December 6, 2009

Texas lucks out in nick of time

ARLINGTON, Texas - For a few seconds Saturday night, it appeared as if Nebraska had pulled off another stunning Big 12 championship game upset, that either TCU or Cincinnati would play for the national championship and that Texas coach Mack Brown inexplicably had had a disastrous Les Miles moment.

But a second look gave Texas a second chance. And with one second left, Hunter Lawrence kicked the Longhorns to an unbelievable 13-12 victory and into a BCS national title showdown with Alabama.

One second - a fraction, really - separated Texas from a shot at its second national title in five years and its most disappointing loss since falling to Colorado in the 2001 Big 12 championship game.

The Big 12 title game often has been a place where national championship aspirations go to die. Nebraska's fell there in 1996, Kansas State's succumbed in 1998, Texas' perished in 2001 and Missouri's ended in '07. Texas almost flat-lined again when facing third-and-11 at Nebraska's 29 with the clocking winding down under 10 seconds. With a timeout remaining, former Heisman front-runner Colt McCoy let precious time elapse before the snap. Then, he scrambled away from a Huskers pass rush that had beat on him throughout the night before he coolly - almost too coolly - tossed the ball out of bounds as the final seconds ticked away.

The clock read 0:00 and a massive celebration erupted on Nebraska's sideline and spilled out onto the field. But on the other sideline, Brown was insisting that one second remained when McCoy's toss hit the Cowboys Stadium turf.

"I knew there was a second left," Brown said. "I was trying to get timeout with the official, and he couldn't hear me it was so loud. And Colt snapped the ball, and Colt knows what he's doing. He said, 'Coach, I threw it away. I saw the clock was down enough so I threw it out of bounds.'

"He thought there were two seconds left instead of one. So, I never felt there wasn't any chance there [was no] time on left on the clock. He's been around too long to do that."

Replay official Jack McDonald ruled Brown was right, and thus the coach and quarterback avoided a monumental gaffe similar to that committed by Miles, who grossly bungled clock management in a 25-23 loss to Ole Miss two weeks ago.

"Right away, TV sent us a shot where we had the flight of the ball," said Walt Anderson, the Big 12 coordinator of officials. "They superimposed the clock. ... There was a second left, so we put that back up."

Still, the Longhorns were incredibly lucky. There was too much at stake to allow it all to come down to a replay for one more precious second.

"Hopefully, the Lord saw the clock and the ref was going to stay true to his morals and give us the second," Longhorns defensive end Sergio Kindle said. "Since we got it, after that, I've got confidence in our guys, from 'Big Toe' [Lawrence] to 'Big Arm' [McCoy]. Once those guys get out there, we call them 'Team Automatic.' That's what they were today."

Well, maybe Lawrence. His 46-yard kick never was in doubt. But McCoy threw three interceptions, was sacked nine times and fell out of Heisman contention. Indeed, if there was a Heisman contender on the field, it was Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who had 12 tackles, including seven for loss, and 4.5 sacks.

"I think he's the best football player in his position in the country," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "If that means the Heisman Trophy, so be it."

Although McCoy would appear out of the race, Brown argued his quarterback had a good performance and capped it with a clutch game-winning drive.

"This team has been one of those that they just figure out a way to win," Brown said. "They know they're going to win, and it's usually somebody different that steps up."

In truth, Texas didn't pull out a victory as much as Nebraska gave one away. The Huskers took a 12-10 lead with 1:44 remaining on Alex Henery's fourth field goal of the game. But Adi Kunalic's ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Longhorns possession at their 40.

On the Longhorns' first play, McCoy connected with Jordan Shipley on a crossing route for 19 yards, and 15 more yards were added because Nebraska safety Larry Asante made a horse-collar tackle. That put the ball at the Huskers' 26. Texas' next three plays netted minus-3 yards and used - upon further review - all but one second of the clock.

Nebraska's short-lived celebration likely was nothing compared to the parties going on roughly 30 miles west, at Dutch's Burgers & Beer and Buffalo Bro's - the hot spots across from the TCU campus in Fort Worth. No doubt, similar frenzied scenes were going on in Cincinnati, too.

A Texas loss meant one of those teams would have moved up to second in the BCS standings and played SEC champion Alabama for the national championship.

But after the Longhorns' subpar showing, the Frogs and Bearcats might be able to build a case that one of them should be there anyway.

McCoy's three interceptions and the nine sacks were just part of Texas' pratfalls. Center Chris Hall was called for two chop-block penalties. James Kirkendoll dropped a sure touchdown pass that would have prevented all the late drama. Marquise Goodwin slipped while trying to field a kickoff, forcing the Longhorns to start from their 1. The Longhorns managed just 18 rushing yards.

Texas' defense did its part, though, limiting Nebraska's anemic offense to four field goals.

Six weeks ago, the Longhorns appeared as if they might be emerging into the nation's most dominant team after a 41-14 thrashing of Oklahoma State. They had routed six consecutive opponents and scored at least 35 points in each game.

But this performance -- and a Thanksgiving night shootout win over a six-loss Texas A&M team -- raises questions about whether the Longhorns can be competitive against Alabama, which has a defense that's better than Nebraska's.

Brown, of course, was optimistic.

"It's an exciting thing to sit here at 13-0 and be disappointed in some phases each week," Brown said. "It sounds like Alabama put a full game together, and we still haven't put that together. We'll have to in that game because Alabama's such a great team."

At least Texas is getting that chance.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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