After all the expectations, after all the hype, all of the anticipation, today's "Red Out Around the World" turned out to be another bitter pill for Husker fans to swallow. Texas jumped out to an early 10-0 lead thanks to a special teams breakdown and a fumble early on, which proved to be a deficit that Nebraska could not overcome.
Today's game, in a nutshell, came down to Will Muschamp daring Nebraska to pass, and the Huskers simply being unable to take advantage. Texas loaded up nine men in the box, and shut down the Husker rushing attack. Nebraska moved the ball a little bit in the second quarter, but never could find the end zone offensively.
For that, the blame falls squarely on the receivers and Taylor Martinez. Martinez started off by throwing behind a wide open Niles Paul, who tried to reach back and make a spectacular catch, in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Martinez overthrew Rex Burkhead who could have walked into the end zone if he could have caught the ball. But the dropsies were all over the receivers. Paul had more drops, and Brandon Kinnie dropped a nearly perfectly thrown pass at the five yard line on fourth down late in the game.
It sounds simplistic, but if the Huskers could have made a couple of these plays, the game would have immediately changed. Success in the passing game would have forced Muschamp to play the Huskers more straight-up, and that would have opened up the running game a bit.
Taylor Martinez finished the game on the bench, as Nebraska turned to Zac Lee who was far more effective leading the Husker offense tonight. I felt we might see Lee at some point this season, and frankly, I consider Lee to be Nebraska's #2 quarterback at this point. Bo Pelini and Shawn Watson might prefer to use Cody Green if the Huskers are ahead, but when the chips are down, they'll go to the veteran, especially if they think they'll need to throw the ball. Truth be told, Lee ran the ball ok at times (certainly better than Martinez tonight), and if he had any support from his receivers, probably could have gotten the Huskers back into the game tonight.
Judging from the few replays I saw on the HuskerVision boards tonight and the general buzz afterwards, the officials added to the Huskers' problems with blown calls and questionable spots of the ball. That's not what beat Nebraska this afternoon; Texas played better than Nebraska straight up when it came down to it.
Hard to believe that Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert would turn out being the better running quarterback today, but that's why they play the games. The Blackshirts locked down on Texas when they tried to throw the ball, but blown tackles in the secondary by Rickey Thenarse led to several big plays including Fozzy Whittaker's 41 yard reception.
Husker fans did get a glimmer of hope when Eric Hagg returned a Texas pooch punt out of field goal formation 95 yards for a touchdown to pull within one score. Great call by Pelini to send Hagg deep to return the punt, but it was a bad call to go for the onside kick with three minutes left in the game. At that point, the Longhorns were in full turtle mode trying to run out the clock, and by kicking deep, the Huskers likely could have still forced a punt. Instead, Texas easily fields the kick, and then Nebraska had to try to force a fumble in the closing minutes.
Oh, and you can't forget about the penalties. Ten of them, to be exact, and sometimes at the worst possible moment. Ugly, ugly, ugly performance.
No time to sulk about this one. Top 20 foes are up the next two weeks with Missouri and Oklahoma State. Texas showed teams how to defend Nebraska, so it'll be on Shawn Watson and receivers coach Ted Gilmore to get the offense back in sync. The Blackshirts didn't play a great game, but holding the Longhorns to 272 yards isn't bad either.
In 2007, Nebraska went into a game against Southern Cal thinking they could make a statement and win...and lost badly. From there, the season spiraled out of control. I don't think 2010 parallels 2007 at all, but if Nebraska doesn't bounce back strong next weekend, people will start drawing parallels.