Culpepper's Commentary: Texas-Nebraska

Nobody could see this carnage coming. I picked a 24-17 Texas win and doubted myself all week long. To be brutally honest, the Texas defense had been ridiculous in the two biggest games of the season -- Arkansas and Oklahoma. And <B>Vince Young's</B> late heroics saved the Horns from another DKR disaster versus Kansas State, so the Nebraska game figured to at best be a down-to-the-wire contest.

Instead, Vince Young, among many other great things, engineered a wear-you-down-in-the-heat 5:00 minute opening drive that set the tempo for the Longhorns. Cedric Benson rediscovered the importance of hard-running to the first down marker and beyond. Coach Mac McWhorter's offensive linemen actually blocked Nebraska defenders backwards when the whistle blew! And on a day when he totaled just 35 yards receiving, Roy Williams showed that he may be the most unselfish superstar in college football with his blocking efforts downfield.

Against the Huskers, I figured the quarterback rotation would last for one half. Mercifully, I was correct.

My seats in Memorial Stadium are four rows directly behind the opponent's bench and when Chance Mock made his cameo appearances, there was a decidedly different atmosphere on the Big Red sideline.

After the junior QB's first series in place of Young, the defensive staff of Nebraska became animated, shouting to their players on the field whenever the Horns' "passing QB" returned. The Husker coaches raced up the sidelines motioning for the secondary to play pass all the way. The defensive line coach pointed at his linemen to get upfield since containment was no longer a concern. They could catch Mock if he scrambled.

There were three Nebraska fans sitting behind me and the first time Mock took over at quarterback, one of them tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Is your quarterback injured?" I explained the Texas rotation system and the red-clad fan replied, "Are your coaches insane?"

Since that question has been asked by many since the Oklahoma game, I felt obligated to let those Husker faithful know that the Texas coaches were making progress, flipping the rotation in favor of Young rather than Mock after six games. By Saturday afternoon and the game's second half, those same coaches seem to have finally come to the realization that they have a special talent; a guy worthy of being the every-snap, game-on-the-line starter. And his name is Vince Young.

On the other side of the ball, in my memory I don't think I have seen a better defensive effort from a Texas football team since the 1983, 15-12 Texas-SMU game. The Mustangs had one of the most talented (and highest-priced) offensive units in Southwest Conference history but Fred Akers' Longhorn defense, coached by Leon Fuller, shut them down with passion.

One of Nebraska's offensive coaches was the good teacher early in the game on the sidelines with his players huddled around him. He drew up on a dry eraser board the outside blitz by Texas safety Michael Huff that trapped quarterback Jammal Lord on one of his speed option keepers in the first quarter. At the time, the coach was calm and collected. By the second half, he was on his knees, red-faced, pounding the ground with his fists and pulling linemen out of the game from one series to the next, shuttling in the subs but with the same results. Nothing worked against a rejuvenated Longhorn defense.

Freshman Tim Crowder refused to be blocked. Tackle Rodrique Wright created havoc with Nebraska's blocking schemes. Aaron Harris showed that he has become an enforcer in the middle. Derrick Johnson is as close as humans get to a rocket. Carl Reese, Mike Tolleson, Hardee McCrary and Duane Akina had the Texas defense playing at a level above any defense Mack Brown has fielded.

Whatever the cause, the Longhorns must maintain their current game day state of mind. They will be challenged again this weekend in Stillwater. OSU Coach Les Miles and his players felt they were one play away from beating Texas a year ago in Austin and they'll be looking to erase the humiliation of their debacle vs. the Sooners. If the Longhorns want to win back respect among football fans around the country, they must continue to play physically and with passion. I think they will. Texas 28, Oklahoma State 14.

Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary will appear regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.


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