Thirty minutes. That was all that stood between the Longhorns and a potential Big 12 title, Texas's first since 2009. Tied at three as Texas and Baylor went to the locker room, the Longhorns had to win just one half to accomplish their main goal, the one they'd slaved in the heat over, the motivating factor as the weights became heavy, when muscles screamed and sweat poured and adversity abounded. One half hour.
Texas couldn't do it. The Bears won the third quarter 17-0 as the Longhorn offense foundered and the defense found itself gashed in ways it avoided in the low-scoring first half. And though Texas cut the Baylor lead to 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, the Bears closed out by scoring the game's final 10 points to win the Bears' first Big 12 title in the last game played at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Texas doesn't redshirt players as often as other schools, and its current senior class is made up largely of the 2010 recruiting class, players like Case McCoy, Mike Davis, Trey Hopkins, Jackson Jeffcoat, Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips, among others. Those players signed with the Longhorns following a 2009 season that saw Texas make a run to the BCS National Championship game, while Baylor finished last in the Big 12 South with a 1-7 conference record.
Did Byndom, as a high school senior, ever envision that Baylor would win a Big 12 title in his four years on campus?
"This league is crazy," Byndom said, shaking his head. "On any day, any team can beat you at any time. Baylor's one of those teams that kind of came up through the ranks by working hard and they're at where they want to be now."
The gap between the two was made up nearly overnight, as Texas went 5-7 in 2010 and Baylor won seven games, including a victory over the Longhorns in Austin. And while Texas began its rebound the next season, it was Baylor that took a major step forward, winning 10 games and producing the school's first Heisman Trophy winner in Robert Griffin III.
Texas struck back last season, winning nine games and claiming a six-point win over Baylor, helping to set up expectations that the Longhorns in 2013 would be back to their winning ways, when double-digit win seasons and BCS games were the norm … the expectation, rather than the hope and the dream.
And so Texas entered Saturday's game, with both teams knowing the stakes. On a cold, windy field — the temperature was a frosty 26 degrees at kickoff, and workers had to beat the ice off of the metal bleachers with mallets beforehand — it didn't take long for Baylor to ruin any suspense about the previously played Bedlam game. At the 11:01 mark in the first quarter, with Baylor leading 3-0, the public address announcer read the score over the stadium's speakers, letting everyone in attendance, including both teams, know that the game on the field was for the outright Big 12 title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
It shouldn't come as any surprise, then, that both teams played it extremely tight for the rest of the half. Baylor didn't score again, despite a nice first half from quarterback Bryce Petty, while Texas only earned a field goal from 118 first-half rushing yards from Malcolm Brown.
If the Longhorns thought they were going to hold the Bears down for another half, that perception was pretty quickly shattered. Baylor drove 77 yards on 14 plays, capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Petty to Antwan Goodley. That drive was marked by Texas's inability to get off the field — the Longhorns faced four third downs on the drive, including three third-and-longs, with the Bears converting all four. The touchdown pass to Goodley came on a third-and-9 from the 11.
The Longhorns went a quick three-and-out themselves, thanks to a holding penalty on the kickoff and a holding penalty on the Longhorns' second-down play and Baylor fair-caught the punt in outstanding field position at the Texas 47. Four straight runs from Lache Seastrunk gave Baylor a first-and-goal at the 9, with the Bears again converting a third down, this time on a third-down pass from the six to Levi Norwood, upping the score to 17-3. Aaron Jones chipped in a 42-yard field goal before the end of the quarter, helping to take advantage of more excellent field position.
The difference between the two teams in the quarter was staggering. Baylor ran 30 plays for 166 yards (5.5 yards per play) and scored 17 points. Texas ran 11 plays for 35 yards (3.2 yards per play) and was shut out.
Texas did cut the lead to 10 on its next drive. The Longhorns faced a fourth-and-15 at the 16 and elected to kick a field goal, but on the kick, Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman picked up a personal foul. That gave Texas a new set of downs and a first-and-goal from the 8. Even then, the sledding wasn't easy. Three two-yard runs gave Texas a fourth-and-goal from the 2, and Texas's passing play was blown up. Only a tremendous scrambling play from Case McCoy kept things alive, and he found an open Brown for a touchdown.
Baylor tacked on a field goal, then held the Longhorns to a three-and-out on Texas's next drive. The Bears touched the rolling punt, with multiple Texas players diving for the rolling fumble. The Longhorns couldn't quite scoop in the ball before it went out of bounds at the three, costing Texas a great chance to cut the Baylor lead to a touchdown.
Instead, Baylor ran three plays of its own before punting, and Texas's last chance ended when K.J. Morton intercepted a McCoy screen pass, returning it for an apparent touchdown. The referees ruled that he committed unsportsmanlike conduct just before entering the end zone, but the damage was done. On Baylor's first play, Glasco Martin ran in from 18 yards out, sealing the result.
"I thought that with four minutes left we could win, but we muffed the punt fumble and let it go out of bounds when we could've scored," Mack Brown said. "Then we threw the interception that took us out of the ball game. We didn't make the plays that we needed to make."
McCoy finished 12-of-34 for 54 yards and one touchdown to two interceptions, a stark contrast to Petty's line: 21-of-37 for 287 yards and two touchdowns to zero picks.
"We didn't hit any passes," Brown said. "We just weren't consistent on offense at all. It was just an ugly night for us offensively. I'm very disappointed."
"I thought we fought hard, but we made a lot of mistakes and couldn't get rolling early on," McCoy said. "Their offense had the same struggles, but they came out in the second half and got it together but we didn't."
It's been that kind of season for Texas, which needed a stronger arm to cut through the wind, another running back to turn to when Joe Bergeron went out, another linebacker to step up when the Baylor backs — finally healthy themselves — started gashing the Longhorns in the second stanza.
Texas needed one more of a lot of things on Saturday, and that led to the Longhorns falling one short in one other category, wins.
At 8-4, Texas matched its record from a year ago, albeit through much more adversity, from a bevy of injuries to week-in, week-out speculation about Brown losing his job. The 7-2 mark in conference play was a two-game step-up from last season's results, and leaves Texas in a three-way tie for second place in the league.
"I'm proud of the way we played this year, but disappointed in tonight," Brown said.
Which teams will head to which bowls is still up in the air. Does Oklahoma or Oklahoma State get a BCS nod? Does Texas head to the Cotton Bowl, the Alamo Bowl or Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl? We'll find that answer on Sunday.
Of course, there's also that other question, the one that affects Texas for the longer term: what becomes of Brown now?
"I'm not talking about that tonight," Brown said of his future. "I'm in the same position I was for the other 15 times I've been asked."
For his part, Byndom admitted that the Longhorns weren't where they wanted to be, and was straightforward about what the Texas program had to do to get there.
"Win games … that's it," Byndom said. "At the end of the day, it's win games. It doesn't matter about recruiting, coaches or nothing like that. At the end of the day, all that matters is winning."
Baylor — Aaron Jones 22 FG, 11:01 1Q
TEXAS — Anthony Fera 42 FG, 4:31 2Q
Baylor — Antwan Goodley 11 pass from Bryce Petty (Jones kick), 11:14 3Q
Baylor — Levi Norwood 6 pass from Petty (Jones kick), 6:54 3Q
Baylor — Jones 42 FG, 2:47 3Q
TEXAS — Malcolm Brown 2 pass from Case McCoy (Fera kick), 12:38 4Q
Baylor — Jones 28 FG, 9:18 4Q
Baylor — Glasco Martin 18 run (Jones kick), 4:04 4Q