Work in Sports
Return of Big Red
Huskers are hot, but Texas has their number
Posted: Thursday October 21, 1999 12:37 AM
By Tim Griffin, Special to CNN/SI
AUSTIN, Texas -- Nebraska players remember the feeling like it happened yesterday.
The only thing more miserable than the damp, dark conditions at Memorial Stadium on that gloomy day could have been the Cornhuskers' downcast attitude leaving the playing field.
On that date last Halloween, redshirt freshman Major Applewhite directed Texas to a 20-16 upset victory over Nebraska, snapping the Cornhuskers' 47-game homefield winning streak.
"There was a lot of agony after that game," Nebraska cornerback Ralph Brown said. "I felt I let a lot of people down. We put our hearts in the streak and it hurt. A lot of people felt like crying after that game."
That loss continued Nebraska's struggles with Texas, which earlier had upset the Cornhuskers in the first Big 12 championship game in 1996 as another big underdog. The Longhorns are the only team Nebraska has failed to beat in the history of the conference.
A retooled offense and strong returning defense have enabled the Cornhuskers to claim six straight victories and the No. 3 rating in both major polls to start the season. The losses to Texas, however, remain an open wound that refuses to go away.
"That's something that stays in the back of your mind," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said. "Texas is a great team and in the last two games they've beaten us. A lot of people have some tough feelings about those losses. Those guys who played in those games are more motivated."
Their chance for redemption comes Saturday at Royal Memorial Stadium. The Cornhuskers again are a double-digit favorite. Will the third time finally be a charm in the Texas hex?
Nebraska guard Russ Hochstein said the Cornhuskers are eagerly anticipating their first trip to Austin since 1960.
"The excitement to play them and to revenge those losses is the big thing," Hochstein said. "Guys here would love to beat them and get back where we belong. That's how we are looking at it."
The Cornhuskers have ripped through the Big 12 so far with victory margins of 30, 24 and 35 points. Several league coaches are proclaiming that the Huskers could be prime challengers for the national championship.
"The Nebraska team I see right now is every bit as good as any of their teams I've seen for the past 15 years," Texas coach Mack Brown said.
In the past 15 years, Nebraska won national championships in 1994, 1995 and 1997 and was ranked in the Top 5 in late November six other times.
The Cornhuskers' defense has been the key to the quick start. "The Blackshirts" rank among the top eight teams nationally in scoring defense, turnover margin, rushing defense, total defense and defensive passing efficiency.
Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne proclaimed the current Cornhuskers defense as potentially the best group he has seen.
The offense hasn't been too bad, either. After Coach Frank Solich inserted Crouch at quarterback and moved former starting QB Bobby Newcombe to wingback after the second game, the Huskers' offense has kicked in. Nebraska currently ranks fifth in the nation in rushing (265.3 yards per game) and ninth in scoring (39 points per game).
The news out of Lincoln hasn't always been so good
Crouch reportedly had briefly left the team briefly when Newcombe initially got the starting nod, as did I-back Correll Buckhalter at the same time. Later, Solich refused to let projected starting I-back DeAngelo Evans back after he quit the team.
Several wins later, no one's going anywhere.
"Things usually aren't as good or as bad as they seem to be," Solich said. "Certainly, we went through a point of time when there were some disruptions, but we worked through it well. Now, our chemistry is very good."
The Cornhuskers sputtered in the first game after the change, failing to score an offensive touchdown in a tight 20-13 victory over Southern Mississippi.
Crouch and the offense have improved in their next three games, outscoring opponents 127-38.
"Each week, we've gotten better and better," Crouch said. "We continue to see that every week. We've had more big plays than we did last year and that makes a big difference."
Despite the huge margins and lofty victory margin, several Texas players said that Brown has emphasized keeping the Cornhuskers in perspective.
"We didn't let all that talk and hype get to us about their winning streak," Texas wide receiver Ryan Nunez said. "We try to take that 'N' off their helmet and play football regardless who it's against.
"Take that logo off the helmet and they are just another team we've got to play. It's our biggest game because it's our next game and not because it's Nebraska. I think last year we weren't intimidated. We went up there and played hard-core football."
Texas' two-game winning streak is a rarity for Nebraska opponents. Ohio State beat the Cornhuskers in 1955-56. Florida State has a four-game winning streak against Nebraska -- all in bowl games.
"It helps us knowing that we've been the only [conference] team to beat them the last two times in the last 10 years," Nunez said. "It goes back to that intimidation factor. A lot of teams get intimidated by Big Red, their tradition and their record. But we've got just as good, if not a better tradition here at Texas.
"They aren't an unbeatable team. Don't get me wrong, it's the most important game we are playing on our schedule because it's the next game. But next week, Iowa State will be the next most important game for us."
Nebraska must close with a difficult finish, including a Nov. 6 game against defending Big 12 champion Texas A&M and Kansas State the following week. Both teams beat Nebraska during the Cornhuskers' uncharacteristic 9-4 season last year -- their worst season since 1968. "We've played pretty well so far, but Texas will be our biggest test," Nebraska safety Clint Finley said. "I think we'll be ready for them."Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express News. His CNN/SI Insider appears every Tuesday.