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Triple Option

The teams to beat in the Big 12? Texas, Oklahoma and, most of all, Nebraska, thanks to a reborn ground attack

Will Muschamp and Greg Davis sat at opposite ends of an interview table and opposite ends of the emotional continuum late last Saturday night. Muschamp, the Texas defensive coordinator, leaned back and basked in the performance of his unit, which held Texas Tech's potent offense to 144 total yards in the No. 6 Longhorns' 24--14 win. Davis, the Texas offensive coordinator, hunched forward, a look of consternation on his face after the Longhorns' turnover-filled night in which they were held to a season-low 320 yards.

Muschamp and Davis were in the same positions nine months ago after the Big 12 championship game. The Texas defense had shone against Nebraska; the offense had done just enough to avoid disaster and squeak out a win against the 14-point underdog. But when those two teams meet again on Oct. 16, in Lincoln, it will be the Huskers and not the Horns who will be the team to beat in the Big 12.

While Texas has struggled to find its offensive groove since Garrett Gilbert replaced Colt McCoy at quarterback, Nebraska has tilted the balance of power in the conference by building a scoring machine to complement its already stingy defense. Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez, a redshirt freshman, looked like a senior on Saturday against Washington, running for 137 yards and three touchdowns in a 56--21 win (the team's third straight dominant performance). A scan of last week's box score would suggest the Huskers had time-warped back to 1995: 54 rushes for 383 yards, seven completions (on 11 attempts) for 150.

But former coach Tom Osborne hasn't stepped down from the athletic director's office to reinstall the triple option. Rather, Martinez and backs Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead have flummoxed defenses with the zone-read option. "It's confusing to the front seven," Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant said after his team allowed Martinez, Helu (110) and Burkhead (104) to each break the 100-yard rushing mark. "And because their quarterback is elusive, we had to account for him just as much as the running backs."

Everyone in the Big 12 must now account for a Nebraska team that seems to have filled the only hole it had entering the season—the offense. The conference title in recent years has often come down to the winner of the Oklahoma-Texas showdown in Dallas every October. This season, however, the survivor of that game may be still seeing red.

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TAYLOR MADE With Martinez, a redshirt freshman, at QB, the Huskers have been running away from opponents.