"I'm not sure we played a more physical game against a good football team and a rival team than that one tonight," Brown said.
But the day belonged to Benson. Behind a surging offensive front, Benson was a human battering ram, pummeling the Big 12's worst rush defense early and often.
"They wore out after the first couple of carries I had in the first quarter," Benson said. "I mean, they were coming up and trying to make plays but they just didn't seem like the same A&M team."
Benson easily surpassed his previous best 213 yards set his freshman year against Kansas and notched Texas' fourth-highest single-game rushing total against the defense formerly known as the Wrecking Crew.
"He made two or three runs where he was bottled up, I mean he was tackled, and he came out of it, especially down around the goal line," Brown said. "He just took over the game in the second half."
Benson's 35-yard TD run in the fourth quarter was his 20th scoring jaunt of the season, surpassing Earl Campbell's 18 rushing TDs (1977) and trailing only Ricky Williams' totals set in 1998 (27) and 1997 (25). Benson now has 1,277 yards on the year (No. 7 on Texas' single-season rushing list), becoming the first Longhorn to post three 1,000-plus campaigns in his first three years.
"I wasn't gonna be denied today," Benson said. "This is a rivalry game and I wanted to go out with a bang, especially with the way the season started. There were a lot of hurdles I had to overcome this season and I made a statement today."
Quarterback Vince Young added 90 yards and one rushing TD on 16 carries.
So effective was the Longhorn ground game (393 yards) that Texas attempted all of two second-half passes (both incompletions). Young was 5-of-8 passing for 97 yards and one TD. Backup QB Chance Mock, battling a week-long virus, saw limited action at the end of the second and fourth quarters.
"He would have played in his rotation if he hadn't had that virus," Brown said.
CB Nathan Vasher's third-quarter pick in the back of the end zone not only staved off an A&M scoring threat from the UT 9-yard (and, in effect, stuck a dagger in whatever momentum the home team had left), he finally tied Noble Doss' career interception mark (17) that has been on the record books since 1941. The theft also put Vasher in sole possession of Texas' single-season INT mark at eight.
"It was one of those things where you want to be able to make a play like that and make it change the whole tide of the game," Vasher said.
The defense forced eight punts resulting in a paltry 26.7 average as well as six sacks (negative 31 yards). Texas also held A&M to 122 net yards rushing and 212 through the air.
Texas coughed up the ball three times, including Young's miscue on the Texas eight and Selvin Young's fumble on the second half kickoff return at the UT 22. The Aggies converted both gifts into TDs, but returned the favor with three turnovers (two fumbles, one INT) of their own.
"It seemed like every time a turnover occurred someone scored off of it and it looked like that was going to be the difference," Brown said.
No turnover was bigger than Michael Griffin's recovery at the Aggie 26 of FL Tim Van Zant's muffed punt return following Texas' first possession of the second half. The Farmers had just converted Selvin's special team blunder into a 15-yard TB Courtney Lewis run to get back in it, trailing 20-15. With Richmond McGee punting from the Texas 38, the three-touchdown underdog Farmers were poised to grab an improbable lead.
They never would.
"I thought one of the huge turning points of the game was Michael Griffin's fumble recovery and then we took it in and scored," Brown said.
After the defense forced a three-and out on A&M‘s opening possession, it took Texas all of 46 seconds to light up the Kyle Field scoreboard. On 2nd-and-14 from the UT 40, Young found TE David Thomas (remember him?) over the middle against a two-deep zone on a 60-yard TD toss. Backup K David Pino handled PATs as Dusty Mangum sat out with a hip flexor injury. Texas opened a 7-0 lead with just 1:45 eclipsed from the first quarter.
A pair of A&M penalties (illegal block, holding) negated a drive highlighted by a pair of QB Dustin Long scrambles (18 and 14 yards). A third-down screen pass to Lewis was stuffed for no gain, courtesy of WLB Derrick Johnson and RDE Mike Williams at the Longhorn 36.
Was there a drive sweeter than that 13-play, 95-yarder on Texas' second series? Benson was a proverbial battering ram, carrying six times for 50 yards, including the 21-yard scoring sprint up the gut to make it 14-0 with 2:14 remaining in the first quarter. The tone was set with Benson's 9-yard burst on the series' first snap to get out of the shadow of the Longhorn end zone. Needing 11 from the Aggie 16, Texas converted the only third-down of the drive when Young found Roy Williams streaking along the A&M sideline for 12.
