Bill Little commentary: Pillars of success
Oct. 25, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Columbia, Mo. – They stand there, together and apart, amid the brushed painting of the leaves of autumn, symbols of another time. And yet, not.
At each end of picturesque Eighth Street near the historic district of downtown Columbia, Mo., are stately columns, the remnants of a union of college and civic history. One set is the most recognized tribute to the University of Missouri, the first university in America founded west of the Mississippi River. The pillars were preserved after the university’s first building was destroyed by fire in 1892.
The other set was turned into a monument after the Boone County Courthouse was torn down in the early 1900s. In their own way, the two stanchions are a matched set.
Now, if you are wondering what this has to do with the Longhorns’ 41-7 victory over the Missouri Tigers before more than 70,000 homecoming fans and a national television audience Saturday night, think offense at one end of the street, defense at the other, and great special teams play in between.
And right there among the panorama of fall color and the grand tradition of college football on a campus that remembered the homecoming king and queen, the Texas Longhorns played a statement game that paired the pillars of the sport in a most convincing way.
The picture on Eighth Street is strong if you look in either direction, but it becomes special when both sets of columns are in view.
So it is with the best of college football, and that is exactly what Texas played on Saturday night. The Longhorns defense, which had been excellent the week before in the victory over Oklahoma, continued its superlative play. But the portrait of the team was enhanced by the performance of the Texas offense, and the special teams.
One complements the other. When the offense is effective, as it was in the first quarter against Missouri, it sets up the defense. Texas kept the ball for almost 11 minutes of the initial period, scoring three touchdowns on drives that covered just a little over 60 yards apiece. That meant that when the defense was on the field, it was fresh, and ready to attack.
The performance of the special teams recently has been all about field position, but the “Special Forces” unit named for World War II veteran Frank Denius has never been more effective. Where Texas averaged starting at its own 31-yard line for the game, Missouri started at its own 23.
When Mack Brown named the defensive player of the game at the team meeting on Sunday, his coaching staff had given the honor to the entire defense. Missouri, which had exhibited a high-powered attack coming into the game, was limited to just 173 total yards, including only 74 rushing and 99 passing.
Texas converted 7-of-14 third downs; Mizzou just 4-of-12.
Mack had stressed that this Missouri game was the beginning of a new season for the 7-0 Longhorns. With that game, Texas was embarking on a stretch of games that will include four of six games played on the road.
Now, Texas prepares to travel to Oklahoma State to meet the 6-1 Cowboys, the highest-ranked team they have been matched with on the road since last year’s Texas Tech game in Lubbock. Raw memories of that encounter were in evidence in the team meeting on Sunday, as Texas acknowledged where it is in the national rankings, and yet they were constantly reminding themselves of the loss in the final second to Tech in Lubbock a year ago that cost them a chance to play for the national title.
Quickly, the focus was not on what had been accomplished, but rather on what remains to be done.
The victory over Missouri was a validation of McCoy, who has rarely been sharper in his on-the-field performance that mirrored his steady leadership. The win tied Colt with Peyton Manning for third place in all-time victories by a starting college quarterback, and left him just four victories shy of the all-time NCAA record.
Mack Brown’s teams continued their remarkable road success in the Big 12. The victory was the 28th in 32 true road games (not including neutral-site games). That streak includes a league-record string of 13 straight from 2002 through 2006. The Horns are 32-6 in league road contests under Brown.
Looming now is the challenge in Stillwater against an OSU team whose only loss this season came in an upset to Houston.
But as the Longhorns began their swing into the final six games of the regular season, they were effectively dominating in all phases of the game.
History tells us that after the fire destroyed that building on the campus of the University of Missouri, the “Quad” as it is called, became the most recognized site at the college. The mirror image of the courthouse pillars at the other end of Eighth Street proved a fine complement to the architecture. And when they tore down the 60-year-old courthouse in the early 1900s, its columns were destined for the junk heap.
But the citizens of Columbia protested, and today, the matching columns stand – providing the perfect picture amid the leaves of Eighth Street. One set was pretty, but it wasn’t the same without the other.
Kind of like a football team with its offense and defense, with special teams in the middle, it can been good with one, but it works a lot better with solid pillars at both ends.