Longhorns lined up for what would have been a 50-yard field goal, but had Tucker attempt a pooch punt. Nickel back Eric Hagg swooped back to pick up the ball at the five, broke a few tackles and rumbled 95 yards for a Nebraska touchdown. The score cut the Longhorn lead to 20-13 with 3:02 left.
Texas ran the ball four times, setting up a third-and-1 situation. But after the timeout (called by Nebraska), the Cornhuskers came out with too many men and were flagged for illegal substitution, giving the Longhorns a first down. Gilbert kneeled on the ball twice, and Texas had the win.
Gilbert completed just 4-of-16 passes for 62 yards, but he rushed 11 times for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
"(Gilbert's running) opened up the whole offense," said running back Fozzy Whittaker.
Cody Johnson pounded the 'Husker defense for 73 more yards on 11 carries. And newly healthy Tré Newton ran for 41 yards on 10 carries.
"It felt great, just to be able to have the game in our hands," Whittaker said. "We want the ball in our hands … and the offensive line blocked great."
On the other side, the Longhorns' domination of Martinez was so complete that the 'Huskers subbed the Heisman candidate out for backup Zac Lee in the third quarter. Lee went on to finish the game.
"It was a very big win for us," said linebacker Emmanuel Acho. "I thought we played well, and I thought we went out and executed to the best of our ability."
Texas — Justin Tucker 27 FG, 10:13 1Q
UT — Garrett Gilbert 3 run (Tucker kick), 8:06 1Q
Nebraska — Alex Henery 45 FG, 14:09 2Q
UT — Gilbert 1 run (Tucker kick), 8:44 2Q
UT — Tucker 28 FG, 8:52 3Q
NU — Henery 28 FG, 0:27 3Q
NU — Eric Hagg 95 punt return (Henery kick), 3:02 4Q
* Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said earlier this week that he felt there were more plays in Gilbert's legs than the sophomore had shown to this point. Gilbert showed those plays Saturday in rushing for 71 yards and a pair of scores.
Davis said the changes came for two reasons, a need to further diversify the offense and a Nebraska tendency. Gilbert said Nebraska's defensive backs typically played man defense, meaning they turned their backs to the quarterback. That left running lanes open, Gilbert said.
"He's a big, strong guy," Mack Brown said. "He maybe doesn't look like Vince or Colt when he's running the ball, but he's effective."
* Injuries forced the Longhorns to employ a pair of true freshmen extensively on defense. Linebacker Jordan Hicks came in for Keenan Robinson, who didn't play in the second half. And safety Adrian Phillips filled in for Chykie Brown and Kenny Vaccaro.
Hicks tied for the team lead with eight stops, while Phillips had a tackle and coverage on an incomplete pass to Niles Paul in the end zone.
Defensive tackle Kheeston Randall said afterward that he didn't even realize that the freshmen were in because they played at a starter's level.
* Brown's wife Sally lost her brother on Friday and missed the game. That didn't stop the players from giving her the game ball. Brown said Sally hadn't ever missed a game.
"Sometimes we get so carried away with sports that we forget what our families are about and what life is really about and what our priorities should be," Brown said. "I really wanted to talk to her instead of ABC."
Brown was able to talk with Sally via phone before coming in for the press conference.
* The victory upped Texas's record to 9-1 versus the 'Huskers in Big 12 play. Eight of those games were decided by a touchdown or less.
Brown said he told the players about the significance of Nebraska leaving the Big 12 and the ending of a matchup between two of college football's powerhouses.
"We told the guys, this might be the last Texas-Nebraska game in the history of college football," Brown said. "And what an opportunity for you, to remember for the rest of your life that you were there.
"This is so special," Brown said.