Texas by a Husk

LINCOLN, NEB. -- Meet Ryan Bailey. He's a walk-on, as in the sophomore just walked on the frigid Memorial Stadium turf and calmly booted a 22-yard winning FG with 23 seconds remaining to lift No. 5 Texas to a 22-20 nail-biter at No. 16/17 Nebraska.

It capped one of the most surreal final six minutes in Longhorn football history. And Texas' national title hopes ultimately survive because of an obscure kid whose name was not even listed in the game program.

"Sure, I know him. He's in my physics class" said LCB Aaron Ross.

Now, Longhorn fans may never forget Bailey following his first -- and only -- collegiate FG attempt. He hails from Austin Anderson (alma mater of Yours Truly and Inside Texas publisher Clendon Ross). Far more important, "He's never missed a kick in a college game," quipped Texas coach Mack Brown.

Nor will Texas fans easily forget the latest in Ross' fourth-quarter heroics on a national stage. It was Ross' wicked hit on third-and-three that resulted in WR Terrence Nunn's tide-turning, game-changing turnover.

"This brings us closer together," Ross said. "There were a lot of guys crying in the lockerroom. We showed a lot of pride out there. We never gave up."

FS Marcus Griffin atoned for an unsportsmanlike penalty that sustained Nebraska's go-ahead scoring drive on the previous series by coming up with the loose football at the Cornhusker 44. Nunn had the first down, Texas had no timeouts. Game over, man. But NU's third turnover of the contest gave Texas new life with 2:17 remaining, with snow swirling and with a record Memorial Stadium crowd of 85,187 approaching meltdown.

Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik gathered his flock and exhorted them like a tent-show revivalist.

"We talked about having faith in each other, having faith in what we've practiced and having faith in what we've done," Chizik said. "Just before that last (Nebraska) series, we told them it was going to come down us getting the ball back and winning the game. That third-and-three was very critical, but we never lost faith in what we were doing."

But it took one more, faith-testing, just-as-critical, fumble recovery before Texas (7-1) could leave the land of Lincoln as the only undefeated team in Big 12 play. Almost lost in the commotion was LG Kasey Studdard's HUGE recovery of WR Quan Cosby's fumble on Texas' game-winning drive. On a critical 3rd-and-two at the 36, Texas QB Colt McCoy's completion was good for 14 yards, but Andrew Shanle forced a fumble just outside the Red Zone. For a second, the ballgame -- and, to some extent, the season -- was on the brink. Credit Studdard for trailing the play and immediately pouncing on the precious pigskin. From there, RB Selvin Young rumbled for 12 tough yards around right end. The seismic shift of emotion inside Memorial Stadium could have been registered on Geiger Counter.

Two runs netted five yards and a final attempt to SE Limas Sweed on a fade route fell incomplete. That's when No. 39 trotted on the field for the game-winning FG attempt. No. 39? Who?

Senior Greg Johnson, who missed two makeable FGs and had a PAT blocked, told Texas coach Mack Brown midway through the fourth quarter that his leg had tightened up on him. (In fact, Trevor Gerland handled the Horns' final punt of the game). The Huskers called their final timeout, and then asked for an official review of McCoy's pass to Sweed, to try to ice Bailey. By then, his teammates were offering encouragement, if not making introductions.

Coaches and players said that Bailey just doesn't miss during practice. He's money, they say. His body-language was completely relaxed as he received the final word from his Burnt Orange well-wishers.

McCoy told him: "Look, it's just like you're at practice. Just go out there and kick."

Mack Brown told him: "You're the luckiest kicker in America because you have a chance to be a hero like Dusty Mangum."

It recalled the last-second counsel that Brown gave Mangum just before he kicked the game-winner against Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl, the last time Texas won on a FG on its last drive.

Just before kickoff, I made it a point to look at the Longhorn cumulative stat sheet to confirm what I already knew: Texas had just attempted two FGs all season, converting one. All of a sudden, the gut-level feeling was that this one was going to be decided by a FG. But who woulda thunk it would come courtesy of Ryan Bailey?

"He hasn't missed in practice and we thought he could make it in a game," Brown said. "We knew he was a right-to-left kicker. It's not like we had a lot of luck lately kicking field goals and extra points."

Touchdowns also came at a premium against a Nebraska defense that has shown signs of its former Blackshirted self. Texas was four-of-five inside the Red Zone but managed just nine points from three drives inside the Cornhusker 10. Johnson missed from 31 and 39 yards out; those six points, plus the blocked PAT, ensured that this one would go down to the wire.

