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T A D    S T R Y K E R
December 5, 2009

The Texas Longhorns and their fans made a big deal about getting screwed by the Big 12’s rules for breaking a three-way tie for the South Division title, and complained about Oklahoma winning a Big 12 title last season that should have had an asterisk on it. So this year, the Longhorns went out and won an asterisk-tainted championship of their own.

Remember those t-shirts that showed an odd-shaped football field in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, after a questionable call gave Penn State a disputed victory over Nebraska in 1982? Look for the rapid appearance of t-shirts that immortalize the 60-minute, 1-second Big 12 Championship of 2009.

Just call it the longest game that never went into overtime.

NU lost a 13-12 defensive slugfest to the Longhorns that ended with a 46-yard Hunter Lawrence field goal that came about 60 seconds after Nebraska fans stormed the field, believing they had just seen the clock expire and their Cornhuskers win a Big 12 championship.

Yes, television replays showed the game clock still showed a fraction of a remaining as Colt McCoy’s last pass hit the ground, but if you would go back and review every such play, you’d see that one or even two seconds commonly run off the clock in those situations. If you’d break down film on every touchdown that was scored in the Big 12 this season, you’d probably find that one or two seconds commonly run off the clock after the ball crosses the goal line, too.

I’m not saying the officials made the wrong call at the end, I’m just saying that Mack Brown mismanaged the game clock horribly on the Longhorns’ last drive and got a lucky break handed to him by referee Tom Walker and his crew to have one bonus play to win the title.

The Blackshirts played one of their most heroic games in the long, storied history of Nebraska football. They nearly suffocated the powerful Longhorn spread offense, holding UT to only 202 total yards and 18 on the ground. They intercepted three of McCoy’s passes. All Texas’ points came on drives that were extended by 15-yard penalties on Nebraska.

If McCoy gets a Heisman Trophy next weekend, he probably should check it for asterisks as well.

Ndamukong Suh almost singlehandedly led Nebraska to a very unlikely Big 12 championship, one that 20,000 Cornhusker fans in Dallas got a chance to celebrate for about 60 seconds. For that, he will live forever in Husker lore.

Suh finished with a Big 12 Championship game-record 4½ sacks. He made 12 tackles, including seven for losses. He owned the field, and he made Texas’s drive for the national title seem like a subplot.

The Huskers lost with honor. In that aspect, it reminded me of the way Trev Alberts and Nebraska punished Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward and still lost an 18-16 heartbreaker in the January 1, 1994 Orange Bowl. Will this group of Cornhuskers come out with as much as resolve next fall as the “Unfinished Business” Huskers of 1994 did?

Suh made the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year look like a high school quarterback at times and tossed Longhorns around like so many little kids. He disrupted McCoy on nearly every play and humbled the Texas offensive line. The Blackshirts had nine sacks, 18 tackles for loss and forced a ton of three-and-outs against a team that will be playing for the national championship in January.

The NU defense played under a handicap all night. Nebraska had only 106 yards of total offense and Zac Lee and the offensive platoon had even more three-and-outs than Texas did, putting the Blackshirts in tough position time after time. Lee was six-for-19 passing with three interceptions, including a jump ball in the end zone that Niles Paul got outfought on by Texas defensive back Aaron Williams.

All that, and the Huskers still almost won the game with four field goals by Alex Henery.

McCoy, Jordan Shipley and the Longhorns looked good only once all night, and that was when the came off the goal line and converted three third-down situations to move into Nebraska territory late in the game. Then Dejon Gomes made an incredible interception to set up what could have been the game-winning drive, culminating in a pressure-packed 42-yard kick that Henery drilled dead-center.

At that point, junior kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic made what will probably turn out to be the biggest gaffe of his Husker career, kicking the ball out of bounds and giving Texas about 15 all-important bonus yards, setting up the Longhorns on their 40-yard line. When Larry Asante gave Texas another 15 penalty yards with a horse-collar tackle on Jordan Shipley, it put the Blackshirts under still more strain.

The biggest disappointment of the evening — besides the questionable call at the end of the game — was that Nebraska did almost nothing with its running game. With the opportunity to win back some respect after a subpar Big 12 season rushing the football, Barney Cotton and the offensive line didn’t do squat. Keith Williams, in particular, was pushed around for much of the night.

Although Williams is one the Huskers’ most experienced linemen, he probably played as poorly as anyone on the offense this season coming down the stretch. He looks slow and out of shape. And Cotton, who talks the talk when it comes to physical play, hasn’t found many answers when it comes to getting his players to walk the walk.

On one play early in the fourth quarter, Texas’s Keenan Robinson tossed Williams aside and caught Burkhead for a five-yard loss on third and 10. If Williams gets the job done on that play, Burkhead makes a long run. To win titles, you’ve got to execute in situations like that, because with a mediocre passer like Lee running the show, the opportunities are few and far between.

Why Shawn Watson didn’t try a trick play or two on offense is beyond me, especially when the Huskers got into the red zone for the only time all night early in the fourth quarter. But overall, you can’t tag the loss on Watson. When you get brutally manhandled at the line of scrimmage, it makes you get pretty conservative in your play calling.

In the end, Nebraska’s defense compensated for almost all of its offensive incompetence. Despite all its shortcomings, Nebraska lost with honor. The Huskers battled hard to the end, and pushed the Texas offense all over the field. After the game, they responded with class in the press conference, giving Texas credit and not making excuses.

The Longhorns got their third Big 12 championship — one which will forever have an asterisk attached to it — and will go on to play in the BCS title game.


Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. | Archive