Traditional Offense, Physical Defense, Great Kicking Provide Good Vibrations
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This Nebraska-Texas football series reminds a certain athletic director of the Nebraska-Oklahoma series when he first became a head coach.
Every time he thought his Huskers had Oklahoma in a full Nelson, the Sooners would escape quicker than Nebraska's Jordan Burroughs can turn disaster into triumph on a wrestling mat.
"We'd have Oklahoma in tough shape and for one reason or another, we'd end up losing the game," Tom Osborne said, pointing out that Texas has hijacked the Huskers in similar fashion ... from a Correll Buckhalter fumble at the goal line in a 24-20 loss in Austin10 years ago to a Terrence Nunn fumble that enabled the Longhorns to kick a field goal in the last 23 seconds of a 22-20 win over the Huskers in Lincoln three years ago.
It's no fun when college football's No. 4 program in all-time wins loses seven of its last eight games against another storied program that sits in the No. 2 all-time position.
Thankfully, a Husker Hall of Fame coach and a Nebraska Heisman Trophy winner don't buy futures on past performances and aren't about to concede anything to an unbeaten team even at this point of the season.
To play for the opportunity to win their fourth national championship, the two-touchdown favored Longhorns need to beat Nebraska Saturday night before a full-house at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington and a national television audience.
It sounds simple enough for one of the nation's best offenses and one of its stingiest defenses, but you get the impression that Osborne and Crouch would say "not so fast my friend" if they were sitting in their own living rooms.
AD and Former Player Both Upbeat about Upset
We sat down with Osborne and Crouch Thursday and heard nothing but good, good, good vibrations. It became quickly apparent in both interviews that they think Nebraska is fully capable of pulling off an upset on the national stage.
Let Crouch take the first few punches since one national columnist keeps writing that Nebraska has a puncher's chance of upsetting the 'Horns.
"This game reminds me of the time we beat Texas, 22-6, in 1999," said Crouch, a sophomore at the time. "I see this being similar ... low-scoring and very, very physical.
"We had a really physical defense that year, but so did Texas," Crouch recalled. "Dan Alexander was our running back, and he split his hand open from one side to the other and needed 100 stitches to close the wound and still wanted back in the game.
"I'm a quarterback, and I can certainly attest to how physical that game was," Crouch said. "I was hit numerous times right in the mouth and had blood coming out more than once. They even tore my helmet off. I mean, they were hitting hard every play and trying to win the game just like we were. That's what college football is all about ... physical programs trying to be totally dominant. I expect that same kind of intensity Saturday night."
So does Osborne. "Our defense has been, for the most part, really good," he said. "I suspect we'll see an intense effort out of our defense - and our offense - in this game. You'll see us play at a very high emotional level, and that can make a big difference.
"It's hard to play intense on defense every week," Osborne said, acknowledging that Kansas found "a few chinks in our armor" the week after a monumental effort against Oklahoma. The Huskers weren't as sharp defensively at Colorado the week after they took care of Kansas State either. "It's human nature that you can't be at the same emotional level every week, but you still have to be good enough to win when you're not."
A Good Offense is Part of a Good Defense
One of football's biggest clichés is that defense wins championships. It's true, of course, but only when your offense scores enough to ease the pressure, takes some time off the clock and keeps turnovers to a minimum.
"We'll have to play well to win," Osborne said, "but they (Texas) will have to play well to win, too."
Why? Because when Shawn Watson and Bo Pelini realized a spread-oriented passing attack wasn't cutting it halfway through the season, they committed to a basic running game with enough old-school physicality to pump up everyone on the team. If you want evidence, watch Ricky Henry throw a block, Tyler Legate put his life on the line or Rex Burkhead carry a defender on a foot that was broken just weeks before.
Crouch doesn't discount Zac Lee from rising to the challenge in a game where the spotlight shines much more brightly on Colt McCoy. He's led Texas to more wins than any quarterback in college football history and is in the last act of his Heisman Trophy audition against Florida's Tim Tebow.
"Zac has a tremendous amount of pressure on him, coming into a system going through so many major changes, so he's had to remain constant and be a leader," Crouch said. "He got pulled from the job, got it back and now is a big part of the last four wins that have changed the direction of an up-and-down year.
"He's making smart decisions, taking care of the football and making it much harder for teams to beat us," Crouch said. "We haven't seen a lot of big plays out of Zac, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have any in him."
Lee is a catalyst for everyone getting on the same page at the same time. "It's not news to anybody that we've struggled on offense all year, but we have the talent out there," Crouch said. "If we get that running game going, Zac can pick a defense apart. The key is to stick with the game plan."
Alex Henery, Adi Kunalik Critical Contributors
Osborne, who helped recruit Crouch before retiring as head coach, probably couldn't have said it any better, but he's the first to focus on the third critical element to any major upset.
"Our kicking game has been really good, and it's probably been underplayed all year long," Osborne said. "In championship games, kicking always seems to play a big part."
Crouch has enjoyed listening to Pelini talk all week. "He doesn't really care about what Texas plans to do," Crouch said. "He's more focused on what we're going to do - on offense, on defense and on special teams. That's because he and his staff have put together a plan to win the game."
It's a plan that Crouch thinks will be sound. "Bo's coordinated defenses in SEC championship games and in national championship games," Crouch said. "He's been in the NFL, and he knows what it takes to win a big game. Look what he's done in just two years here. Our defense is quicker, faster, more confident and more physical."
Forget about being a big underdog. "Nebraska's defense hasn't really let anybody take the game away from them all year," Crouch said. "I like their confidence, their morale, their motivation. They're good enough to get the whole team in the kind of zone to do things they never thought they could do."
Like beat Texas in its own back yard.
"If we need to kick a field goal, kick a field goal," Crouch said. "If we need to make a stop, make a stop. If the offense needs to get us to 20 points, get us to 20 points. This is going to be very exciting to watch, and I'm glad I'm going to be in Texas watching it."
It's Time. Huskers Long Overdue to Pull One Off
Here's the grand finale to Crouch's intuitive anatomy of an upset:
"This is a stepping stone for Bo Pelini, for his staff, for his players and for the quest they've been on for two years," Crouch said. "Their goal all along has been to put Nebraska back on the national map."
Well, guess what? "It's time to win another Big 12 championship ... time to get back to a BCS bowl game," Crouch said. "We're way overdue for a big, big upset, and I don't see any reason why it can't happen against an unbeaten Texas team in Cowboys Stadium."
P.S. If the vision becomes a reality, please consider hoisting a milk glass to toast Ndamukong Suh at midnight. Who knows? By then, he just might be in the same Heisman conversation with McCoy, Tebow and anyone else you want to throw in there.