The Nebraska Cornhuskers probably can't reprogram the Bowl Championship Series ratings computer to secure a berth against Florida State in the national championship game.
However, they could short-circuit the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 championship game, and that is precisely what they did.
No. 3 Nebraska wore out the No. 12 Longhorns, 22-6, today in front of 65,035 at the Alamodome, ending Texas's three-game winning streak against the Huskers. With the victory, the Cornhuskers (11-1) likely will play in the Fiesta Bowl against Tennessee. Texas (9-4) will make its second straight appearance in the Cotton Bowl, where it will face Arkansas.
"We'd love to be playing in New Orleans," Nebraska linebacker Brian Shaw said. "But that's just the way things are."
It didn't seem to slow the Cornhuskers.
The Texas offense stumbled to 173 net yards and gave up seven sacks, but it wasn't really the Longhorns' fault. Nebraska's defense simply had an answer for everything they did, and the Huskers built a 22-0 lead by their first possession of the third quarter.
When Major Applewhite, the Big 12 co-offensive player of the year, went back to pass, the Cornhuskers seemed to be in the backfield before he could look up. He completed 15 of 42 passes for 164 yards with three interceptions.
When Texas tried to run, Nebraska swarmed. The Longhorns' top rusher, Victor Ike, had 21 yards--20 on one run. Texas finished with nine net yards rushing, a school record for futility on the ground.
"We didn't throw the ball well. We didn't run the ball well. We didn't play well period," Applewhite said.
Several Nebraska players said Applewhite's comments about their defense--which appeared in Sports Illustrated after Texas's victory over the Huskers earlier this season--helped motivate them this week. Applewhite had said Nebraska's defense "wasn't exactly calculus."
"I guess we saw who passed the calculus class today," Cornhuskers linebacker Tony Ortiz said. "I think we blitzed about every other play. We were moving around all the time, trying to confuse him."
Ortiz said the Cornhuskers didn't add anything to their defensive schemes, only executed them better.
"We had a lot more fire today," he said. "We had twice as much fire, we came at them twice as fast and we came at them twice as much."
Nebraska's defense was so dominating that even after Texas scored--on a 20-yard fumble return by cornerback Ahmad Brooks with 13 minutes 27 seconds left in the game--the Longhorns' attempt at a two-point conversion failed.
"We set a goal to get back here [the title game] after the Texas game," Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride said. "I don't want to say it was for revenge, because I don't use that word. We did exactly what we needed to do. Call it the pride factor."
The victory over Texas was the first for Nebraska in four tries this decade. The Longhorns ended the Cornhuskers' bid for three straight national titles with their 37-27 upset in the first Big 12 title game in 1997 and ended their 47-game home winning streak last year.
"Definitely, we had a monkey on our backs," said Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, who rushed for 72 yards and passed for 55. "This was just another chance for us to go out and show how good our football team really is."
Nebraska got all the points it needed in the first quarter, taking a 10-0 lead on a career-best 42-yard field goal by Josh Brown and a 31-yard touchdown run by Crouch. The Cornhuskers added a field goal and a safety in the second quarter and a four-yard touchdown run by Crouch in the third.
The Longhorns' two deepest drives into Nebraska territory ended on interceptions, one by Ortiz late in the first half and another by Jeff Perino on Texas's last offensive play of the game.
"I knew I didn't want to leave here without beating Texas and I finally got them," Nebraska senior defensive back Mike Brown said.