Seems Like Old Times: Texas 31, Nebraska 7

Can the Horns play Nebraska every year? That way, Texas gets a guaranteed win against a high profile opponent and <B>Mack Brown </B>gets to be <B>Bob Stoops </B>for a day. As it is, the No. 16 Longhorns shucked the No. 9/12 Cornhuskers in every phase and turned in their most complete game of the season, 31-7, at DKR Saturday.

Texas is now 5-1 against Nebraska since the formation of the Big 12 in 1996, and Brown has four of those wins. The Horns upped their mark to 7-2 as they outplayed, out-muscled, out-coached and flat-out dominated a program known for its physical brand of smash mouth football.

"They are all about toughness," Brown said. "Some people have questioned our toughness but I don’t think anyone will question that if they saw the game today."

How dominant was Texas? Consider these crazy stats:

Texas out-rushed the Bugeaters by 300 yards, 353-53 (that’s no misprint folks), against what was the Big 12’s top rushing offense. Freshman phenom Vince Young ran for 163 yards on 14 carries (a mere 11.6 ypc) while RB Cedric Benson careened toward the end zone as if someone told him his plasma TV was in it. Benson’s season-high 174 yards and three TDs was just a yard shy of Nebraska’s total output (175 yards on 55 plays).

Benson's auspicious return after missing last week’s Baylor game was enough to move him past All-American Roosevelt Leaks to fourth-place on the school’s career rushing list (3,018 yards).

"It felt good to be back out with the guys Tuesday and to come back into the stadium made me realize what I’m here for," Benson said. "It brought me back to my freshman days when I first stepped out there. I wanted to come out hard and get things back to where they were."

All told, Texas generated 484 total yards against a Blackshirt defense that entered the game ranked No. 4 nationally against the run (259.1 ypg). For defensive coordinator Carl Reese, the dominance resulted from "kids flying to the ball and it was just good team pursuit. We got them into the passing game and that played to us."

Facing scoreboard deficits, several third-and-longs, and its own ground-bound offense, the Huskers were virtually out of this one by halftime.

QB Jammal Lord entered the contest averaging 76 yards rushing and, after five sacks, finished with just 22 yards on 21 totes. Nebraska’s leading rusher, I-Back Josh Davis, had but 28 yards on 10 carries. Texas generated 25 first downs while the Children of the Corn moved the chains just eight times. The Longhorn defense forced nine punts and limited Nebraska to just 3-of-14 on third-down conversions.

"Carl Reese is one of best defensive coordinators in the country," Brown said, hardly a statement from a coach who intends to hand him a pink slip in January.

While Brown praised the Huskers for hanging tough in the third quarter, Benson said Nebraska might have thrown in the towel early.

"I saw it in the first quarter: they showed signs of fatigue way, way early in the game," Benson said. "For a defense, that’s not a good thing, When you pound that football in there, four yards, five yards here, ten yards there, the defense gets frustrated. It breaks their prestige and their confidence."

This is a game where Texas could easily have hung 50 on the Huskers, and certainly would have had it not been for some timely NU interceptions and Longhorn penalties. But Texas put this one away because it was able to do something Saturday that it could not consistently accomplish most of last season: pound the ball in the fourth quarter.

After Nebraska converted a Young interception into TE Matt Herian’s TD grab, Texas responded with a 71-yard scoring drive to make it 24-7 with 7:29 remaining. Benson carried seven straight times on that possession, including his TD run on third-and-3 from the Husker five. Just as important, the possession milked 4:29 off the game clock.

Defenses, now, have to account for both Benson and Young.

"They have to make a decision to take me or to take Vince," Bensons said, "and whatever decision they make they’re gonna be wrong because they can’t take us both."

Texas’ Achilles Heel has been its porous run defense and, Saturday, the down lineman clearly played their best game of the year. Yet Nebraska, inexplicably, continued to try to run wide on Texas instead of pounding it up the middle as Arkansas was able to do in September. In fact, Texas coaches said all week that the Huskers would test the heart of the defense before attempting to outrun them at the corners. It’s as if Nebraska Coach Frank Solich had never seen a Longhorn game film.

Senior Brett Robin started with the first team offense after Benson was excused from the opening series. Operating from the 10-yard line following a holding call, Vince Young deftly gobbled up 55 yards of real estate on five carries (Robin carried twice, presumably, to give Vince a breather) but the 12-play drive ended when RDE Trevor Johnson blocked Dusty Mangum’s 46-yard FG attempt.

The defense forced a three-and-out after SS Michael Huff threw Lord for a 5-yard loss on third-and-3 from the Husker 43. P Kyle Larson's attempt was partially blocked but the ball rolled 34 yards to Texas 30.

