Survivor! Texas, Young Overcome Kansas State

On a day when QB <B>Vince Young's </B>Heisman hype unofficially began and <B>Roy Williams' </B>probably ended, it finally came down to the longest yard and a too-close-for-comfort reminder that it really is a game of inches. Trailing by four with less than 10 minutes to go after squandering a 14-point halftime lead, there was no doubt on the Texas sideline that they would go for it on fourth down at the Kansas State 1-yard line and there was less doubt in Young's mind that they would make it.

As such, the redshirt freshman with the wrapped ankle pushed across the Wildcat goal line and into the promised land to pull off a come-from-behind 24-20 thriller at DKR, the kind that fans will point to a few years from now when Young is wearing a tux at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club.

Because head coach Mack Brown borrowed a page from Houston Texan coach Dom Capers' playbook and went for it instead of settling for a game-tying FG, Texas lives to see another day

"We felt if you can’t make six inches, you cant win the game," said Mack the Knife.

It was a day when many unsung heroes stepped up to keep Orangebloods from singing the blues as Texas maintained its phenomenal streak of winning every conference home opener since 1967.

"You wouldn’t think, before this game that (SS Phillip) Geiggar, (FL) Tony Jeffery, and Vince Young would make the plays that would make the difference in this game," Brown said.

Nor would you expect old reliables like Nathan Vasher to muff a punt (that should have cost Texas the game), nor would you expect RB Cedric Benson to fumble on the KSU 15 with the game on the line (well, maybe you would) but you certainly would not expect Roy dropping that late fourth-quarter post pattern that hit him squarely in the numbers.

"We had a couple of guys that usually turn the ballgame for us that had a tough day," Brown said.

It’s also hard to fathom another Texas game this season (unless it’s the one next weekend in Dallas) in which there will be bigger plays.

But the real story is just how calm, cool and collected was the redshirt freshman when, on his first national stage, against a nationally ranked and highly determined foe, needing a winning drive in the waning minutes, with not just a game but an entire season at stake. Having negotiated 87 of the 88 requisite yardage, he stares his offensive linemen in the eye screams, "Just push! I promise you I will score this touchdown and we will win this game."

He said that. Friends, this was grace under fire and the reason Texas has a shot next Saturday against Oklahoma.

Coaches kept Young in the game because they decided a running QB was the best way to offset the relentless K-State pursuit and a porous offensive line. Starter Chance Mock did not play poorly (7 of 16 passing for 88 yards, including 1 TD and still no INT on the season). It’s just that he was harassed early and often by a blitzing defense that didn’t stack the line as much as some thought, literally daring Texas to try and beat them with its running game.

Enter Texas' running quarterback.

"We were really disappointed in our protection; it bothered us a lot," Brown said. "That’s why we changed our game plan. That’s why we took Chance out and put Vince in because we weren’t blocking them. We even had some maximum protections where they beat us in the blitz."

That critical five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter is worth a revisit.

Just before that series, Young was helped to the sideline after deftly avoiding a safety but who was then decked at the 3-yard line with his ankle twisted in a nauseatingly odd angle.

"I felt it (ankle) was gone," Young admitted. "I thought it was broken or torn. I went to the sideline and said a little prayer."

He wasn’t the only one.

"I thought he was through," Brown said. "I was really surprised when they came back the next series and told me that Vince was fine."

Both teams would exchange punts. But when Vasher dropped that punt at the 21, who woulda thunk that Texas had a prayer of a chance so late in the game? (Here, the thought actually crossed my mind that Texas would wake up Sunday morning trailing Baylor in the Big 12 standings.)

After Darren Sproles rushed over left end for 5 to the UT 16, Geiggar turned in what may be the biggest defensive play of the year.

"I saw the ball exposed and I took a stab at it," Geiggar said. "We all knew we needed a big play and I was fortunate to make it."

