Bill Little Commentary: They're here
Nov. 1, 2009
STILLWATER, Okla. -- If this were a prize fight – this football game played on a ghosts and goblins Halloween crystal clear night before a record crowd in Oklahoma State’s Boone Pickens Stadium – then the two teams sparred through the first quarter like fighters sizing each other up.
In fact, the first stanza of the ball game ended with the teams trading field goal attempts (Texas’ Hunter Lawrence made his; Oklahoma State did not, and that’s why it was 3-0) and with the statistics exactly even. Texas had rushed for nine yards and passed for 42, and Oklahoma State had rushed for 42 and passed for nine.
The first knock down of the fight came early in the second quarter, just when it appeared the Cowboys were about to get something going. That was when Sam Acho ripped the ball from Oklahoma State’s Hubert Anyiam after OSU had completed a pass near midfield. Blake Gideon recovered the fumble, and the Longhorns were 53 yards away from a touchdown.
But when Oklahoma State countered with a 10-yard sack of quarterback Colt McCoy, now that distance was 63 yards. McCoy answered with a nine-yard run, and then a perfect third-down strike for a great Jordan Shipley catch for 16 yards. Texas would not face another third down on the drive, and when Cody Johnson punched the ball across the goal line for the first Longhorn TDs, Texas had a 10-0 lead.
That was when the second knock down came. I remember an old country song about a young boxer that went something like, “Come on kid, hit him with a left and a right.” Take your pick. The offense was one; the defense was the other. And the defense was about to body punch its way into domination.
Oklahoma State was in the midst of an 11-play drive that had covered 43 yards to the Texas 30 when it happened. Zac Robinson, the Cowboys’ quarterback, fired a short out route to the UT 23, and Longhorns defensive back Curtis Brown timed his break perfectly and intercepted the ball. A convoy of blockers soon formed, included defensive end Sergio Kindle who ran step for step with Curtis and shoved Robinson out of his way at the Oklahoma State five.
The 77-yard return had made the score 17-0, but Robinson got off the canvas and let his team to a touchdown on the next possession to cut the lead back to 10 points at 17-7.
When Texas got the ball back at its own 20, just over two minutes remained in the opening half.
Throughout the history of college football, the game has begun with the flip of a coin. For years, that meant that the winner of the coin toss got to choose to take the ball, or which end it wanted to play from – which usually meant that team would kick. Some years ago, the rules committee inserted another option: You could decide to forego your choice at the beginning and elect to make that decision at the half. That procedure is called “deferring,” and it has been a favorite tactic of Texas. The strategy is based on the fact that a solid defense often will stymie the opening drive, and force a punt to a short field at the start of the game.
But for Brown, the optimum comes in the last several minutes of the first half, and the first minutes of the second. In other words, drive the ball for a score just before the half ends, and then take the kickoff and drive to a score to start the second half.
In football language it may be called “deferring.” But in a fight like the battle for the lead in the Big 12 South Division Saturday night, it’s called, “A knockout punch.”
Malcolm Williams’ spectacular touchdown reception ended the first half at 24-7, and when Hunter Lawrence booted a 40-yard field goal to conclude a drive that ate up four-and-a-half minutes to start the second half, Texas had a 27-7 lead. Two plays later, the defense finished the Pokes when Earl Thomas intercepted Robinson again and returned it for a nation-leading ninth defensive or special teams score. It was 34-7.
Before the quarter was over, Blake Gideon would intercept Robinson and return the ball 31 yards to the Cowboy 15. From there, McCoy would utilize the power running of Johnson to make it 41-7.
With that, all of the demons of last year’s last second loss at Texas Tech were denied a chance to repeat their assorted evilness. The Longhorns had slammed the creatures in the mouth by creating five turnovers to turn all of the would-be spooks and their tricks into treats, and they slugged it out with OSU with defense on the left and offense on the right and special teams in between. On one of those rare occasions in the game of football, the statistics did not tell the story; the scoreboard did. Oklahoma State actually had more total yards than Texas (277-275) and held the ball for 33:16 minutes to 26:44. But again, Texas continues to score on special teams and defense, which means fewer offensive possessions – which is just fine with McCoy and his teammates on that side of the ball. They will swap a score for a snap any time.
While their season is far from over, the Longhorns closed the second phase of a year that Brown has broken into three parts with authority. The mid-range run had started with Colorado and included three games away from home against quality opponents. They had outslugged Oklahoma, 16-13, in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, and then steamrolled Missouri 41-7 and OSU 41-14.
Often in the case of the game of football, it seems that the offensive and defensive units take turns rescuing each other. In this game, both did their job, as did the special teams. The offense had the ball for only 56 plays because the defense was busy scoring touchdowns, but it averaged 4.9 yards per play. The Longhorns average starting field position in the third quarter when the game was put away was the Texas 47. Oklahoma State’s average starting position in that period was its own 23.
Texas had come to Stillwater with a purpose, and the Longhorns had fulfilled it. The 21-point second quarter established that the come-from-far-behind efforts Texas had needed in its previous four trips to Stillwater would not be necessary.
It didn’t take long for Mack to re-focus his efforts to that critical remaining third of the regular season. He was quickly reminding fans about the 11 a.m. kick this coming Saturday when the Longhorns play a rare late season non-conference game against Central Florida in Austin. The game was flipped prior to the season so that Texas and Texas Tech could play what was thought to be a marquee September night game. Following that, Texas will play at Baylor, host Kansas, and finish the regular season on Thanksgiving night at Texas A&M.
Brown’s point of emphasis is that the UCF game has become a national showcase game about the Longhorns’ campaign to remain in contention for national honors. But he has also reminded fans that Saturday’s Veterans Day celebration game and the game later in the month against Kansas will be the final chance in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium to see stars like McCoy, Shipley, Kindle and the other seniors on this team.
Mack and the team will still be the first to say that as well as they played Saturday, there is still improvement that can be made. Besides the UCF game, the Longhorns still have three Big 12 games remaining before they can even look toward postseason play. But in a year when pundits and fans are weighing the pros and cons of the leading teams in college football, Texas' win in Stillwater sent a Halloween-inspired message with a swagger to the rest of its schedule, and the nation in general.
So with all of that conversation about the various teams who sit among the few unbeaten teams in the nation, Halloween night in Stillwater found the Longhorns bringing a swagger and a confidence into a hostile environment.
With that, what they did in their statement game before the sellout crowd and a national television audience was to borrow a phrase from a horror show that was voted one of the top 100 movie lines of all time.
As the little girl said in the movie Poltergeist: