Nebraska silences Texas talk
Posted: Saturday December 04, 1999 11:57 PM
Texas quarterback Major Applewhite takes a crushing hit from Nebraska's Julius Jackson. AP
By Tim Griffin, Special to CNN/SI
SAN ANTONIO -- Their national championship hopes might be dashed, but the Nebraska Cornhuskers were playing for something Saturday they considered almost as big. During the four years of the Big 12, the Cornhuskers grew tired of hearing about their Texas jinx.
Over that time, the thought of three upset losses beat through their heads with the repetition of "Mambo No. 5."
Saturday, the Cornhuskers finally hit the mute button. Their Texas demons were exorcised in a convincing 22-6 victory in the Big 12 championship game that produced a little revenge for all of their previous miseries.
"I know I didn't want to leave here without beating Texas," Nebraska senior rover Mike Brown said, laughing. "We finally got them and I can die now."
The victory boosted the No. 3 Cornhuskers (11-1) into the Fiesta Bowl against Tennessee and gave them their second Big 12 championship -- both at the Alamodome. Texas (9-4) will settle for the Cotton Bowl, most likely against Arkansas.
The three upsets grew on the Cornhuskers, who admitted the victory was that much sweeter, coming only 70 miles from Austin.
"Definitely, we had that monkey on our back," Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said. "It was another chance to show how good our football team really is."
An earlier loss to Texas cost Nebraska a chance to play for its third championship of this decade. But on Saturday, the Cornhuskers looked like a team with serious claim to a chance at the Sugar Bowl.
"I think when you look at it now, there are about four or five teams that are deserving of it," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "I think Florida State and Virginia Tech have great teams."
But the Nebraska coach mentioned that the Cornhuskers have beaten four Top 25 teams -- Texas, Kansas State, Southern Mississippi and Texas A&M.
"I think when you look at some of the others, Virginia Tech has played two [Boston College and Miami]," Solich said. "You look at it and maybe we do belong. Virginia Tech and Florida State have both had great seasons. But we have a great football team that could play in that football team and play well."
Texas coach Mack Brown came away as a believer.
"Any BCS people watching tonight would have to be concerned about [the Cornhuskers'] ratings because they looked real good to me," Mack Brown said. "Nebraska tonight might have been the best team in the country. If we hadn't played so well ourselves, we would have really gotten killed."
The Cornhuskers' defense made a statement, limiting the Longhorns to the lowest running total in the 107-year history of the school. Texas produced nine net rushing yards, eclipsing the previous record low of 14 rushing yards gained against Baylor in 1976.
"We wanted to show them what we could do," Nebraska nose tackle Steve Warren said. "This is what Nebraska football is all about."
The "Blackshirts" came after Texas quarterback Major Applewhite with abandon, racking up seven sacks by six different players. Nebraska produced 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and beat Texas at the line of scrimmage all day long.
"Their offense lined up and whipped us," Mack Brown said. "We knew we couldn't beat them unless we were two-dimensional. They made us no-dimensional. We couldn't run or throw it. Nebraska might be the best team in the country."
The earlier loss to Texas probably ended any hopes of playing for the national championship. But Crouch, who rushed for two touchdowns and ran the option with precision, said it showed something about Nebraska's abilities.
"I know the only team to beat us was Texas, and for us to come in and beat them in a game this big is probably one of the biggest things to do," Crouch said. "I think that really says a lot about this football team."
If Nebraska's defense needed any extra inspiration, one of Applewhite's comments after Texas' 24-20 victory in Austin on Oct. 23 stayed with them.
The sophomore quarterback was quoted in a Sports Illustrated article as saying the Nebraska defense "wasn't calculus" after leading the Longhorns to the comeback win.
The Nebraska defense took those comments as a challenge to the very core of their defensive abilities.
"He said our defense was easy to read," Nebraska middle linebacker Carlos Polk said. "Right now, he's illiterate."
The "Blackshirts" limited Texas without a touchdown, blitzing on virtually every play. The Longhorns didn't take a snap inside the Nebraska 23.
"People can say what they want to say," Mike Brown said. "But this defense has a lot of confidence and that puts us over the top. It kind of hurt a little bit and when guys talk, it serves as bulletin-board material. Our defense isn't that simple and I think today we showed that. We confused him a little bit and forced some turnovers."
Applewhite repeatedly was knocked to the ground and completed only 15-of-42 passes with three interceptions. The sophomore quarterback had been intercepted only six times in the previous 12 games.
"They blitzed, but it wasn't anybody we couldn't pick up," said Applewhite, who was sacked a season-worst seven times. "We had a hat for everybody. Their guys just whipped our guys."
Texas' only touchdown came on a 25-yard fumble recovery by defensive back Ahmad Brooks. The play ended up being one of Texas' few highlights in the game as the Longhorns failed to produce any offensive points for the first time since a 14-7 loss to Oklahoma in 1985
"We made a big statement today," Husker Ralph Brown said. "Our purpose was to get in Applewhite's face and not give him any time to throw the football. We came after him all day long."
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