LINCOLN, Neb. — Garrett Gilbert kneeled the ball for one last time and immediately sprinted to the sideline to celebrate with his teammates.
It was the breakthrough performance that the sophomore quarterback has been dying for, and it was his running that fueled the Longhorns’ offense throughout the game. With the odds stacked against them, the Longhorns overcame a staunch Nebraska rush defense that entered the game ranked second in the nation. Head coach Mack Brown pulled Gilbert aside after the game to give him a special message.
“I told him, ‘You’ve won your first big game,’” Brown said. “Garrett is a confident person, but this will be a great boost for him.”
Gilbert entered Nebraska as the leader of a broken offense that had struggled to run the ball all season. But in the bye week, offensive coordinator Greg Davis brought back the quarterback draw play that had made him so successful in previous years with dual-threat quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy. As a result, Gilbert walked out of Nebraska with a proven ability to compete with his predecessors in guiding a productive offense.
Running back Fozzy Whittaker said he might nickname Gilbert “Crazy Legs.”
“Maybe he doesn’t look like Vince or Colt when he’s running the ball,” Brown said with a grin. “But he’s effective.”
Gilbert rushed 24 times for just 14 yards and was widely perceived as slow and unable to run. But after running for 71 yards on 11 carries and two rushing touchdowns in the 20-13 victory over Nebraska, Gilbert has single-handedly rejuvenated the Texas offense.
“I don’t know if you can compare it to Vince,” Gilbert said.
“You can’t,” Davis interjected.
Gilbert’s success as a running quarterback on Saturday not only helped Texas avoid a three-game losing streak, but it also gave them an added weapon as they look ahead to the rest of the 2010 season.
“I feel comfortable with it,” Gilbert said. “It was a bigger part of the game plan this week. The offensive line did a great job of opening up some creases, and we were able to find some yards.”
Saturday was a return to normalcy for the Texas offense and marked the end of the miserable under-center, balanced offense experiment from the first five games. Texas coaches thought Gilbert was only a pro-style quarterback, but now that they have found a way to utilize his athleticism and rushing instincts, the offense has added another dimension.
“We didn’t want to completely get away from running and to do that, we needed the quarterback to make some plays with his feet,” Davis said.
Gilbert might have had one of the least productive passing games of his life, going just four of 16 for 62 yards, including one 41-yard pass to Whittaker that set up one of his rushing touchdowns. He only completed one pass to a wide receiver, a five-yard strike to Malcolm Williams. But he played conservatively and didn’t commit a turnover, a huge sigh of relief for Texas fans watching in Austin and the hundreds that made the trip to Lincoln.
“It has been a tough couple of weeks for the University, and this is a really good win for the football program,” said University President William Powers Jr. after the game. “To come up here and see the team play hard is a great thing for all of us at Texas.”