There are positives and negatives to having a bye week. On the plus side, when you win going into a bye week, as a player you can go through the motions on the practice field while relishing a few more days rest to recover from lingering or annoying minor injuries. Be assured, Texas has had no such break these past two weeks. If EyesOfTX (and the rest of Longhorn nation) had no break from the mental anguish of the past two losses, then the ‘Horns better not have either. Here’s hoping Texas head coach Mack Brown ripped on both his players and staff behind closed doors for the past 13 days. Two losses? Back-to-back? Think the stuff of “Top Gun” lore: “Two of your snot-nosed jockeys did a fly-by on my tower at over 400 knots. I want some butts! … Dammit, that’s twice!”
Luckily for the ‘Horns, the bye week means they’ve some extra time to try and right the ship. Level their wings. Put their heads on straight. To remember they are football players for one of the most elite college programs in the game. The I-35 bubble in Austin should have a lot of blood, sweat, and even some tears after practice this week. The film room should have cots spread out across the room because players have been spending every waking hour glued to the early-season game tape to find and correct their on-field mistakes.
But, it’s deeper than that. So far this season, the seniors are showing how much they feel entitled. On the field, that’s translating to Maverick’s “crashed and burned on the first one, it wasn’t pretty” lingo. The younger guys can’t buy in to that – there is too much talent and potential among the depth chart. For the ‘Horns, it’s time to step up or turn in their pads because they’ve “lost the edge.” Just because it says “Texas” on the front of your jersey doesn’t mean you deserve to win.
Texas Longhorns v. #5 Nebraska Cornhuskers
2:30 p.m. CT (ABC/ESPN)
Texas 13, Nebraska 45
There is one thing on Nebraska’s mind this week – redemption. December 5, 2009. Just like Texas needed one second back in the upset in Lubbock in 2008, the ‘Huskers want one second back from last year’s Big 12 Championship game. December 5, 2009. There will be no mercy rule, Nebraska is squarely set on putting the wood to Texas on Saturday in Lincoln, the teams’ final Big 12 regular season match-up. December 5, 2009. Make no mistake, this game has been circled on head coach Bo Pelini’s calendar since … December 5, 2009.
Even Nebraska’s marketing department was behind an off-season shot at the Texas game (and later changed) to get Husker fans excited for the upcoming season – called “Red Out Around The World.” Their mantra (and doesn’t this sound kind of familiar): “Come early. Be Loud. Wear Red. (Beat Texas).” They’ve sold out of t-shirts at the bookstore bearing the saying: “All my ex’s live in Texas: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri.” The date “10-16-2010” is plastered all over campus. Don’t become ou fans, Huskers…it’s not a good look for you.
Nebraska’s Keys To The Game:
His name is Taylor Martinez. His name is Taylor Martinez. His name is Taylor Martinez. Seriously, Tyler Durden probably knows this kid by now. The barely-past-puberty Martinez leads Nebraska at QB in 2010, and brings the word “amazing” to an offense that was anything but in 2009. With the same basic role players on offense, the infusion of Martinez has helped transform what was a horrific scoring attack last year to one of the best in all of college football this year. Jake Locker, eat your heart out. As a redshirt freshman, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. might have just moved Martinez past Locker on his draft board.
Everyone knows Pelini is a defensive-minded coach, and since his return to Nebraska, he’s shown his ability to craft a defensive juggernaut – even giving the “Blackshirts” nickname back to this year’s squad. But, Martinez is the knight in shining armor for the ‘Huskers 2010 BCS run, running the zone read to perfection. He’s mobile. He’s fast. REALLY fast. Think Looney Tunes’ roadrunner. Get this: the kid is five games in to the season, and he’s already accumulated 737 yards rushing, on 10.8 yards per carry, for 12 TDs. Those are RB stats, folks. A really, really good RB. Passing? Only three TDs. You get the idea. Let’s hope Martinez doesn’t leave Will Muschamp’s Texas defense looking like Wile E. Coyote.
