Fair or not, the loser at DKR will wear the mantle of Paper Tiger in the Big 12 this season.
Texas home loss to Arkansas was damn near unforgivable (what are the Razorbacks ranked this week?) while its slate of non-conference foes is hardly the basis for bragging rights. Meanwhile, the Huskers have faced the likes of Troy State, Utah State and a 2-6 Penn State team during its non-conference slate. They beat up on a 3-5 Texas A&M team and its Wrecked Crew defense, but then got slapped around at Missouri, 41-17, after blowing a third-quarter lead.
Head coach Mack Brown, of course, does not buy into the premise that Nebraskas 7-1 mark results from a steady diet of creampuffs.
"I dont think people understand this enough but they may be the reason why some of those teams dont have good records because theyve beaten the mess out of them," Brown said. "That might have turned those teams. That might have hurt those teams."
Maybe. The only thing for sure is a loss Saturday for either squad will be salt in the wounds. With a road trip to Oklahoma State and Texas Techs nationally leading air assault on the horizon, Texas needs a third loss like it needs another jock brought up on misdemeanor charges. And say what you will about Brown: his teams have found a way to beat Nebraska.
He said earlier this week that his team, for some reason, relaxes (in the best sense of the word) when they play the Huskers. And the mood at practice this week was downright giddy, despite the off-the-field distractions.
"When youre back at your place where youre 30-3," Brown said, after two straight road trips, "and youre playing a great team thats rated higher than you are that is one of the best in the country on both sides of the ball, its an exciting opportunity for us because its a great challenge."
FOR THE RECORD
Saturdays game marks the 10th meeting between the two storied programs, with Texas holding a 5-4 edge in the series. The Horns are 4-1 against the Huskers in Big 12 play. Texas has outscored Nebraska 114-109 during those five games, or an average score of 22.8 to 21.8. Texas has averaged 370.4 ypg while NU has averaged 369 yards of total offense in the past five games.
Only three times in series history has the higher ranked team won.
With 778 wins in 113 seasons, Nebraska is third on the NCAAs All-Time victories list. Texas is right behind them at No. 4 All-Time, with 772 wins in 100 years. One of these days, this matchup will be more reflective of that type of dominance. For now, its an interesting intersectional matchup in which the winner will be on the cusp of a Top 10 national ranking but still looking up at the elite of college football.
Texas is only one of two teams in win in Lincoln since 1991, ending Nebraskas 47-game home winning streak in 1998 and stopping NUs 26-game home win streak last season.
Mack Brown is the Frank Solich of Texas, or maybe Solich is the Mack Brown of Nebraska: After six seasons, Solich is 56-17 at NU while Brown is 55-17 during six years at Texas.
"Frank and I have very similar jobs," Brown said. "Theyre very much discussed every day of the year. So if you look at the two places, theres a lot of similarities between the two. Both states care so much about their sport. Both have a lot of media coverage nationally. Both nationally recruit. Our recruits probably get too much publicity; theirs dont get any. And theyve got really good players. Were both living in the same fish bowl."
The difference between the two bowls is the Bowls. Solich has taken Nebraska to two BCS bowls and one Big 12 title. The flip side is that, if Texas wins Saturday, Brown will boast a 4-1 record against the Huskers and will be to Solich what OUs Bob Stoops is to Brown.
NEBRASKA OFFENSE: GOOD LORD!
Along with the hiring of offensive coordinator Barney Cotton, Nebraska junked its feeble attempts to pass the ball and went back to its more patented smash-mouth power-option attack that also leads the Big 12 in rushing and is No. 4 nationally (259.1 ypg).
"Its going to be a physical game and its going to be a tough game," Brown said. "Itll be like an inside drill with them for about three and one-half hours because theyre going to line up and run it right at our face."
But the impressive rushing stats aside, Nebraskas offense is about as one-dimensional as it gets. There are only two Division-I teams that throw the ball less than the Huskers. Balance that league-leading ground game with the conferences lowest rated passing game (98.2 ypg, NCAA No. 115) and youve got an overall offense that averages 357.4 ypg (NCAA No. 73).
