The Horns have a history of September letdowns largely because past Texas teams looked ahead and thus overlooked teams like Tech. That lack of respect allowed less talented but better prepared teams to stun the Horns. But Saturday, the Red Raiders walked off the field in a stupor. The Tech coaches and players truly believed they would win the game, but those beliefs may have been based on an outdated outlook about the team in Orange and White.
During the week leading up to the Tech game, this group of Horns did not utter a single word to the media about Oklahoma. Mack Brown would not answer any questions relating to next Saturday's shootout, saying it would be foolish of him to preach to his team the importance of the Tech game while doing interviews about next week's match-up. Shoot, Brown and the Texas coaches did such a good job at focusing the guys on the Red Raiders that it was almost impossible to get the UT players to look ahead to the OU game after the Tech game was in the bag.
That game-to-game focus may explain why this Texas team is the first in 16 years to make it to the Cotton Bowl for the Oklahoma game without a loss and it may also explain why this is the first Longhorn squad since the 1983 national championship contender to open the season 4-0.
"I think this team is more focused than last year's team," Roy Williams said post-game. "That comes from the loss of Cole (Pittman). That's caused us to come together."
Focus alone does not win football games, though. Talent and execution, of course, also play a part, and the Horns put both on display at several spots Saturday night, starting with Simms.
The Texas QB opened the game by completing 10 of 10 for 121 yards, leading the Horns to scores on their first three offensive possessions of the game, and the defense, despite surrendering an early TD to the visitors, clamped down on the Red Raiders with a 3-4 defensive scheme backed up with a surprisingly high percentage of zone coverage.
Greg Davis wasn't prepared post-game to declare the performance Simms' best in the Orange and White -- the offensive coordinator said, "I think his best game is yet to come" -- but the numbers provide the proof. UT's junior QB completed 21 of 26 pass attempts for 224 yards and a TD. He ran for two other scores.
Davis said his signal caller is literally getting better each week largely because he's playing within himself rather than forcing plays. Tonight, for the first time this season, Simms did not even once throw a downfield pass into the hands of a defender.
Simms, though, put the ball into the hands of his receivers on just about every attempt. Of the five Simms tosses that didn't end up in the hands of a Texas receiver, two should have been caught, one was an overthrow of Roy Williams deep, one was a throw away and the other was an INT of a ball batted at the line of scrimmage. Essentially, that's three what could be called "bad" passes on the night.
Actually, one of the throws during his game-opening, consecutive completion streak forced Roy to snatch the ball from the upper reaches of the atmosphere, but the 6-5 receiver soared and hauled it in for a 23 yard completion, one of 10 catches for the sophomore wideout. Williams totaled 98 yards and one TD on those 10 receptions. The Raider DBs played off the line of scrimmage most of the night, leaving the hitch route to Roy wide open.
Coming into the Tech game, Williams had 13 catches for 157 yards, a somewhat below-expectations three-game performance from the player Mel Kiper tabbed as the best in college football before the start of the season. Brown earlier in the week called that Kiper hype unfair to his sophomore wideout, but although the tag may not yet be an accurate one, teams often play Roy as if he is the top player in the country and can beat them deep on every snap. The Horns exploited that tendency early and often against Tech to set the offensive tempo of the game. Simms connected with Williams five times for 47 yards on the Horns' opening drive and then twice more, including a 40-yard TD, on UT's answering drive after the Red Raiders had cut the Texas lead to 14-7 early in the second quarter.
The Davis gameplan used another Williams to near perfection in the first half. Ivan Williams had eight touches on UT's first two drives, totaling 68 yards on runs of eight, 10, five, six, two, 30 and seven yards (plus a couple of no-gainers). Ivan finished the game with 152 yards on 26 carries and two TDs, all career highs. For the season, Ivan has 394 rushing yards and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
The Texas offensive coordinator said the goal going in, obviously achieved, was to keep the Tech D guessing.
Carl Reese's defensive unit also threw a few change-ups at the Raider offense, playing a 3-4 lineup and about 95-percent zone behind the front seven for the majority of the game. With a three-man front of Cory Redding, Marcus Tubbs and Kalen Thornton, the Horns opened the game with true freshman Derrick Johnson joining seniors D.D. Lewis, Everick Rawls and Tyrone Jones in the starting line-up at linebacker. Fittingly, Johnson stuffed Tech tailback Ricky Williams for no gain on the Raiders' second play and finished the game as the Horns' leading tackler with nine stops, including two TFLs.
Reese said the 3-4 scheme, with two 'backers mirrored to the right and left, balanced out the D against the run and put the LBs in position to blitz or drop into coverage, putting pressure on Kliff Kingsbury in his decision making process. The Tech QB made mostly good decisions, completing 40 of 57 passes without throwing an INT, but he managed just 260 yards (6.5 per completion) because Horns' effort to keep everything in front of the defenders.
The Texas pass rush didn't get to Kingsbury for a sack until late in the game (and it was, who else, Derrick Johnson), but the D by design often only sent two or three rushers against the Raiders' five OLs, limiting the chance for sacks. Reese said the idea was to get his athletic and speedy linebackers in space and allow them to make plays, which they did. Johnson (nine), Lewis (nine), Rawls (six) and Jones (five) combined for 29 tackles.
The Horns particularly held Tech's Williams in check. The senior RB gained 42 yards on the ground on just five carries, but he only totaled 15 yards on nine receptions. Overall, the Raiders finished with just 297 yards of total offense and only 83 of those came after the break. Texas totaled 433 yards on offense.
After the game, Simms, asked how tough it was to focus on Tech with so many folks around the country salivating about the prospect of an undefeated UT -OU match-up the following week, said, "The great thing about this team is we haven't been a team to discuss that. We are focused on our opponent each week, we approach each game as a big game and we will approach (the Oklahoma) game that way."
By retaining their focus and taking care of business through September, Simms and the Horns have ensured that Texas-OU will have national championship implications on both sides of the ball, something that before Saturday night was simply talk.
[Editor's note: IT's regular analysis pieces on the performance of the offense, the defense and the special teams, will be posted throughout the day on Sunday.]