QB Reggie McNeal entered on A&M's third series, directing a 10-play, 74-yard drive resulting in a 23-yard Todd Pegram FG. The big play was McNeal's 39-yard completion to WR Terrence Murphy over CB Nathan Vasher on 3rd-and-7 from the Texas 36.
On Texas' first possession of the second quarter, LCB Jonte Buhl forced a Young fumble that FS Jaxson Appel recovered at the Longhorn 8. McNeal scored on a one-yard TD run following the three-play drive. Pegram's PAT was wide-right. The Longhorn lead was reduced to 14-9 at the 13:46 mark of the third quarter.
The Aggies returned the favor on their next possession. RDE Kalen Thornton recovered a McNeal fumble after LDE Tim Crowder blindsided the QB on the Aggie 17. A spinning, churning Benson picked up 11 on second down from the 13. Young leaned for the TD on second and goal from the 1. Mock entered the game for the first time on an unsuccessful (where was the flag?) two-point conversion pass attempt.
Texas took a 20-9 lead into the locker room.
"I made this great halftime speech about how we needed to take control in the third quarter," Brown said.
The Horns would indeed control the second half, but not until after LB Everett Smith recovered Young's fumble on the second-half kickoff at the Longhorn 22. A UT personal foul on second down spotted the Aggies at the Texas 11. On second down, Lewis carried it in from the 15 on a pitch right. The score remained 20-15 after Long's incompletion on a two-point conversion attempt.
But with just 78 seconds into the second half, that was about as good as it got for the Farmers. Van Zant's fumble of McGee's 35-yard punt set up a six-play, 26-yard drive for the Horns. It began with Benson's 8-yard gain on a rocket toss and culminated with his 4-yard TD rush. Young darted around left end to complete to two-point conversion as Texas had some breathing room, 28-15, with 10:33 remaining in the third.
The Aggies weren't dead yet. A more explosive offense with McNeal behind center, the sophomore directed a 7-play, 73-yard drive including another 39-yard strike to Murphy. McNeal connected with Murphy again, this time for 11 yards at the Texas 31. A 5-yard Lewis run spotted the Aggies with a fresh set of downs at the Texas 9. That's when Vasher put the game on ice with his end zone theft.
"At that time, it was a tight game and they were moving the football," defensive coordinator Carl Reese said. "It really was a 14-point swing. It was a great individual effort. He kept his feet in bounds and the offense drove the length of field. That was the difference in the ballgame."
The defensive stop set up a 4-play, 80-yard drive that was all Cedric Benson. The junior picked up 23 yards on first down and then, following a false start penalty on second down, dashed for 50 yards -- his longest run of the season -- on Texas' bread-and-butter zone read play. He carried it in from 8-yards out on the next play and, after rushing for the two-point conversion, Texas led 36-15 in what felt like the longest third-quarter in recent memory
Aggie P Jacob Young responded with a 17-yard punt after the defense forced a three-and out. Starting at the Aggie 47, Texas embarked on a 9-play, 44-yard drive resulting for Pino's first career FG. Texas led, 39-15, with just three seconds gone in the fourth quarter.
After the defense forced another three-and-out, Jacob Young outdid himself, this time booming an 18-yarder. (To be fair, starting P Cody Scates has been one of the Aggie walking wounded.) Still, it was a rough quarter for Young. After A&M's next drive stalled, Young's next attempt was blocked courtesy of Griffin and Griffin. CB Cedric Griffin was credited with the block while Michael Griffin came up with this second recovery of the contest, this time at the Aggie 35.
From there, Benson took it to the house, rumbling in on a one-play drive to cap the scoring at 46-15.
"Cedric was in a zone," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "He was feeling good and the offensive line did a great job. I thought he played by far his best game."
With the win, the Horns raised their record to 10-2 and have posted three-consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in school history. The Aggies fell to 4-8, their first losing season in 22 years, and will be home for the holidays for the second straight year.
Texas now has the curious task of pulling for Oklahoma to win the Big 12 title next Saturday, which should assure Texas of either an at-large Fiesta Bowl or Rose Bowl bid.
"There was an awful lot of pressure on our team because everybody talked about what would happen if we lost," Brown said, "and our guys, to their credit, all talked about what would happen if they won. It got more important to beat A&M than anything afterwards. This team is one of the best teams in the country since mid-season."
BCS Bowl selections will be announced Sunday, Dec. 7.