Texas’ 14-play, 72-yard drive on its next possession set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. The Horns beat Nebraska at their own game, controlling the line of scrimmage and pounding the ball with a running back determined to make up for lost time. Benson carried the rock nine times for 50 yards including the 1-yard scoring rush over right tackle to make it 7-0 with 2:24 remaining in the opening frame.

By the end of the first quarter, Texas had out-rushed Nebraska 125-2 against a Blackshirt run defense that was only giving up a league-leading 97 ypg.

Earlier this week, Brown said he did not know the personality of his team. While the sixth-year coach declined to label his crew following the convincing victory, WLB Derrick Johnson did not hesitate.

"We’re fighters," he said, after leading the defensive surge with six tackles, one forced fumble and one interception (a TD return nullified by a holing penalty and a personal foul)."I always knew we had a good defense and we get better each week," Johnson said. "We’re learning and we did good today."

As expected, QB Chance Mock checked in on the third offensive series to open the second quarter. The possession included a 23-yard completion to FL B.J. Johnson from a four-wide set, but the drive quickly stalled and resulted in a 47-yard Richmond McGee punt (matching his four-punt average on a windy afternoon).

No back-to-back possession was more crucial than after DE Titus Adams intercepted a deflected Young pass attempt with 8:15 remaining until halftime. Taking over at midfield, Lord connected with TE Matt Herian over LB Reed Boyd on a 42-yard out pattern on a key 3rd-and-9 play. But the defense stiffened after Nebraska took over first-and-goal from the Texas eight. On fourth down, MLB Brian (Spiderman) Robison (with his amazing vertical leap) swatted away PK David Dyches 21-yard FG attempt.

From the Longhorn 20, Young then found TE Bo Scaife on 15-yard waggle, setting up Young’s most dazzling run of the day. The redshirt freshman QB rushed over left end and, displaying his gazelle-like, east-west swiftness, glided down the Texas sideline on a 65-yard TD sprint. Texas led 14-0 with 4:42 remaining until halftime and had all the points they would ultimately need against the Huskers.

Apparently, Mock is the designated driver for the two-minute offense. The junior returned to the huddle with 2:15 remaining until halftime and -- three incompletions later -- took all of 12 seconds off the clock, giving Nebraska the opportunity for a momentum-swinging scoring drive. After the defense held, Mock returned with 61 seconds until the half and moved the ball to the Cornhusker 36 following a 21-yard completion to Johnson.

The junior QB, however, underthrew SE Sloan Thomas who had a step on RCB Lornell McPhearson at the goal line. McPhearson came up with the pick and Texas held a misleading (given the Longhorns’ dominance) 14-0 advantage at intermission. The Huskers had all of 20 yards on the ground in 21 attempts against Texas’ Blackshirt defense while Young accounted for 141 of Texas’ 208 halftime rushing yards.

The third quarter has been a bugaboo for Texas all season and, true to form, the Horns had no first downs in the 15-minute frame following intermission. But Texas added a 24-yard Mangum FG after P Kyle Larson mishandled a low snap and attempted to scramble for the first before FS Phillip Geiggar dragged him down at the NU 10. Texas led 17-0 with 6:12 left in the quarter.

At the end of three, the defense had yielded only 66 yards on 43 plays, but 42 of those yards came on that 42-yard completion to Herian. But on first down at the Husker 11, FS Josh Bullocks intercepted Young’s slant pass and returned it 20 yards to the Nebraska 27. Facing third-and-4 from the Texas 48, Lord found Herian again, this time for a 48-yard scoring toss to make it 17-7 with 11:58 remaining.

That’s when Texas went to a two-back set and answered with a 10-play, 71-yard drive to seal the deal.

"One thing they had done in the third quarter was to bring pressure off both edges to stop our read plays," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "We felt like we needed to switch to two backs to dictate the tempo and that’s what we did."

Fittingly, on the Day of the Dead, Benson said, "We called it a graveyard game because we wanted to bury this team. We came in with the mindset that we weren’t gonna be defeated and wanted to dominate both sides of the football all four quarters."

Ya’ gotta love the attitude but it begs the question: why does it take an annual devastation against OU to bring out the best in Texas?

The win should put Texas on the cusp of the Top 10 when polls are released Sunday and it keeps alive the Horns' faint hopes for a BCS Bowl. At this point, the best possible bowl matchup (for your entertainment dollar) would be a Cotton Bowl shootout between Texas and Florida, pitting the nation’s two best freshman quarterbacks. As it was, the DKR press box was swarming with Alamo Bowl representatives.

Texas plays nationally-ranked (but humbled) Oklahoma State at Stillwater, 6 p.m. (CST), Saturday.

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