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Trend Watch: Texas Versus Nebraska

This wouldn't have been a good look even if you had won, buddy. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
This wouldn't have been a good look even if you had won, buddy. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Garrett Gilbert's legs: Suffice it to say that Bo Pellini's defense spent little time preparing to deal with the running ability of the sophomore Texas quarterback. Kept primarily in the pocket this season and afforded the opportunity to run on less than a handful of designed plays all season, Gilbert looked like the quarterback who gashed opponents on the ground during the playoffs of his senior season.

Carries of 4,3, and 25 yards help set up the first Texas field goal and on the following drive, Gilbert scrambled to pick up 10 critical yards, powering through a defender for the final handful and eventually taking the ball into the end zone himself -- his first rushing touchdown since the opening drive of his career in garbage time against ULM. By the time the first quarter ended, Gilbert had picked up 51 yards rushing and finished with 71 on the day, easily a career high, while adding another touchdown run to his first quarter effort.

As mentioned after the game, Gilbert didn't exactly look like Vince Young out there, or Colt McCoy even, but it was about effectiveness rather than style points. He was tough and physical, using his 6-4, 215-pound frame to his advantage and though he's slower than both Young and McCoy, he does have a sort of sneaky athleticism and enough shake in his hips that he can make some defenders miss in the open field.

Gilbert's ability to pick up yardage on designed plays and on scrambles to keep the Longhorns ahead of the chains will remain a critical part of the Texas offense moving forward -- as long as the coaches are willing to risk injury by letting him carry the ball. At the least, the odds are that the speed option won't be making any appearances any time soon.

Greg Davis' gameplan: For the first time this season, the coaching staff not only trusted Garrett Gilbert a bit more than in the past by calling some designed running plays, but also appeared to have actually developed a specific gameplan for the opponent. What an innovation! Taking advantage of the man defense played by the Nebraska secondary, the called running plays caught the Husker defenders with their backs turned to the play.

In addition, there was evidence of some misdirection, including a little swing/flare pass to Fozzy Whittaker out of the jet sweep series that would have gone for a big play had Gilbert been able to complete the pass under pressure. There were other adjustments, like the wide bunch formation that keep the ineffective tight ends off the field and spread out the Nebraska defense enough to run effectively against them throughout the game. Davis even called for some two-back sets to provide better protection at times instead of allowing tight ends to block bigger, faster defensive ends.

Of course, it's impossible to tell how much Mack Brown may have positively influenced the gameplan, but it does raise some questions about whether the notoriously conservative Brown was a major factor in the conservative approach taken in the UCLA and Oklahoma games and finally let Davis get creative. Whatever the case, both Brown and Davis deserve credit.

Special teams (minus the pooch punt late): A unit that was almost universally considered a team strength at the start of the season has often been a source of frustration for the coaching staff. Against Nebraska, however, the unit was much closer to last year's dominant group than the mediocre efforts seen this season.

There was Malcolm Williams on every specials teams unit, twice downing the ball inside the 10, once saving it from heading into the end zone. There was Justin Tucker, kicking the rugby punt diagonally across the field, away from the return man (should have done that a long time ago!). There was John Gold, finally booming the ball with the wind. There was Cade McCrary, saving a poor snap and getting the ball down for his fellow Austin-area product, Tucker. There were Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams, managing to hold onto the ball and turn in some positive returns.

The Texas running game: Garrett Gilbert's success on the ground wasn't the only major story in the Texas ground game. After limited usage for the last several weeks, both Tre' Newton and Cody Johnson were major factors in the victory, but perhaps more importantly, the Texas offensive line played a game that many who closely follow the program probably didn't think possible. The Nebraska defensive line is still a solid unit even if the loss of the House of Spears severely limits the ability of the group to consistently puncture the line of scrimmage and the Texas offensive line won the battle decisively.

Overall, this was the best game in quite some time for the Texas offensive line, which got some serious push on a quarterback sneak in the middle of the field and got strong performances from David Snow and Mason Walters. Even much-maligned Britt Mitchell came in for some praise from Scipio.

A great deal of the impetus for the supposed increased emphasis on the running game has been the 'Horns' inability to close games out in the four-minute drill. Against Nebraska, however, the physical run late from Cody Johnson (where he stayed in bounds even) helped the Longhorns run out the clock in the victory formation with the Huskers down by only a touchdown. It's the type of football that Mack Brown loves -- executing on the ground against an opponent that knows what's coming but can't stop it.

The Texas defensive line: Alex Okafor deserve some praise here for standing out against a physical offensive line that dominated most opponents this season coming into the game. Despite still being undersized, Okafor held his own and has become a disruptive pass rusher, with several pressures of the quarterback on the day.

Kheeston Randall was his normal self and has become the best defensive tackle in the conference and it's probably not even close. He had a lot of pressure coming into this season and it's not a stretch to say that he's surpassed expectations.

Like Randall, Sam Acho has also played consistently well this season and as a group, the unit did an excellent job of being disciplined and avoiding the breakdowns that plagued the games against Rice and UCLA.