After coming up with the loose ball, Texas took over at the KSU 12 with 9:55 remaining. The Vince Young drive went something like this: Vince rushes over left guard for 6, followed by Williams’ reverse for 7. Young then rushed over right tackle for 10 on a keeper to set up, thus far, the play of the season.

"(Receivers) Coach (Darryl) Drake tells us we never know where the ball’s going to go when the game starts," Jeffery said.

Few could have known that Jeffery would score the first, and last, points of this ballgame. The interesting thing is that neither Young nor offensive coordinator Greg Davis said that Jeffery was the primary receiver on the deep pattern, but Jeffery insisted that he was. Young said the target was TE David Thomas over the middle, but when Jeffery collected that kind of acrobatic reception that he had been making in practice for two-years, the 2003 season was officially off of life-support.

First down at the Kansas State 13. Young’s 4-yard option keeper followed by Benson’s 7-yard draw gave Texas a first down at the two. But then disaster nearly struck when Texas fumbled on the next play. Apparently KSU defenders began barking the cadence and C Jason Glynn prematurely snapped the ball.

"I was shocked," said Young, who quickly fell on the ball. "The defense said something and made Glynn snap the ball."

After Benson’s rush over left guard was stopped for no gain, Brown made what is arguably the gutsiest call of his career. Young’s fourth down quarterback sneak at the 5:19 mark sent most of the sixth largest crowd in DKR history into hysteria, while the outcome may have also healed some fresh wounds for this ball club.

"This is Arkansas relived but we came back after the third quarter to win," Brown said. "We needed a tough win and we needed to come from behind to win."

Others now have even loftier visions for this Texas team.

"I think we’re one of three top teams in nation," Benson said. "Truly I do. I don’t think we really know just how good we are. It’s a big confidence builder. We need to get rid of that ‘soft’ talk and move on."

At the very least, it keeps next Saturday’s game against you-know-who as another nationally significant contest.

"I told our players to enjoy this win and not talk about OU," Brown said. "This was a great win over a Top 20 team. We’ll start talking about OU after watching film (Sunday)."

So, do we still have a quarterback rotation or a controversy? Or a new starter behind center? For the umpteenth time, Brown said coaches will make that kind of decision during game week. But the gut-level feeling here is that Mock will start against the Sooners, but which QB was sent into the fray when Texas needed an 88-yard game-winning drive? Young could receive most of the snaps in Dallas.

Arguably, the first half turned on Richmond McGee’s 58 yard punt after a false start penalty doomed a Texas drive that started on its own six-inch line. While Wildcat P Jared Brite launched a pair of 51-yarders, it was McGee’s two first-quarter punts that averaged a jaw-dropping 56-yards that swung the critical battle for field position in Texas’ favor.

As I commiserated with worried pre-game Burnt Orange tailgaters, my comment was that I picked the Horns by 7 but that the Horns would need a score from either their defense or special teams. The latter came through. Texas jumped on the scoreboard first when CB Michael Huff blocked Brite’s punt attempt that Jeffery recovered in the end zone with 4:05 remaining in the first half.

Texas’ special teams and defense have accounted for 42 points this season. Meanwhile, Vasher’s 15-yard punt return in the first quarter set a new school record for career punt return yardage at 1,082 yards (breaking Eric Metcalf’s old mark of 1,076).

Junior Dusty Mangum converted on just his second FG attempt of the season, and his first since the season-opener against New Mexico State, when he made it 10-0 with 12:55 remaining until intermission.

Overshadowed by Geiggar’s forced fumble and recovery was the huge second quarter defensive stop when KSU was stuffed inside the Texas 12 on two successive rushing attempts with inches needed for the first. The defense turned a Sproles draw play outside to the right where Geiggar and Vasher met him for no gain. Then, on fourth-and-one-sixteenth-of-a-millimeter, QB Ell Roberson ran into SLB Reed Boyd for no gain. The 9-play, 52-yard drive came up empty for the ‘Cats.