"They dont throw many passes," Brown said, "but when they do, theyre usually wide open because your concern has to be the running game."
True, Nebraska wouldnt want to throw the ball even if it were on fire. The scary thing is that Nebraskas strength is Texas weakness. The Longhorn run defense continues to give up too many big plays, checking in this week at No. 76 (166.2 ypg).
Theres no secret what the Husker offense will bring to the table: power option, isolation plays, draws, counters, plus the occasional play-action pass to try to catch the defense napping.
"Theyre going to line up and mash you," Brown said. "Theyve gone back to being a blue-collar, tough, get-after-your-rear-end, get right in your face, try and stop us, we are Nebraska."
The key to stopping any option attack, of course is assignment football that contains the quarterback and pitchmen. And the engine driving the Nebraska locomotive is senior QB Jammal Lord. The 6-2, 224-pounder rushed for a career best 234 yards against Texas last season.
"Jammal is a great quarterback for the type of offense they run," FL B.J. Johnson said. "Hes not as tall as Vince (Young) but I know he has more bulk on him. I havent seen too much passing from Jammal but I know he can run the ball."
Despite last years disappointments, Lord shattered school records for single-season rushing yards by a QB (1,412), total yards in a season (2,774) and for a single game (349). This year he has tallied 606 net rushing yards on 129 attempts (75.8 ypg) and 669 passing (49 of 88, including three TDs and 4 INTs).
"The guy that scares you the most and the guy that their offense starts with is Jammal Lord," Brown said. "That guy is unbelievable."
The mobile QB has helped open lanes for I-Backs Josh Davies (506 yards on 116 attempts) and David Horne (419 yards on 97 carries).
"They just rotate the guys (I-backs) and theyre both really, really good," Brown said. "Unless you can make Nebraska throw some, youre going to get beat. They run the ball as well as anybody in the country."
Solich hired Bo Pelini from the Green Bay Packers to coordinate the NU defense and you gotta love his take-nothing-for-granted approach to reviving what had been a sagging Cornhusker unit. Nebraskas top defensive players had to wait until just a few days before the season opener to learn who would be awarded the Blackshirts -- the coveted practice jerseys worn by the first-team.
This week, Nebraska ranks in the Top 20 nationally in all major defensive categories, including No. 3 in total defense (252.2 ypc) and a Big 12 leading run defense (97.5 ypg).
"I think theyre better," RB Cedric Benson said. "Theyve got a new defensive coordinator, some new schemes, some new blitzes. Itll be a new look for us."
Indeed, the Huskers are playing more two-deep zone and are blitzing the hell out of their free safety and cornerbacks. Sophomore FS Josh Bullocks is one of only two players in the nation with seven INT. The sophomore tied a school record with picks in four consecutive games.
Of course, LCB Fabian Washington is back. Hes the guy who, as a freshman, got that ridiculous home town call when the refs whistled SE Roy Williams for offensive pass interference late in the game last year. Roy did not criticize the officiating crew, but had this to say about the call nearly one year later:
" I shook -- shake, shake, shake -- on the line and tried to move him," Williams recalled. "I gave him a move and he was off-balance. I swam back and his feet were in the air and he fell down."
But its WLB Demorrio Williams that keeps Roy awake at night.
"I keep seeing that No. 7 coming off the edge," Roy said. "Williams is pretty good off the edge. Thats going to be a good challenge for our offensive line."
Indeed, the Beckville, Texas native is a Butkus Award semi-finalist and is second on the team with 75 tackles. He is joined by junior LB Barrett Ruud, who leads the team with 78 stops. He has recovered three fumbles this season to tie his fathers Nebraska linebacker record for fumble recoveries in a season.
Whats apparent is that the Blackshirts are back. And, despite the OU game, Texas still garners enough attention in college football that a Cornhusker win would still signal an upswing in Solichs program.
Bring em on! Roy Williams said. Williams was a human highlight reel in Texas 27-24 win at Lincoln last season, generating 161 yards on 13 grabs.
"It really doesnt matter who we line up against," Williams said. "We feel we can beat anybody."