Jordan Hicks and Adrian Phillips: The two freshman had to step into their first extensive action due to injuries and both held their own. Hicks will react faster in time and Phillips had a bad personal foul penalty and wasn't quite sure about his alignment on the dropped touchdown pass by Niles Paul, but was in close enough proximity to make it a tougher throw for Martinez.

Other than those two gaffes, both players came up with some positive plays, with HIcks registering a handful of tackles and on one impressive play, got cut by a running back, got up and was still able to pressure the quarterback. High effort there. They're going to be good ones.

Avoiding penalties: What a refreshing game -- the Longhorns didn't kept the Huskers on the field with any bad penalties on third down and the offensive line/tight ends avoided any false start penalties for the first time this season. In fact, the Longhorns only had four penalties the whole game and one of the calls was a terrible personal foul on Aaron Williams for doing the X-factor hand sign that is used extensively and rarely, if ever, penalized. It was a major improvement from a team that hasn't been able to get out of it's own way for most of the season.

Expectations for this season: After the loss to Oklahoma, it looked like the Longhorns could lose any number of games this year -- as many as four or five, certainly. Two weeks later, the spirits of both the team and Texas fans are much higher and the expectations are raising once again. Is there a chance at a BCS bid? A chance at the conference title game with Missouri and Oklahoma State looking like serious contenders to beat Oklahoma?

The win over Nebraska was the first step in that direction and Kansas State and Texas A&M both look weaker now than they did that short time ago as the Cowboys look like the major danger to the Longhorns, a game Texas will benefit from playing in Austin.

All it takes is one game to make the swing from utter despair to jubilation. The flaws of this football team, particularly in regards to discipline and the failures of the offense that have been consistent over the years, may once again rear their ugly heads, but for a few days at least, it's worthwhile to savor in this win. Sometimes crow doesn't take all that bad.

Return of Zac Lee: Thought he was gone for good. What a beautiful sight to see him trotting onto the field as Bo Pellini panicked and pulled his starter.

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DJ Monroe's usage: No mention of Monroe either after the game or during Brown's Monday press conference (at least the publicly available portion), but the return to health of Cody Johnson and Tre' Newton likely played a big factor. During the game, Monroe was used as a decoy in the jet sweep series -- on the several times Texas ran the plays, Monroe did not receive any carries. At least not having to listen to any excuses is better than the lame stuff the staff was spewing of late.

The pooch punt: It's already been discussed over in the FanPosts, so there isn't a great need to re-hash things here to any large extent. It is worth pointing out that Brown thought he was making the most conservative play from the group of options that included trying a long field goal that could have been blocked, punting with the offense, punting with the normal rocket punt unit, running a fake field goal, or simply going for it. As Brown mentioned, the problem with his conservative option was that Tucker failed to kick the ball out of bounds because the Longhorns wanted to get greedy and pin Nebraska deep in their own territory.

The result, of course, was that the slow group on the field made up mostly of offensive linemen, simply didn't have the footspeed to catch the speed Eric Hagg and the Longhorns ended up with the worst possible scenario by allowing Nebraka back into the game on one play.

In the end, it really wasn't the most conservative choice and, as Scipio pointed out in his Special Teams Post-Mortem, taking a timeout when Nebrsaka showed a return man would have been a logical decision, followed by instructing Tucker to kick the ball out of bounds or taking a delay of man and using the regular punt unit to kick the ball out of bounds, something Texas didn't do well earlier in the season.

T-Magic's Heisman campaign: Poof! The only magic trick performed by the talented Martinez on this day was making his Heisman campaign disappear. So yeah, so much for that.

Any and all receivers on the field in Lincoln: Maybe the footballs were coated in grease before the game. Maybe Bevo snuck into the Nebraska locker room and coated the gloves of the Nebraska receivers with grease. Maybe Brandon Kinnie, Niles Paul, and Rex Burkhead just weren't ready for the big stage, too cognizant of trying to make up for the loss in the Big 12 championship game. There's no doubt about the end result -- three dropped touchdown passes, two of which were easy catches each of those players has most likely made many times in their respective careers.

The Texas receivers fared little better. A perfectly thrown ball from Gilbert right onto the fingertips of James Kirkendoll was predictably dropped, this being a big game and all, marking the second time in two years the senior receiver dropped a touchdown pass against the Huskers. Malcolm Williams made his own mistake, dropping another touchdown pass in another attempt to make sure that his bandwagon is completely empty. On the day, Williams was the only receiver to catch a pass for the team in white, a five-yard gain.

Texas A&M: Somehow, the Aggies managed to control the time of possession and rack up 379 total yards of offfense, not turn the ball over, and still manage to get blown out. On their home field, no less. It was a seven of 21 start for Jerrod Johnson that killed the offense, as well as seven sacks overall. Yikes. The Ags are cratering.

People wearing corn: Looks stupid anyway, looks even worse when matched with a countenance bearing the souring effects of losing.