• Photo Showcase: 2010 Big 12 Championship (game action)
• Photo Showcase: 2010 Big 12 Championship (fans)
• Game Stats: Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 20
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ARLINGTON, Texas — They walked slowly off the field and out of the Big 12.
The dream was over. Oklahoma won a classy 23-20 league championship game. The Sooners crowded around the award stand. They took the trophy from Commissioner Dan Beebe. Red and white confetti flew.
The Huskers and their fans shuffled out of Cowboys Stadium with heads bowed. Again. This was a different sort of disappointment than a year ago. But it was heartbreak all the same. Again.
This time, NU could point only the thumb, not a finger.
The Huskers got up 17-0 minutes into the second quarter. They benefited from officials’ call reversal after a replay. The huge Nebraska crowd was rocking the Jerry Dome. It looked like a Big Red kind of night.
But Nebraska couldn’t hold onto prosperity. Or the ball.
Turnovers were a big culprit. There were four. Three fumbles and a very costly interception on which Taylor Martinez scrambled and threw one up for grabs in the end zone. The Kid has to learn to throw those away.
That play, and one of the fumbles, came in Alex Henery range. That cost NU six points.
Then there was the offense. Again.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini started Martinez, who had missed the Colorado game nursing a bum right ankle and turf toe on his left foot.
Made sense. Martinez’s presence would make OU pay attention to him and free up the others on the zone read. And who knows? He might break a big or even medium run.
It worked early. Roy Helu dashed 66 yards off a zone read for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson mixed in some Wildcat with Rex Burkhead.
But then, in a stout defensive match with momentum hanging on every series, Watson tried to turn his running quarterback into Johnny Unitas.
The Kid struggled in the pocket. OU’s pass rush started coming downhill. There were seven sacks. Martinez didn’t help his own cause. He needs to get rid of the ball quicker.
Again, he’s made a name for himself this year on his brilliance in the zone read game. Not usually as a passer.
Certainly, the Sooners sensed that Martinez wasn’t mobile enough to get away.
The situation did not call for NU to start chucking the ball. But if it did, is Martinez your best option?
The best path to a Big 12 title looked like an offense on the shoulders of Burkhead and the Wildcat. But even the sure-handed Burkhead wasn’t immune on this night. He bobbled a snap and fumbled.
In a defensive staredown, field goals were going to be huge. Nebraska had the clear advantage there. OU’s Jimmy Stevens made three field goals. But he also missed a 24-yarder. He’s no Henery. Few are.
Henery didn’t get his shots. Not when Martinez was throwing it 24 times or lying on his back.
One late sack was especially costly. With 6:39 left, Burkhead had run three straight times for 17 yards to the OU 39. Then an incomplete pass and a sack of Martinez for a loss of 8 yards pushed NU out of field goal range.
Or did it?
Did Pelini think about going for a 62-yarder from Henery with just over three minutes left?
“Looking back, I wish we would have,’’ Pelini said later.
He wishes his team would have gotten the snap off sooner on what looked like a fake punt with 7:31 left at the NU 37. Oklahoma saw Anthony West going in motion and called time out. And got it just before the ball was snapped.
Close again. But no BCS bid, again.
Where to now?
There will be plenty of time for Pelini to assess the damage. Certainly, a good place to start is the future of Watson at Nebraska. Nebraska’s offense got in the way again this year. You could blame injuries, but it was more about personnel and game management.
This one hurt. This was a good chance missed. The road through the Big Ten Conference won’t be easier.
But that’s where the bummed-out caravan out of Dallas heads.
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