Texas' run defense was its usual ridiculous self, limiting the Husker ground game to 38 net yards on 24 attempts. In fact, Nebraska had minus-six rushing yards at intermission, and took to the air during the second half. The Huskers ran the ball just nine times after the break, QB Zac Taylor finished with 277 yards on 15-of-28 passing, including two TDs and one INT. Nebraska entered the game rated No. 14 on third-down conversions but was just 4-of-13 in that category Saturday. And the Huskers never reached the Red Zone. Not once. All three TDs came on big pass plays, including Marlon Lucky's 25-yard halfback pass to Nate Swift to give Nebraska the lead with 4:54 remaining. And that's when it started to snow.

"This was a tougher win than the Oklahoma game because it was on the road and momentum had turned so late," Brown concluded. "We turned the momentum at halftime against Oklahoma".

Earlier this week, Brown expressed his frustration with Texas' KO return game. Nothing like your first offensive series opening with 1st-and-goal from the nine. Cosby's 78-yard KO return put Texas in prime real estate, but the Horns settled for a 22-yard Johnson FG.

Freshman RCB Deon Beasley entered the game on Nebraska's second series and, on 3rd-and-8 from the 37, Taylor went right at him. The freshman collided with safety Michael Griffin right as WR Maurice Purify ran untouched into the end zone for 63-yard TD reception. The Huskers led 7-3 at the end of the opening frame in which Nebraska used all four of their RBs. Meanwhile, Texas' passing game was safe yet anemic, as the Blackshirts snuffed out screens and hitches.

The Horns were pinned at their own three to start the second quarter following a 50-yard NU punt and a holding call on Michael Griffin. McCoy operated under center for the first time as RB Jamaal Charles stepped off 11 yards over right tackle on 2nd-and-7. Back in the 'gun on 3rd-and-6 from the 21, McCoy hooked up with TE Jermichael Finley for 17. The drive stalled at the Husker 46, but Johnson's 53-yard punt -- downed at the one -- effected a critical change in field position.

The defense forced a three-and-out and the Horns took over on the Nebraska 40 following a 34-yard punt. Texas overcame two false start penalties (Finley, Neale Tweedie) on their six-play TD drive. Quan Cosby's four-yard TD reception on 3rd-and-goal reclaimed the Longhorn lead at 9-7 with 6:43 remaining until half.

DT Aaron Lewis checked in for Derek Lokey on third-and-7 from the 47 and the versatile sophomore brought the heat. (Lokey was helped off the field for X-rays and then was carted to the Longhorn locker room during intermission). Taylor's hurried toss hit SS Michael Griffin between the numbers and Texas enjoyed excellent field position at their own 45. The Horns seized the sudden change in momentum for a quick strike into the south end where a sliver of Texas fans were hunkered down in the teeth of a brutal north wind. McCoy pump-faked and was hit as he released. The result was a perfect pass down the right sideline that hit SE Limas Sweed in stride at the 15. The junior distanced himself from LCB Andre Jones as the Horns regained the lead, 16-7, following the one-play, 55-yard drive.

An ears-pinned-back Texas D gave the offense every opportunity during the final four minutes before halftime. Nebraska had allowed just 11 sacks in seven games but gave up two straight on its next series. Following a 38-yard NU punt, a roughing the passer call gave Texas new life at the Husker 37. But McCoy fumbled at the end of a 10-yard sack, giving the home team a chance to make it a one-possession game by halftime. But Lewis is just another example of Texas' remarkable depth along its defensive front; he finished with game with a team-leading three TFL plus a PBU. On 3rd-and-10 from the 45, he sacked Taylor, forced a fumble and made the recovery at the Husker 37 with 29 seconds left. The offense couldn't take advantage of the gift as Johnson's 39-yard FG (with the wind) fell short.

Following a scoreless third quarter, NU was staring at a 2nd-and-17 to open the final frame. The call from the Husker sideline was a safe little shovel pass to Brandon Jackson. He bounced out right tackle and took it 49 yards to the house thanks, in part, to some of the poorest attempts at tackling you'll see this season. Suddenly, it was ballgame with Texas nursing a 16-14 lead with 14:39 remaining.

SE Limas Sweed came up big on Texas' next series, gathering 39 yards on three grabs. McCoy moved the chains when he scrambled for eight on 3rd-and-six from the 44. A pass interference call against safety Tierre Green on 3rd-and-nine spotted Texas a first down at the Nebraska two, but Young lost four yards on two rushes from the two. Texas settled for a 22-yard FG and a precarious 19-14 lead with 6:33 left, setting up the team's most dramatic finishes since the BCS Rose Bowl game.

"It gives us a chance if we can learn from it and not feel too good about ourselves," Brown said. "It teaches you that you can't quit."

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