Texas spoils Nebraska redemption game

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LINCOLN, Neb. – The unranked Longhorns entered Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium with nothing to lose and everything to prove.

After two straight losses, many had written Texas off and few gave them a chance against a fourth-ranked and blood-hungry Nebraska team that wanted revenge after last year’s Big 12 championship loss. But as he walked off the field with a 20-13 victory, running back Fozzy Whittaker couldn’t help but smile in amazement.

“No one thought we could win this,” Whittaker said. “But we understand that there will always be doubters, and this just feels so great to prove them all wrong.”

Nebraska launched the anti-Texas “Red Out Around the World” campaign months ago in anticipation of Oct. 16 when they could get redemption. The typically hospitable Nebraska fans didn’t hide their animosity for the Longhorns, and that over-emphasis seemed to cost them on Saturday.

“We could sense they had focused on this game so much, and we jumped on them for that,” Whittaker said.

The Texas offense finally had their breakout game against one of the top-ranked defenses in the nation. Facing the second-best rush defense in college football, the Longhorns ran for 209 yards on 46 attempts and had two rushing touchdowns. Cody Johnson led the way with 73 yards on 11 carries, but the big surprise was the sudden mobility of quarterback Garrett Gilbert.

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis implemented the quarterback draw package that had made him so successful with Gilbert’s predecessors, Vince Young and Colt McCoy, and the first-year starter responded well.

“We didn’t want to get away from running the ball but to do that, we needed the quarterback to make some plays with his feet,” Davis said. “We really challenged our guys that what we were doing was fine, we just weren’t executing – they showed they believe in what we were doing.”

With that game plan, Texas punched early and often in the first quarter. The defense opened the game by stuffing Nebraska with a three-and-out stand and the offense scored first with 27-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. The defense got another easy stop, and this time, Gilbert marched the Longhorns in for a touchdown to take a stunning 10-0 lead.

“That start gave our guys the confidence they needed,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “They were so into it on the sideline saying, ‘You’re right, coach, we can win this game.’”

Nebraska’s red-shirted and rowdy fans finally got to release their trademark helium balloons into the sky when the Cornhuskers got their first score, a hard-earned 45-yard field goal in the second quarter. But Gilbert again pushed the Longhorns onward, using a 41-yard pass to Fozzy Whittaker to set up a 1-yard quarterback keeper, and Texas was suddenly up 17-3.

With the lead mounting, the once-ecstatic crowd started to give up hope of the dominating redemption game they had imagined.

“I could feel some of the fans saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me – not again,” Brown said.

After the half, Texas’ offense slowed, but the defense held on. Another Tucker field goal was the only second-half score, while the Cornhuskers added a field goal and a 95-yard punt return with 3:02 remaining in the game to make it an interesting one-score finish. But the Longhorns’ run game held on for the victory.

The two small sections of Texas fans who hadn’t given up hope on the team cheered with relief and sang “The Eyes of Texas” for the last time in Lincoln.

“This may be the last Texas-Nebraska game in the history of college football,” Brown told his team for added motivation.

That is, unless they somehow meet in December’s Big 12 championship.

“Our goal is still to win the Big 12 championship, but we’re just so excited right now because there’s a huge weight off our shoulders,” Whittaker said. “We finally put together a win we can be proud of.”