"I’m still jacked up," defensive coordinator Carl Reese said. "It’s gonna take a while for me to come down. I thought it was a great game because if the defense made a mistake, someone else would cover. We made some mistakes but each part of the other teams held it off for a while."

But that huge momentum-builder amounted to a three-play, two-yard drive for the Horns. Taking over on their own 45, Roberson engineered a 7-play drive that resulted in Joe Rheem’s 31-yard FG.

With 61 seconds remaining until halftime, you wondered when Texas would air out the ball and beat K-State deep like they did in last season’s 17-14 win. KSU was dropping back into a two-deep zone and Roy Williams essentially functioned as the perfect decoy and was kept out of the end zone for the second time this season (Arkansas shut him out). But you knew one of those world-class receivers would have to come up big like B.J. Johnson did in 2002.

That’s when Mock found SE Sloan Thomas on a deep pattern, resulting in a 51-yard TD grab. Mangum’s PAT made it 17-3 and the route was on, right?

It took Vasher’s end zone interception with seven seconds left in the first half to turn back a 6-play, 62-yard drive. It was the 14th INT of his career, leaving him three thefts shy of tying Noble Doss’ 62-year old all-time record.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Memorial Stadium the Horns endured as excruciating a third quarter as you hope never to see again. After the K-State defense forced a three-and-out, Sproles (a game-leading 128 yards on 24 totes) raced 16 yards on an option pitch to the Texas 23. Following a delay penalty, QB Ell Roberson (the game’s second leading rusher with 87 yards on 17 carries) showed what he does best on a 27-yard TD run in which Texas tacklers revealed what they do worst: wrapping up. Roberson’s highlight reel run, in which he juked and spun and bounced off at least five would-be defenders who apparently had not received the memo that you can use your hands when attempting a tackle.

That made it 17-10 with less than three minutes gone in the third quarter.

Aaron Harris replaced Brian Robison (is there another MLB in the house?) after he hurt his shoulder on Roberson’s TD run but returned toward the end of the fourth quarter.

Texas picked up one first down on its next series with Mock’s 12-yard completion to Williams (incredibly, his longest reception of the day). But on 4th-and-11, SS Rashad Washington blocked McGee’s punt attempt that went into the end zone for a safety. Suddenly, the ‘Cats were within five and had all the momentum in the world with 9:56 remaining in the third.

But the defense stepped up, forcing a three-and-out as Harris leveled Roberson just as he released the ball. Young entered the game but the 9-play, 55-yard drive ended in a RB Cedric Benson’s fumble at the KSU 15, the Texas RB's third cough-up of the season.

"I was disappointed in myself because we were so close to getting a touchdown," Benson said. "I knew I couldn’t let it sit on my shoulder. I had to shake it off and move on."

Although the defense held, Brite launched a 66-yard punt that pinned Texas at its own 11. And after McGee managed just a 30-yard punt to the UT 49, the third quarter came to a merciful end with the field position clearly in K-State’s favor. FS Dakarai Pearson returned to the game on the final play of the third quarter after sitting out since the opening frame.

"We didn’t play well in third quarter," Brown said, "but give them credit for coming out and doing what they needed to do."

The 'Cats weren’t done. On 3rd-and-7 from the Texas 46, Roberson’s perfectly called bubble screen pass to WR Terry James carried all the way to the Texas one. Roberson’s QB sneak and two-point conversion were good and the Horns trailed for the first time with 58 seconds eclipsed from the fourth quarter.

But that only set up Young’s fourth quarter heroics.

"I thought he grew up as the game went on," Davis said. "Obviously, he can do so many plays off schedule. His ability to avoid the rush was the reason we went with him in the third and fourth quarter."

The Texas defense, meanwhile, gave up enough rushing yards to lose (209 yards on 42 attempts) but held KSU to just 1-of-12 third down conversions while coming up with three turnovers (two INT plus Geiggar’s game-saving forced fumble and recovery).

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