Texas turns in top-10-style thrashing

So are the Longhorns really this good, or was Colorado's 5-1 mark coming in misleading? The answer in my mind is that Texas is more than merely good, it is top-10 terrific, despite <B>Gary Barnett&#146;s</B> and some of his players&#146; bleatings of their own faults to the contrary. A final tally of 41-7 against a top-20 team riding a 5-game winning streak is a statement of arrival writ large.

To be sure, Colorado, playing without its starting QB, didn't play at a Rocky Mountain High level, coughing the ball up three times, one inside the Texas 10, committing nine penalties for minus-57 yards, tossing an INT, missing a field goal and shanking a couple of punts. Summed up Barnett: "It was a meltdown on our part. We just played bad. We couldn't overcome the adversity we created for ourselves. We didn't tackle very well . . . Every aspect of our game was not what it should be." Added Buff replacement QB Bobby Pesavento: "I'm proud of the way I played, but we should have won. We killed ourselves all day."

Hmm. OK fellas, whatever. But you know what? Teams often end up "killing themselves" when they’re playing against a vicious defense and an offense attacking in waves, cavorting in front of the home folks who are themselves frothing at the mouth, all before a huge national TV audience. Make no mistake -- what the Buffs ran into Saturday on a beautiful afternoon at DKR was a Burnt Orange buzz saw running on rocket fuel.

Texas, as I expected it would, though not to such an emphatic degree, destroyed a good if not great CU squad coming in on a confidence-building roll. This was a thing of beauty, really, a dominating performance against a tough, ranked opponent which had just knocked off K-State and A&M back-to-back. CU thought they could come in and stun the Horns; they left the ones catatonic. "We did self-destruct a little bit, but I don't want to take anything away from Texas," said LB Joey Johnson. "They came out ready to play on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams. We made a lot of mistakes today, and they had us on our heels throughout the second half."

"They beat us in every phase of the game," said DB Robbie Robinson. Barnett also conceded that the Horns had everything to do with the blowout: "I give Texas a lot of credit. They have good players that are well coached. I feel bad that we didn't give them a better game."

Indeed, the Horns played virtually mistake free football while capitalizing on Colorado’s mistakes. Yet they didn’t simply play opportunistic football, they created their own chances and capitalized on them as well.

Texas deserves to jump in the rankings after this game. The Horns showed the country everything in their arsenal: a maturing QB with a gun, a dazzling array of receiving targets, a freshman sensation at running back, a defense that ravages the strength of an opponent’s offense -- Texas held CU to 124 yards rushing, 100 below its season average -- a punt returner in Nate Vasher who puts a lump in the throats of opposing coaches, and, maybe most importantly, a team with composure. Texas committed five penalties for 40 yards, but none of them were back-breakers. When Cedric Benson busted the game-turning 40-yard shovel pass right before halftime from his own five, nobody got popped for holding. When Vasher got loose for a 44-yard punt return setting up a Dusty Mangum FG, nobody got clipped for clipping. And when Ahmad Brooks stripped Buff TE Daniel Graham of the ball at the CU 35, leading to Benson’s 12-yard TD run and a 17-7 lead, Brooks didn’t grab Graham’s face mask in the process. That is good coaching and it results in dominating blowouts.

When you look at the teams Texas has beaten this season, you start to get a feel for how good the Horns are. North Carolina is taking its own Shock the Nation tour on the road. Since getting obliterated by Texas, UNC has reeled off five straight, including wins over FSU and, perhaps more shockingly, Saturday’s 38-3 demolition of Clemson in Death Valley, a game that ESPN Game Day’s Corso and Herbstreit both predicted would go to the Tigers. Colorado of course had quality wins over the Ags and Wildcats, and Texas Tech, which Texas routed 42-7, came within a hair of knocking off Nebraska in Lincoln, falling 41-31 after going into halftime deadlocked at 28-all. Tech also defeated faltering Kansas State. The Horns have crushed very good, very dangerous football teams.

Which leads back to the OU game, and what a disappointment that loss still is. Texas has scored 41, 44, 53, 42, 45 and 41 points in its six victories. That it could muster only three against the Sooners is almost unbelievable. Credit certainly goes to the OU defense, but that the Texas coaches thought Cedric Benson wasn’t ready for that game, when he has carried the ball over 50 times for close to 250 yards the two games following, just doesn’t add up. Whatever their stated reasons, and to be fair, this staff has always maintained that the guys who have the whole package at RB will get the PT, the failure to play Benson and stay committed to the run stands as a huge mistake in my judgment, one that might well have cost Texas its shot at a national title this season.

But that game is done, and the coaches have corrected their error by riding Benson’s back to two straight victories. For that, credit is due; the error has not been compounded, but fixed big-time. And for Texas, everything is still possible. The OU-Nebraska clash may well spell the end of the Sooner’ unbeaten streak. Then OU must get by A&M in Norman. The ‘01 Aggies, at 6-1 with their win in Manhattan against a demoralized but still scary K-State club, is proving to be a rugged group. Don’t rack that up in the ‘W’ column for the Sooners just yet. Texas must not get carried away with its own success. It must handle Mizzou and Baylor on the road, and KU in Austin, before setting up what could be a Big 12 South deciding bout with A&M if a few chips fall as they might.

And if those chips do fall right, and Texas gets to face the Aggies for the South title on Nov. 23, I like this team’s chances to get that job done - a lot. If they don’t, and Texas doesn’t get a shot at the Big 12 championship, a BCS Sugar Bowl berth is a distinct possibility for a 10-1 Texas, and we all know New Orleans is a great place to party.

"We have to make a statement every game to prove that we are a good football team," said Mack Brown post-game. "It started last week when we defeated Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Today, with the focus of a nationally-televised game, we not only won but dominated the contest."

After losing to OU, Texas did indeed have a lot to prove. With the back-to-back bashings of OSU and Colorado, they’ve proven to be resilient and determined. And a top-10 program on the move.

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