Unfortunately, Martinez isn’t the only rushing threat. RBs Roy Helu, Jr. and Rex Burkhead flank Martinez in the backfield, and are more than capable of providing the power running attack as opposed to Martinez’s sideline-to-sideline flair. Is this bringing back UCLA nightmares yet? It should. On the outside, Martinez has the option to throw to several talented and big wide receivers – namely Niles Paul, Mike McNeill and Brandon Kinnie – but quite honestly, he just doesn’t need to. He’s only thrown for 660 yards on the season with three TDs and three INTs. Will they pass? Yes. Do they think they need to? Probably not. Most impressive is that Nebraska’s offense is built around a very inexperienced offensive line, with three new starters in 2010. Maybe Texas’ Mac McWhorter could take some lessons on how to transform on-paper talent to on-field production? The line has given up seven sacks on the season, and with Texas’ stacked defensive line, the Big Red will have their hands full maintaining their gaps and creating running lanes for Martinez, Helu, Jr. and Burkhead.
This year’s “Suh” in Lincoln is none other than Suh’s cohort in the trenches last year, defensive tackle Jared Crick. He has 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks on the season, and with opponents focused on protecting against Crick, the rest of the defensive line has opportunities to shine in opponent’s backfields. Ironically, the line isn’t their strength – the ‘Huskers bring the #1 pass defense in the country. You’d have to utilize your abacus to add up the number of interceptions they have on the year. With Texas’ lack of a running game, expect Pelini to pressure and contain any semblance of a running game with his front four and have his secondary focus on dropping back in to coverage to track down balls a la Willie Mays.
Texas’ Keys To The Game:
Good news. Texas got their butts chewed during the bye week. Bad news. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis is probably sitting up in the press box drawing up a “revised” version of the bubble screen to a different running back or wide receiver. Good news. RB DJ Monroe has used the bye week to “learn the playbook.” OK, maybe not, but he’s getting the call to start in the backfield again this week. Bad news. No matter how well the offense plays on Saturday in Lincoln, Texas won’t win Saturday without a big performance by the defense.
Offensively, this game lies in the hands of the Texas offensive line. Nebraska is prone to giving up rushing yards (well, at least more than they do through the air). If the o-line can give QB Garrett Gilbert time in the pocket, provide running lanes for the speedy Monroe, and the wide receivers can run routes beyond the first down markers, Texas does indeed have a shot. It hasn’t happened yet this season, but they’ve had their poor performances to-date rubbed in their face for too many weeks now. It’s time to change. It’s time to define the offense…on the field…on a Saturday. With freshman WR Mike Davis back in the line-up, Texas can take some shots down the field and change the dynamic of the game with big plays and open up the field for the…gasp…running game.
Defensively, Muschamps’ boys have their hands full with Nebraska’s three-pronged running attack. But, like any good football coach will tell you, even “Coach’s” Hayden Fox, beating a running team is all about playing assignment football. It’s about maintaing your gaps in the trenches, and utilizing your linebackers and secondary to clean up the mess. It’s about not making mistakes. It’s about making sure tackles. It’s beating Martinez to the corner with the right angles. It’s about stripping the ball and winning the turnover battle, and the ‘Huskers have put the ball on the ground 18 this year, so it’s possible. Nebraska will get their yards on the ground, but this defense has shown glimpses of being an elite unit. They’ll need every piece of that talent and pride to win in Lincoln.
Texas will also have to overcome a strong Nebraska kicking game, as the ‘Huskers will use every opportunity to pin Texas deep with punter Alex Henery and make Gilbert and company drive the length of the field, which has been a consistent problem this season. The ‘Horns have to eliminate the mistakes in special teams. Expect to see new kick and punt returners, and with a swift kick in the pants, a different attitude to bring some momentum to the Texas sidelines. It’s going to be chaotic and red in Lincoln, but Texas has a long-shot chance at avoiding a .500 start to the 2010 season and redeeming themselves in the eyes of college football’s elite.