After their 20-13 upset of fifth-ranked Nebraska on Saturday, Texas players celebrated more zealously than usual, brashly flashing the “Hook ’Em” hand gesture, hollering and dancing on the Memorial Stadium field.
As they did, University of Texas president William Powers Jr. walked up to Longhorns defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and embraced him.
“Can you call Jim Delany and tell him good luck in the Big Ten?” Muschamp asked Powers.
“Absolutely,” Powers replied.
The reference to Delany, the Big Ten commissioner, was a stinging barb about Nebraska’s controversial decision to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten after this season. Publicly, Texas officials have denied having any animosity about the Cornhuskers’ exit. Privately, they’re obviously still irked by it.
They’re also still bothered that the Cornhuskers believe they would have won last year’s Big 12 championship game if not for officials putting one second back on the clock, which allowed the Longhorns to kick the winning field goal in a 13-12 triumph.
“They can say what they want,” Texas running back Cody Johnson said. “We proved it today. Forget one second — we still are Texas.”
And even though the Longhorns (4-2) entered Saturday’s game with as many losses as they had in 2008-09 combined, and were in danger of their first three-game regular-season losing streak under coach Mack Brown, Nebraska learned that still means a lot.
Behind surprising speedy redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, the Cornhuskers (5-1) came in with their highest ranking – No. 5 – since 2001, but they fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter and never recovered.
T-Magic, as Martinez is nicknamed, started the game as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate, and had been averaging 147.4 rushing yards per game, fourth best in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
But by the third quarter, he had gone poof, and was pulled out of the game in favor of Zac Lee, last year’s starter.
Not that it was entirely the fault of Martinez, who was 4-of-12 passing for 63 yards and had 21 yards rushing on 13 carries. He watched his receivers drop two potential touchdown passes.
Lee also was victimized by a key drop when wide receiver Brandon Kinnie couldn’t hold on to a pass in the end zone with 7:01 left.
“We had our opportunities to make plays,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “We didn’t make plays. They did. They won the football game.”
Once again, Texas did it primarily behind the defensive genius of the fiery Muschamp, who had two weeks to prepare for Nebraska with the Longhorns idle last week. His defense held Nebraska to just 202 yards of total offense.
Muschamp gave credit to his players, calling himself “the same idiot that called the UCLA game,” a shocking 34-12 loss in the Longhorns’ fourth game.
“Our players played outstanding,” Muschamp said. “Executed, played responsibility football and did what they’re supposed to do.”
So did Texas’ much-criticized offense, at least in terms of running the football. The Longhorns rushed for a season-high 209 yards, the first time that their new run-first offense has broken the 200-yard barrier this season.
Oddly enough it was Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert, known for his passing, not his running, who set the tone for Longhorns’ ground game in the first quarter with several designed draws to offset Nebraska’s stingy defense. He finished with 71 yards on 11 carries.
“I don’t know if you can even compare it to Vince,” Gilbert said of his running in comparison to elusive former Longhorns quarterback Vince Young.
“You can’t,” Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis replied quickly with a laugh. But his offense’s total of just 271 yards, which included a 4-of-16 passing effort by Gilbert for 62 yards, wasn’t funny, again.
Nonetheless, Brown was his usual congenial self after the game as he praised Nebraska for being “the best place to play in college football” and said it’s “really hard” to beat the Cornhuskers at home, even though he’s now 4-0 all-time here.
But Brown also offered an unusually defiant statement about the Cornhuskers.
“We didn’t feel like they had played players other than maybe Kansas State like we had,” Brown said.
Translation: Nebraska hadn’t played anybody this season.
Brown also emphasized that Nebraska was “the same team we played in December exactly without Taylor Martinez,” a reference to his team’s win in the Big 12 championship game. He pointed out that the Longhorns held the Cornhuskers to just 106 yards of total offense in that victory.
“We did feel like our defense would come in here with a lot of confidence,” Brown said.
And like their coaches did publicly, hardly any Texas players claimed that Nebraska’s pending defection from the Big 12 and bellyaching over losing to the Longhorns in the Big 12 championship game last year were a source of motivation. But cornerback Chykie Brown did, emphatically.
“I remember,” Brown said.
But now Brown and Texas have another memory, a going-away gift that Nebraska will have to try to forget.