Occasionally, a coach will indirectly speak to a player by whispering privately in reporters' ears. This week, some sweet nothings were whispered about whether Charles had attained a level of toughness to compete effectively at this level. It wasn't the first time these kind of murmurings drifted from the Longhorn camp and Charles certainly heard them.
"Coaches said I needed to run the ball tougher and harder," Charles said. "They said I needed to hit the hole. I just tried to run downhill as hard as I could."
His fourth-quarter outburst did more than rekindle memories of Charles' coming-out party in which he set UT freshman rushing records for most yards in a debut, most yards in a first start and most yards against Oklahoma. Indeed, this may have reignited what had been a sputtering career, albeit it against a woeful-but-determined Nebraska defense. Concerns about ball security, toughness and whether Charles fully bought into Texas' stretch running plays had taken a toll on the junior.
"I've been praying about it a lot with my family," Charles said. "It was like Jesus was on my side tonight."
The Hallejuah Chorus you heard Saturday was from the Burnt Orange faithful packing Royal-Memorial Stadium to the tune of 85,968 on one of those 74-degrees, Chamber of Commerce afternoons. Among the celebrants was tearful RB coach Ken Rucker who embraced Charles at the end of the game after the junior surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time in his Texas career. Meanwhile, head coach Mack Brown made sure Charles didn't leave the post-game press conference without a hug.
"Coach Rucker was crying at halftime, too," Brown said, "but it wasn't because we were winning."
Charles celebrates with the Longhorn Band's Bertha Crew (Will Gallagher/IT)
Indeed, the only time a Cornhusker was more wide-open all day than WR Nate Swift on his 24-yard TD reception over the middle just before halftime was Swift who scored on the same play-call -- this time from 23 yards out -- on NU's opening drive (against the wind). Suddenly, a 21-point 'dog had built a 17-3 lead over the home team that was trying to give its head coach his 100th win with the program. Despite the inauspicious start of the second half, offensive coordinator Greg Davis overhauled much of his game plan during the break.
Nebraska is on pace to become, statistically. the worst run defense in program history. It has also become one of the Big 12 tams least likely to blitz. So, why not blitz every down?
"I never been in a game where they blitzed every play," said a battered and bruised QB Colt McCoy, following what was arguably his most courageous game in a Longhorn uniform. "I mean, they blitzed every play and most of the time they blitzed everybody. They hadn't done that all year."
The Huskers also surprised Texas with a double-eagle look and kept McCoy on the run throughout the ballgame. Texas adjusted its blocking schemes following the break, schemed to get Charles into the secondary and leaned heavily on zone read plays that Vince Young ran to perfection during the national championship campaign. The Huskers had given up acres of real estate to zone reads and north-south running teams before arriving in Austin. Midway through the third quarter, the Horns had totaled less than 100 yards on the ground. Texas would finish with 364 rushing yards and another 181 through the air.
"We didn't manufacture any new plays," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said, "but we switched gears."
Ironically, the flip was switched with Texas trailing 17-9 and McCoy crumpled on the dirt with just under 13 minutes remaining. The sophomore took a wicked shot to the ribs that knocked the wind out of him. But the wind had just hit Texas' sails. Backup John Chiles checked into the game for one snap as Charles rushed up the middle for 25 yards. When McCoy checked back the next play, he ordered his teammates to look each other in the eyes.
"Let's go to work!", McCoy said. "This is why we play college football right here. Let's go win!"
To nearly everyone's surprise, McCoy kept for 24 yards to the Nebraska 25. Davis then called for a sweep, but McCoy checked-off at the line of scrimmage. Texas would go with the zone read for the third straight play. Charles would take it to the house. Three straight zone read plays netted 74 yards in 50 seconds. The running game started to click and the Big Mo was clearly on the Texas sideline.
"The decision from Greg and (offensive line coach) Mac McWhorter to continue to run the ball was the difference in the ballgame," Brown noted, who has maintained for weeks that Texas abandoned the run too soon in a 41-21 loss to Kansas State. "Unlike Kansas State, we were able to pull this game out primarily because the running game."
