It's been a long season for the Longhorns, who have battled a massive number of injuries, a coordinator change mid-season and rampant coaching rumors. And yet, after Thursday night's 41-16 handling, Texas is just one win away from clinching at least a share of the Big 12 Championship.
"Proud of our team … proud of the way they fought," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "A lot of guys are banged up. End of the year. At least they've given themselves an opportunity to go to Waco and play for a championship."
While the final score was certainly rosy, Texas earned its chance for a one-off by muddying things up against one of the Big 12's most explosive offenses, a team that came in averaging a whopping 400 yards passing. The Longhorns themselves relied on a power running game, toting the ball 61 times for 281 yards and three touchdowns, with Malcolm Brown (27-128) and Joe Bergeron (17-102) each eclipsing the century mark. That meant the Longhorns only had time for 20 passes.
"We saw in the four previous games, I think [Tech allowed] 271, 281, 290, and 340 [rushing yards] against the four previous opponents," said Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. "It's not a pretty brand of ball, it's not very stylish, but it's what we had to do.
"Give credit to Malcolm and Joe," Applewhite said. "Both those guys had over 100 yards, ran the ball well, and protected the ball well for the most part. Offensive line did a great job. Wide receivers did a good job downfield blocking. Not going to fall in love with ourselves after this game, just got to keep going."
When Texas threw, the Longhorns weren't über-efficient, but they did average 16.5 yards per completion, thanks in large part to a 43-yard bomb from receiver Jaxon Shipley to a pretty well-covered Mike Davis.
"That was probably the best ball thrown all night," joked Applewhite, sitting next to quarterback Case McCoy on the dais. "No, he did a great job. You know, it was lucky it set up that way on the right hash. He made a great throw. Case had helped a little bit with pass protection."
Davis, who scalped Texas Tech with four catches for 165 yards and two scores a year ago, had four catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns, including a 47-yard touchdown near the end of the first quarter that gave Texas its first lead, one the Longhorns didn't ever relinquish. McCoy finished 10-of-19 for 139 yards and the two TD passes to Davis, though the most important stat for him was zero, as in the number of turnovers he committed.
"I understand I didn't give my team a chance to win last week," McCoy said. "That's hard to take, especially as a senior. That's not your job. Your job is to take care of the ball and manage the game, like I said I did tonight. It's good in this stadium to bounce back and have a game like that. When you got two backs that rush for a hundred yards, it's easy to have a bounce-back game."
In fact, the one major thorn in the Longhorns' side, as it was two weeks ago in Texas's blowout loss to Oklahoma State, was special teams. Tech didn't score an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter, when the game was already decided. And the Red Raiders scored all 10 of their pre-fourth quarter points thanks to Longhorn gaffes in the third phase of the game, including the opening score, when Texas Tech punter Ryan Erxleben ran 51 yards for a touchdown.
And Texas Tech scored just as the halftime cannon boomed on a Ryan Bustin 32-yard field goal, aided by a roughing the punter penalty that continued a dead drive.
The Longhorns also struggled a bit with turnovers, losing two fumbles, though they actually won the turnover battle 3-2.
Other than that, the Longhorns largely had the game under control. Texas's defense often had three defensive ends on the field, with end Jackson Jeffcoat playing the part of a roving second-line blitzer. He had three sacks, helping to buoy the Longhorns to a nine-sack night, the most sacks allowed by Tech this millennium.
"It was what we call our spinner package," said defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. "We did it here in 2004. As a matter of fact, we did it against Tech. It just gives you some different options, you know. It creates a different style of defense to the offense, how they block and those kinds of things. We were fortunate for most times that it helped us."
"Sometimes you get home, sometimes you're feeling it," said Jeffcoat of the defense's big night. "Like my dad always says, like Coach (Brown) always says, it comes in bunches. Keep going, keep hunting for sacks."
But the Texas defense was far from a one-trick pony: the Longhorns allowed just 5.8 yards per passing attempt and only allowed the Red Raiders to convert 5-of-18 third downs. Then there was this: Erxleben was Tech's leading rusher for the game. Other than his 51-yard run, Tech ran 27 times for 43 yards, or 1.6 yards per carry.
The Red Raiders did throw for 302 yards as a team, but even that was nearly 100 yards below Tech's average.
"We knew what we were capable of," said senior cornerback Carrington Byndom. "So we knew that we needed to come with a good performance tonight, and I think we did that."
Back when the Longhorns lost to BYU and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks, and Texas sat at 1-2 after non-conference play, Brown implored his team to focus on the fact that their primary preseason goal — winning the Big 12 Championship — was still in front of them. And the 'Horns bunkered in with a one-week-at-a-time mentality. That helped them get through the Big 12 unscathed until the Longhorns lost to the Cowboys by 25 points. Even after that defeat, one that could have crushed the spirit of the team, Texas responded well against Texas Tech, claiming a 25-point win. One game at a time.
"It's big," Jeffcoat said of the win. "Like we said before, we're still in the race. We had to win this one. Like I said earlier this week, it was a must win. We have to win the next one."
Now, Texas has just one test left, a road trip to Baylor with plenty to play for. There's a share of the Big 12 title to consider, and if Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma and Texas wins, an outright league title. For the Bears, it's not just Senior Night, but also the final game played at Floyd Casey Stadium before Baylor moves into cushier new digs next season.
Win, and the Longhorns get a Big 12 Championship trophy, whether it's as a split or a full title. But Brown admitted that the Longhorns were too focused on championship scenarios when they prepared for Oklahoma State, and said that Texas needed to instead focus on how to win the Baylor game, rather than the awards that could potentially follow.
"What we have to do is talk about the preparation instead of the rewards," Brown said. "You got to play well. Baylor is a very good football team. It will be interesting to watch them play TCU on the road this weekend. But we've got to play well because they're a great team. So there's no reason to talk about the rewards at the end unless you win the game. So let's go and talk about what we need to do to win the game."
Texas Tech — Ryan Erxleben 51 run (Ryan Bustin kick), 9:44 1Q
TEXAS — Anthony Fera 37 FG, 6:00 1Q
TEXAS — Mike Davis 47 pass from Case McCoy (Fera kick), 0:11 1Q
TEXAS — Fera 49 FG, 8:18 2Q
TEXAS — Joe Bergeron 12 run (Fera kick), 3:07 2Q
Texas Tech — Ryan Bustin 32 FG, 0:00 2Q
TEXAS — McCoy 1 run (Fera kick), 10:04 3Q
TEXAS — Davis 7 pass from McCoy (Fera kick), 14:56 4Q
TEXAS — Tyrone Swoopes 1 run (Fera kick), 4:22 4Q