Big game becomes big blowout

So much for the best match-up in college football this weekend.

Texas turned a potential stumbling block into a definite humbling of Colorado Saturday at DKR, cruising past the 14th-ranked Buffaloes 41-7.

The Longhorn offense had a typical non-OU-game performance, totaling 425 yards and 41 points, and the defense, after a shaky opening quarter-and-a-half, handled the Colorado O, limiting the visitors to 289 yards of total offense and a single TD.

For the second consecutive week, Cedric Benson's running kept the Texas O two-dimensional, opening up the field for Chris Simms and the UT pass catching crew. Benson, making his second straight start, gained 100 yards on 23 carries and Simms totaled 234 yards and three TD tosses on the day.

The true freshman's contributions in the running game, big as they were overall, arguably were matched by just one of his three receptions. With less than two minutes to play in the first half and clinging to a 17-7 lead, the Horns faced a second-and-20 at their own five. The prospect of punting into a stiff wind, setting CU up with great field position and a chance to cut into the UT lead loomed. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis, though, dug deep into the playbook (as he did all day) and called a shovel pass to Benson. Simms, after dropping a couple of yards into the end zone and luring in the rushing Colorado defenders, flipped the ball forward to the waiting Benson, who turned and sprinted right, jukin' Buff CB Phil Jackson then turning upfield and streaking up the right sideline before being forced out at the 45.

The play call surprised not only the Colorado defense (and probably most everyone who's watched this offense over the last few years), but the intended receiver of the pass. Benson said the offense had practiced the play a couple of times during the week, but he admitted he didn't exactly expect to be in the game when the coaches decided to run it. Obviously, their decision to do so speaks volumes about their apparently skyrocketing confidence in their freshman RB since the Oklahoma game two weeks ago.

Out of the shadow of its own goalline after the Benson scamper, the Horns needed just three more plays to cover the final 55 yards to cross the other goalline, transforming a precariously close 17-7 game to a far more comfortable 24-7 contest at the half.

"I think the drive right before the half was really key," Davis said. "Cedric's play on the shovel pass got us out where we could (go back to our one-minute offense). It was a huge momentum deal for us. We separated a little bit and we felt like it would force them to be a little more one-dimensional (in the second half)."

The Horns owned that second half, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, limiting the Buffs to 45 total yards and a big zero in the box score. After watching Colorado pile up 244 first half yards (149 through the air and 95 on the ground), Carl Reese made a defensive adjustment at the half, shelving the 4-3 with a mix of zone and man coverage for a 3-3 package with mainly man coverage. TE Daniel Graham caught four passes for 53 yards in the first half, but Reese's adjustment put Dakarai Pearson on the field as the UT D's fifth DB, often with the responsibility of shadowing Graham, and the all-league TE had just one grab for five yards after the break.

The new scheme also freed D.D. Lewis to blitz in run support and the senior middle linebacker responded with a sack, a QB hurry and a fourth-down stuff (along with Everick Rawls) of Colorado RB Cortlen Johnson in UT territory early in the third quarter with the game still in doubt at 24-7. Following the fourth-down stop, the Horns drove 69 yards in eight plays for (what turned out to be unnecessary) breathing room.

Much of the Buffs' early game offensive success surprisingly came in the passing game. Coming in, Colorado had the (statistically) second-best running game in the conference, behind only Nebraska, with an average of 224.7 yards per game. CU starting quarterback and fourth-leading rusher Craig Ochs, though, did not play because of lingering effects from concussions suffered earlier this season, forcing back-up Bobby Pesavento into the start.

With drop back passer Pesavento under center, Colorado scrapped its typical run-centric O for a pro-set passing attack. Reese said he expected the Buffs to stick to their ground game regardless of who took the QB snaps, but that obviously did not happen, forcing the Horns to eventually abandon their 4-3 gameplan.

Whether in the 4-3 or the 3-3 (or any other scheme for that matter), the UT D's gameplan always involves creating turnovers and for the second consecutive week, Reese's guys totaled four takeaways. The first and perhaps most important came mid-way through the first quarter when Ahmad Brooks separated Derek McCoy from the ball after the CU wideout picked up a first down inside the Texas 10. The Longhorn O didn't convert the turnover to any points, but the play kept the Buffs off the board. The O did convert Colorado's next two TOs, a second quarter Kalen Thornton-caused fumble and, two series later, another Brooks-caused fumble, into 10 points. Quentin Jammer also grabbed his second pick of the season late in the third quarter, but by that time, the Horns, with a 34-7 lead, essentially had victory No. 6 in the bag.

Mike Williams, one member of an O-line partially responsible for the Horns' 161 rushing yards, said as big as this win is for the team, the upcoming stretch of three games vs. less than spectacular opponents is no less important than the one today against the top 15 Buffs. "Every game is a big game from now on," the senior right guard said.

For a team that still harbors top five goals and BCS dreams, Williams is right. The importance of today's big win would be diminished with a loss over the next three weeks. Today's performance, specifically the big margin in such a big game, makes those goals and dreams far closer to reality.

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