Bill Little commentary: A win for the team
Nov. 4, 2012
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
LUBBOCK, Texas -- The message, throughout this 2012 season, has never changed for the Texas Longhorns. It has always been about the "team." It has always been about each other. And Saturday before the largest crowd ever to see a game on the South Plains in Lubbock, they won as a team.
Mack Brown has always preached "they will remember November." If that's true, Saturday's events in the Big 12 Conference have set the newly reconfigured league up for a heckuva finish.
National Championship hopes, BCS Bowl hopes, Big 12 Conference title hopes all now are in play (in one way or another) for four of the league's ten teams.
Texas took its record to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in Big 12 play with its 31-22 victory over Texas Tech -- a win which frustrated not only the Red Raiders, but every media member and Vegas odds maker who picked the black and red over the burnt orange and white.
In what Mack Brown, who is now 12-3 against Texas Tech during his time at Texas, called the "best overall team performance of the season," the Longhorns controlled every phase of the game.
It began with creative game plans on both offense and defense, and it was realized by the execution of the play by a young and growing Longhorns team. The offense challenged Texas Tech's defense, which was ranked No. 12 nationally, with precision passing and speed to achieve a 24-13 halftime lead. Meanwhile the Longhorns defense was limiting the high powered Red Raider offense to just 82 yards on 18 second quarter plays.
Since Mack Brown came to Texas, Texas Tech has won three times in Lubbock -- each (42-35 in 1998, 42-38 in 2002 and 39-33 in 2008) came with a dagger-in-the-heart finish. So as the Longhorns offense seemed to stymie in the third quarter and Texas Tech collected a field goal and a touchdown with only 1:35 remaining, it appeared the home team had fought its way back again.
But when cornerback Carrington Byndom broke up a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game at 24 with 1:35 left before the start of the fourth quarter, the UT defense had delivered a major play in the game. It was Texas 24, Texas Tech 22.
The fourth quarter would be the epitome of what Brown, his staff, and the Longhorns have been seeking. When Texas Tech took over at their own 27 with 14:47 left, the Raiders' Seth Doege completed a nine-yard pass to the 36. But when defensive end Cedric Reed stopped running back Kenny Williams for a yard loss and linebacker Steve Edmond broke up a third down pass, what had started with promise for Tech ended in a punt.
Special teams entered the equation when a Tech defender ran into Quandre Diggs as he attempted to catch the Raiders' fourth down punt, and the 15-yard penalty moved the Horns to their own 41.
Riding the feet of freshman Jonathan Gray and sophomore Joe Bergeron for six-of-seven straight running plays, Texas moved to the TT 25. There, Ash found Mike Davis in the end zone for a touchdown that led to a nine point lead.
Still, 9:14 remained in the game, and everything pointed to Texas Tech's ability to score twice in that period of time. The Texas defense, despite more injuries to an already depleted crew, refused to yield easily. It took Doege almost four minutes to drive from his 25 to the Texas two yard line, where a holding penalty negated a touchdown. When Texas stopped Tech at the six following the penalty, the Raiders -- needing nine points -- chose to kick what would appear an automatic field goal.
Three other times, the Texas defense had stiffened and forced Tech to kick a field goal. Three times, Ryan Bustin had made the kick. Three times, Carrington Byndon had raced in, dived, and just missed blocking the kick. This time, he didn't miss. As Bustin prepared to bring the Raiders within six points, Byndom stretched out and knocked down the ball.
The defense had held. The special teams had responded. Now, with 5:15 remaining, it was up to the Texas offense to move out of harm's way.
An axiom of Mack Brown football has always been that to be a great offense, you have to run the ball off your goal, run it going in to score, and run it in the fourth quarter. From its own 20 yard line, Texas began to run. Gray, who was playing on the field where his dad, James, had become a legend as a running back, carried the ball six times and fellow freshman Daje Johnson added a 11-yard run. Texas moved to the Red Raider 33 before David Ash kneeled for the final two snaps of the game to preserve the victory.
The Texas defense held Doege to just one touchdown pass, and the Raiders to two touchdowns. Three times they forced Tech to settle for field goals, and on that last drive they set the table for Byndom's heroics. The unit had five tackles for loss, and Alex Okafor had a sack of Doege. Of the 55 tackles listed on the unofficial team stats, 51 were judged as solo tackles.
Ash opened hitting nine of his first ten passes, and ended the game 11 for 19 for 264 yards. Davis had a personal-best day with four catches for 165 yards and two TDs. Gray was spectacular with his second straight 100-plus rushing game (106 on 20 carries) and two pass receptions for 41 yards. Jaxon Shipley caught the first TD pass from Ash and had two catches for 30 yards.
Punter Alex King averaged 45.8 yards on four punts, and dropped one inside the ten. Byndom's blocked kick kept the Longhorns as the nation's leader in that category.
Back-to-back losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma a month ago had given the Longhorns a "gut check." In such situations, you get to decide where you and going, and who is going with you. The team pulled together, and each phase of the game grasped its role. Saturday, together they won.
There is still much to do in this season of 2012, and as the members of the new Big 12 come to understand the ramifications of a league where everybody plays each other, there is much to be decided.
Consider this: K-State is 6-0, but is dealing with an injury to its star quarterback Collin Klein. The Wildcats play at TCU and at Baylor before taking Thanksgiving weekend off and hosting Texas on Dec. 1 in its final game of the year.
Oklahoma is 4-1 and the Sooners finish the season by hosting Baylor, playing at West Virginia, hosting Oklahoma State and visiting TCU.
Texas is 4-2 and has home games with Iowa State and TCU before going to K-State.
Oklahoma State is 3-2 and hosts West Virginia and Texas Tech before finishing on the road at Oklahoma and Baylor.
Everybody else has at least three losses.
The league has proven to be everything its creators envisioned.
And somewhere in November (or maybe on Dec. 1) it will all sort itself out. As for the Longhorns, they have once again prevailed in Lubbock, in another really good football game between two good college football teams.
As the teams left the field, Mack Brown sought to find Seth Doege to tell him again how much he respected him. David Ash and co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin shared an embrace, and then Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz caught each other with a huge hug.
Football is a game of emotion, and for coaches, it can only be experienced in how their kids play. And on a near-perfect day on the South Plains in Lubbock, their kids had played pretty darn well.