Backup linebackers (Sergio Kindle, Roddrick Muckelroy, Jared Norton) also had a big hand in the outcome. Collectively, it was the best outing of their career. Kindle was all over the field and led his team with eight tackles. Muckelroy was right behind with seven stops, but the trio offered a sneak preview of things to come by elevating their game in the final 18 minutes. Kindle stuffed Marlon Lucky for no-gain on third-and-one at the NU 29 and the Huskers owning a 17-6 lead. Later, when McCoy tossed his only INT of the game, Kindle stopped Lucky for no-gain at the Texas 41 with 10 minutes remaining. Norton held Lucky to two yards on second down, leading to Keller's incompletion on 3rd-and 7. That three-and-out following the turnover set-up Charles' 86-yard TD run.
Nebraska QB Sam Keller rarely looked off a receiver but that shows how open his catchers were during the first half when the senior completed 12-of-16 for 118 yards, including the 24-yard TD strike over the middle to Maurice Purify with 36 ticks left until halftime. McCoy has been running for his life all season, yet it was McCoy rather than Keller who was still standing at the final whistle.
"Colt's leadership has changed the attitude of this team since Kansas State," Brown said, "and they do feed off that. Jamaal has stepped up with that attitude. It's an attitude of toughness."
The win marked Mack Brown's 100th at Texas, making him the only Longhorn coach other than Darrell Royal to pass the century mark. Texas' record against Nebraska now stands at 7-1 since the inception of the Big 12. Representatives from the Sugar Bowl and Gator Bowl were in the press box scouting the Horns.
Texas' first two opening drives stalled near midfield. The Horns opened their third possession with McCoy's 30-yard bullet to Quan Cosby over the middle against the two deep zone. Cosby would lead all receivers with 113 yards on five grabs. The eight-play drive, covering 60 yards, resulted in a 38-yard Ryan Bailey FG against a stiff northerly breeze for the game's first score with 3:05 remaining in the opening frame.
Nebraska immediately answered with a 31-yard FG to knot the affair. The 50-yard drive was set up by Cortney Grixby's 30-yard KO return. A couple of big plays sustained the series. The first was a 20-yard completion on 3rd-and-5 from the 42 over the middle against a soft zone defense. Then, QB Sam Keller's 10-yard completion on 4th-and-one from the 29 was so upsetting to co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina that he tossed his clipboard.
Cosby temporarily changed the mood on the UT sideline with a highlight reel reception where he batted ball to himself for a falling-down grab against double coverage. The play was all for naught as Bailey was wide right on a 34-yard FG. In fact, the Horns did not move the chains on third-down until about five minutes remained in the first half. The Huskers responded with an 80-yard, eight-play scoring drive. The visitors converted three third downs on the march, including a 19-yard completion to Marlon Lucky on 3rd-and 11. Lucky later collected 33 yards on an option toss on 3rd-and one from the NU 37. It set up Swift's TD reception.
Keller opened the second half with a ridiculously easy five-play, 80-yard drive. The Huskers quickly tacked-on seven more when Keller found Swift in the back in the end zone and no orange jersey within 10 yards of him.
"It wasn't a glorious start to second half," Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina said.
Fortunately for Texas, it was a glorious finish to what had been an unpredictable game for three quarters.
DT Frank Okam (remember him?) all but sealed the deal with his sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery with little more than six minutes left. It led to Charles' 40-yard dash up the middle to finally give Texas some separation, 28-17. By then, Charles are more emotional than exhausted.
"I felt like breaking out crying," he said. "I felt like it was my time It was time to prove to everyone what I can do."
Of Note: DE Aaron Lewis and FB Luke Tiemann returned following missing games due to injury. SS Ishie Oduegwu logged his first start in place of Erick Jackson. It didn't come as much of a surprise after Jackson got yanked following the opening series at Baylor last weekend. Justin Moore placed punts at the Nebraska five and then twice at the seven. He averaged 42.5 yards-per-punt.
Texas now travels to Oklahoma State. Kickoff time is expected to be determined Monday.
Charles wasn't the only one smiling on Saturday (AP)