Nebraska Preview: Will Huskers See Red Again?

First, the bad news: Saturday's game marks the first true road test at a sold-out, hostile environment for Texas this year. Now, the good news: it's at Nebraska.

Sure, the Cornhuskers are a legitimate Top 20 program whose only loss was at No. 2 USC. Nebraska's offense is balanced and strong; its defense has begun to resemble its old Blackshirted self. Husker fans are so classy that we should pay them to give lessons to the University of Miami. But nobody owns the children of the Corn like Texas coach Mack Brown.

In fact, no Longhorn team in recent memory has won on the road like Brown's bunch. The current herd of Horns have posted a school-record 15 straight road wins; they have now won 27-of-28 on an opponent's turf.

"It's like it's you against the world when you go on the road," Brown said. "It's a fun feeling for kids to be able to accomplish something in that environment."

Brown would know. Nebraska won 73 of 75 home games from 1992-2002, and the only two setbacks have been to Texas. The Horns are 5-1 against Nebraska since the formation of the Big 12, and the Huskers were the higher rated team in five of those meetings. Now, Texas is the higher ranked team when it travels to the only other unbeaten in league play. The 11:00 a.m. (CDT) kickoff launches a season-defining stretch in which three of Texas' four match-ups are on the road. No team remaining on the slate is a bigger threat to No. 5 Texas' national championship aspirations than the Cornhuskers.

RS-freshman QB Colt McCoy has been polishing his hand-signals for games such as there. It's part of his preparation for the earsplitting uproar when Lincoln's Memorial Stadium becomes the third-most populous venue in Nebraska. Only Texas' fifth-year seniors have been to Lincoln, but McCoy brings a 'been there, done that' demeanor to this weekend's contest. After all, it was just two weeks ago that he was barking signals on the Sooner side of the Cotton Bowl.

"It was loud, hostile and people were screaming things at you that your mama wouldn't appreciate," McCoy recalled.

Obviously, the stadium this weekend won't be half-filled with Longhorns. Arguably, Nebraska's defense is (across-the-board) better than Oklahoma's. Still, "It's going to be the same as Oklahoma," McCoy said. "We have to challenge ourselves mentally because it is going to be loud. We have to be sharp on our audibles and our assignments. We won't be able to hear each other."

A third straight win at Nebraska, however, will be music to McCoy's ears.

THE '800 CLUB'
Texas' tilt at Nebraska is a rarity for college football. It marks just the third game in Division-I history in which both teams enter with 800+ all-time wins. (The other time it's happened is when Michigan played Notre Dame in 2005 and 2006). Texas is third in all-time wins with 806 while Nebraska is just behind the Horns with 800.

Team - Years - Wins
Michigan - 127 - 856
Notre Dame - 118 - 816
Texas - 114 - 806
Nebraska - 117 - 800

The good people of Nebraska weren't quite sure what to make of Bill Callahan's new-fangled West Coast offense when the former Oakland Raiders head coach arrived in Lincoln three years ago. The jury was still out after the Huskers posted a 16-10 mark during his first two campaigns. This year, Callahan has added incorporated a power-running game in his controlled passing attack and has found a more optimal QB to run his system.

Senior QB Zac Taylor is a wholesome, clean-cut, 'Yes Sir, No Sir' type whose only discernable character flaw is that he grew up in Norman, Oklahoma cheering for the Sooners. Sure, he would loved to have played for the home team. It's just that, four seasons ago, the Sooners had a Heisman-winning QB in Jason White and tabbed Grand Prairie product Rhett Bomar as his heir apparent. Now, a remarkably efficient Taylor has helped restore Nebraska to prominence by completing 107-of-164 passes (65.2 percent) for 1,547 yards, including 14 TDs against just two INTs.

"They'll hit you with their short passes and then try to hit three or four deep balls," Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said. "They don't necessarily spread the field a lot. A lot of their deep stuff comes off the running game on play-action."

Fourteen Huskers have caught passes this year, while Terrence Nunn (336 yards on 20 grabs) and Maurice Purify (333 yards on 15 receptions) are the go-to guys.

"They seem to be more athletic at the receiver position than they were three years ago," Co-Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina said. "They've been able to recruit a different type of player."

The Huskers are putting the ball in the air approximately 25 times per game, down 10 attempts from last year, while averaging 240.7 passing ypg. It has translated into a more Nebraska-like ground game with an average of 42 rushing attempts, and 207 yards, per game. If trends hold, at least four RBs will touch the ball Saturday. Marlon Lucky, with five starts, is a speedback averaging a team-leading 68 ypg. RB Coach Randy Jordan played for Mack Brown at North Carolina in the early 1990s.

Taylor's O-line has given him generally solid protection this season. The senior has been sacked 11 times through half-a-season after he was knocked down 39 times in 2005. (Part of the difference, however, results from NU's renewed emphases on the ground game).

The Huskers are averaging 37 ppg.

The Blackshirts returned seven starters, including five of its front seven. It's a steadily improving unit that surrenders just 13.4 ppg.

Both DEs (Adam Carriker, Jay Moore) are pro-prospects with excellent for their position (in the 4.7 range). Senior Stewart Bradley (6-4, 250) is a big, fast linebacker whom coaches won't hesitate to line-up (almost like a nickel back) against the slot receiver.

The Huskers blitz approximately 39 percent blitz team, representing the most blitz-happy Texas has faced this year.

"Some people blitz without really wanting to put your quarterback on the ground," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said. "Obviously, they want to put you on the ground, but it's not the purpose of their blitz. They're trying to eat up backs. They blitz with the idea that they're going to outnumber you, no matter how many you keep in."

How often does Nebraska bring the house?

"Out of their 113 blitzes that we charted," Davis said, "11 of them were house blitzes. They brought everybody that's possible."

Yet, the unit has produced just 12 sacks in seven games.

"Because of the blitzes, quarterbacks have thrown the ball away," Davis continued. "Though they don't always put the quarterback down, they force him to throw on the run."

Teams that move the ball on Nebraska (and, so far, that consists of USC and Kansas) have done it through the air. The Black Shirts are yielding just 98.3 rushing ypg but are surrendering 218 ypg passing. (By way of comparison, Texas is giving up 210.3 passing ypg). Nebraska's cornerbacks tend to play six or seven yards off the LOS, guarding against quick slants and deep balls.

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