Though they were lights out against one of the nation’s top rushing attacks, the Longhorns’ defense took a beating in Lincoln as several starters were injured.
Junior linebacker Keenan Robinson and sophomore safety Kenny Vaccaro were forced to miss the entire second half because of head injuries. Senior cornerback Curtis Brown hurt his back on a punt return, but played despite his constant grimaces. Junior linebacker Emmanuel Acho was limping around late in the fourth quarter.
Rather than panic, head coach Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp dug into their depth chart and pulled out freshman linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive back Adrian Phillips.
“Jordan was in the right spots and played very well. He’s a very mature young man,” Muschamp said. “We’ve had an awful lot of confidence in him all along. He practices well, plays well, and the same goes for Adrian.”
With a defense so stout and in sync, younger players find it hard to crack the lineup, but sometimes, one player’s misfortune is another’s opportunity.
“We always tell the guys, ‘You never know when your number is going to be called and you better be ready when it is,’” Muschamp said. “We have a certain standard we’re going to play to here, and at the end of the day, we’re not going to say, ‘Well, we had an injury.’”
Hicks tied cornerback Aaron Williams to lead the team with eight tackles. Phillips didn’t play as much as Hicks, but he did break up a potential game-changing pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
<strong>Sackless in Lincoln</strong>
A sound offensive line is the key to a productive offense. But lately, the Longhorns have had difficulties executing any sort of running game.
Against Nebraska, the line blocked the best they had all year and created creases and gaps for quarterback Garrett Gilbert and the running backs to sneak through and rack up 209 yards — a season best.
“They’re definitely growing,” offensive coordinator Greg Davis said of his linemen. “They were much more in tune with getting their feet moving.”
After allowing a combined five sacks against UCLA and Oklahoma Texas held Nebraska without a sack.
“Everything we’d been emphasizing decided to explode [in the Nebraska game],” said senior left guard Michael Huey. “Something just clicked.”
Huey earned the Boss Hog Award, which honors the Longhorns’ most productive offensive lineman, for his performance against Nebraska, in which he made about five pancake blocks.
“Actually, it felt like more than that. I think I counted eight,” he said. “But regardless, that’s a lot of pancakes.”
<strong>‘W’ stands for fun</strong>
At Texas, to have fun means to win and losing is never an option. But for the past three weeks, the Longhorns have been mired in losses because of poor performances against UCLA and Oklahoma.
Before the team was rejuvenated by its win over Nebraska, frustration and failure seemed to have gotten the best of the Texas players and coaches. They were in no mood to chat during the weekly press conferences, with words short and not so sweet.
But in the past two press conferences, the whole team was upbeat, and smiles stretched across their faces, because they were having fun again.
“It’s amazing how winning changes everything,” Brown said. “When you win, it picks everything in your life up.”
Brown has made the school’s football program synonymous with winning and hadn’t been used to the alternative in quite some time.
“I’m spoiled like everyone else is around here; I can’t stand to lose,” he said. “But [losing] was probably good for us.”