That was the key and the obvious difference-maker in this year's Holiday Bowl as the Longhorns went on to beat the Bears 21-10 Wednesday. It was UT's first bowl win in three seasons.
Once again, Texas' defense took on the persona of a get-out-of-jail-free card, bailing the offense out of mishaps and missed opportunities. That's kind of been the theme for the Longhorns all season.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz should have won the game's MVP honors. His unit forced five turnovers, sacked Cal quarterback Zach Maynard six times, flustered go-to receiver Keenan Allen and held the Bears to a net of seven yards rushing on 36 attempts.
"There is a huge difference between 8-5 and 7-6," Mack Brown said after the game.
Indeed there is. This win springboards Texas into the spring with confidence. The Longhorns return most of their starters who are underclassmen that will only mature in time.
One of the most important youngsters heading into 2012 is quarterback David Ash who started the bowl game over Case McCoy. McCoy had started in the Longhorns' last two regular season games against Texas A&M and Baylor.
Ash began the night a bit shaky, but caught a touchdown pass and also threw for one score to lead Texas to victory and earned himself offensive MVP honors. Ash, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 142 yards, didn't turn the ball over once against a good Cal defense.
Ash caught a 4-yard pass from wide receiver Jaxon Shipley in the second quarter. Texas faced a first-and-goal when Ash handed off to Malcolm Brown who handed off to Shipley as if they were running a reverse. Ash ran wide right and walked right into the end zone. It was Shipley's third touchdown pass of the year.
The play was just good old-fashioned trickery from offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who knows how to give Texas a chance to win by pulling out his misdirection plays at the right time.
"He's got toys in the pocket that he's going to take advantage of things when he can," Mack Brown said of Harsin. "If you're not moving the ball, he's got some imagination in the offense to make a play."
Ash's other impressive play came in the third quarter when he found Marquise Goodwin streaming downfield for a 47-yard touchdown pass to give the Longhorns a 14-10 lead.
Later in the half, cornerback Adrian Phillips forced Maynard to fumble and Chris Whaley recovered. As Texas took over at the Cal-40, Goodwin ran for 37 yards and Cody Johnson had a 3-yard gain before finding the end zone on the next play. It was the only turnover the Texas offense converted into a score.
Cal took the lead as play resumed after halftime. But it was brief, as Texas answered on their next series, which was Ash's long throw to Goodwin for a touchdown.
The Bears lost four of six fumbles and freshman cornerback Quandre Diggs intercepted Maynard in the first half. Teams who turn the ball over that much do not give themselves a chance to win.
Maynard summed it all up perfectly in the post-game: "It's hard to overcome turnovers…It's hard to build momentum."
Wire reports contributed.
For more coverage, follow Laken Litman on Twitter!