What could I do about it? Nothing but a pained laugh, although I wished that Mack Brown, his staff and team could see it for motivation. They had traveled by plane and didn't have to make their way through Norman to see the Sooner message.
Just at the moment that I sped underneath the sign, over the radio the executioner involved in the games that produced those lopsided scores was dropping the hammer on another unfortunate Big 12 South team. The voice on the radio informed that it was Oklahoma 49, Texas A&M 0. And there were still 31 seconds left before intermission! First-year Aggie coach Dennis Franchione should have demanded the six-man football rule of stopping the game if the opponent led by 40 at halftime. But it only seemed that A&M played with about half of its regular 11-man compliment in the 77-0 spanking. (I don't think a literal 12th man, much less the figurative one, would have helped the pitiful Ags Saturday vs. OU.)
By nightfall, though, Texas fans had left that other Oklahoma school's sphere and packed into the corners of Oklahoma State's stadium -- I'm sorry, Boone Pickens '$70-Million-Dollar-Donation' Stadium. [Editor's note: If you think the Joe Jamail Arch at DKR is obnoxious, you ought to see the huge with a capital H letters high in the end zone of OSU's stadium recognizing its prominent benefactor.]
Before kickoff, it hit me: this is Vince Young's first road test in a hostile environment. Iowa State was as close to a hostile environment as he'd faced, but the 'Clones didn't have the talent to challenge Texas. Same goes for at Baylor, although there was more Burnt Orange than green there anyway. The Oklahoma game didn't count because 36,000 Texas fans filled half of the Cotton Bowl (at least through the first half of the blowout). And he shined vs. Kansas State and Nebraska, but those performances came in front of the home crowd in Austin. I thought to myself, this baby is loaded in bright orange, all just waiting to pounce on the freshman QB and the rest of the Longhorns. Here, students directly behind the Texas bench beat a padded wall with thunder sticks. And, while I wore a sweatshirt, longjohns under my jeans, a ski cap, gloves and a heavy Texas coat, not one of these crazies had on a shirt in the near freezing, windy, but perfect-for-football night.
Could Vince stand up to this kind of pressure?
Well, simply put, Young didn't flinch in enemy territory.
A lot of that had to do with the zone read play. From my perch high up in the end zone, I could zero in with my binoculars on the middle of the line of scrimmage. It's the perfect spot to see the offensive blocking schemes and defensive alignments. So, this is how the zone read sets up: Young stands tall in the shotgun formation with Cedric Benson 2-3 yards to either his left or right. On the snap of the ball, Benson crosses Young's face and Young puts the football in Cedric's stomach. Young steps with Benson, still holding the ball but reading the defensive end to the side Benson came from. The offensive line blocks in the direction Benson is running laterally. If the defensive end closes toward Benson, Young pulls the ball out and takes off. If the end sits and holds, Benson gets the ball.
Sounds simple -- and the blocking is -- but the quarterback must be very fast. And at times, the hole opens inside the defensive end and that fast quarterback has to be tough enough to take linebacker hits. Vince Young has both qualities. By my unofficial count, Texas ran the play 11 times for 110 yards against the Cowboys. Overall, off the zone read and other running plays, Benson slashed for 180 yards and Young rambled for 92.
Texas again turned in a five-minute-plus offensive drive after halftime that, much like the two long, clock-eating drives last week vs. Nebraska, was Longhorn football at its best.
Also, Nathan Vasher dogged Rashaun Woods every step of every play. And OSU quarterback Josh Fields was under constant pressure and never settled down. After the break, the Cowboy offense was shut down by the Texas forward wall and linebackers Derrick Johnson and Aaron Harris.
Unfortunately, there is nothing the Horns can do about the first score on that sign I saw hanging in Norman until next October. That one is in the books for good. But a serious change is evident in the Texas football program with these Saturdays in November: victories won by toughness, unselfishness and four quarters of intense effort. Texas Tech will experience that this Saturday night in Austin, 41-17.
Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary will appear regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.