LINCOLN, Neb. — Senior defensive end Sam Acho pounded his chest and pumped his fist as he bounced up and down the rows of his stretching teammates, revving them up with encouraging words before kickoff on Saturday. As the team’s inspirational leader on and off the field, Acho takes it upon himself every week to get his teammates ready to play. This week’s pep talk was especially important, as the Longhorns were a rare underdog facing fifth-ranked Nebraska.
“My brother is a great player and a great leader and the whole team feeds off of his emotions,” junior linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. “He’s very emotional in every game, but in this game, he got rollin’ and he got rollin’ early.”
Sam Acho was indeed “rollin’” early. On Nebraska’s first offensive series, he crunched tailback Roy Helu, Jr. and Nebraska ended up going three-and-out. On their second series, the Huskers fumbled at their own 21-yard-line, setting the Longhorns’ offense in prime field position to score a touchdown. The third time was not a charm for Nebraska’s offense, as they went a second three-and-out on the following series.
Heading into Lincoln, Texas knew that if it were going to win, the key to the game was simple: Neutralize quarterback Taylor Martinez, and you stop the entire Nebraska offense. The Longhorns’ defense achieved that goal, holding Martinez, who had been averaging 147.4 rush yards per game, to 21 yards on 13 carries. His passing stats weren’t impressive either, as he went a measly 4-of-12 for 63 yards.
Once the Longhorns took the magic out of T-Magic (Husker fans’ nickname for Martinez), he was eventually replaced by backup senior Zac Lee in the third quarter.
“We had an answer for everything they came out in,” junior safety Blake Gideon said. “Our scheme was to take the legs of Martinez out of the game. Everybody saw what he was able to do to previous teams and we wanted to get into a situation where he was giving it up, putting it in the air. And that’s what we did.”
Nebraska had the nation’s second-best rushing attack before playing Texas, as it averaged 337.6 yards per game. On Saturday, the Longhorns held them to a total of 125, a complete 180-degree turn after allowing UCLA and Oklahoma to combine for 388 yards on the ground.
“We definitely wanted [Martinez] to know that we were going to be here and we were going to be here for four quarters,” Acho said.
After a sluggish start to the season, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was not going to let his defense lie down and take a beating for the rest of the year. He explained that last week’s bye was a perfect way for the team to regroup and get their act on a more consistent basis.
“Our performance had been up and down and we were able to put four good quarters against a really good running football team,” Muschamp said. “We told the players before the game: we execute, we tackle, we win.”
And that’s what Texas did. Through assignment football, minimal mistakes and gameplan execution, the Longhorns were able to take down Nebraska against all odds.
“It just goes to show how good we can be when we play to the Texas standard,” Acho said. “It’s time to get things rolling now and it’s time to play Texas football.”