With pieces of an increasingly orange-tinted BCS puzzle slipping into place all over the country, UT found itself in danger of slipping right out of the Bowl Championship Series picture, facing a second half battle with a fired up Mizzou team playing perhaps its best football of the season.
"I'm sure they were watching the scoreboard and I told the guys, We gotta worry about us," Mack Brown said. "I told them, All the scores are working in your favor, you've gotta make sure your score works in your favor."
Texas responded after the break. As they have done throughout the '01 season, the Horns dominated the third quarter, scoring one TD and ending the quarter on the march for another, plus completely shutting down the Tiger offense. Missouri totaled just eight yards on its three third quarter possessions. And by the final gun, Texas held up its end of the scoreboard-watching bargain with a 35-16 win.
In the lockerroom after the game, the head coach asked the players what the one thing was that they came to Missouri for. "A win," he said they shouted in unison. Not the prettiest win you'll ever see, but a win nonetheless, and an outcome that left no one on the Texas sideline with a complaint. Particularly given the results of the games in Lincoln, Blacksburg and Palo Alto.
The game in Columbia pretty closely followed the script of all of the Horns' post-Oklahoma wins. Texas out-gained Missouri 421 to 244 by playing ball control football with a large dose of Cedric Benson runs and Chris Simms pinpoint passes. Carl Reese's D, for the most part, kept the Tigers out of the end zone when it mattered. And the special teams, while not particularly impressive again, didn't do anything to lose the game.
Early on, Texas looked like it would dominate from the get-go, holding Missouri to a three-and-out on the Tigers' first offensive series and then driving to the two on its opening offensive possession. The Horns, though, despite four snaps from inside the 10 on the drive, couldn't punch it in and Dusty Mangum failed to knock it through the uprights on his chip shot field goal attempt, leaving Texas with nothing on the scoreboard to show for the 78-yard drive.
Nothing at the time.
Brown said that drive, which spanned almost 10 minutes in 19 plays, was "worth fourth quarter points" for his team because the Tiger defense wore down as the game went on. "We thought we'd be able to wear them out and pound 'em in the fourth quarter," the coach said. Benson was the pounding implement of choice, totaling 51 of his 157 yards in the game's final 15 minutes. The true freshman tailback also broke his longest gainer of the season with a 20-yard carry that put the Horns in position for their final TD.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said he challenged Benson to finish the game and finish his runs strongly, which he obviously did. More than in any game of his young career, Benson looked to be running downhill. Despite the absence of Antwan Kirk-Hughes from the offensive line because of an ankle injury suffered in practice Thursday, the O-line also created holes that the running back hit with authority.
The line also kept the Tiger pass rush from pressuring Simms -- Mizzou managed just one sack and it came on a backfield fumble by Simms on an intended reverse -- allowing the junior QB to dissect the MU defense. Only six of Simms' 30 passes missed their mark. The 24 that found their target totaled 229 yards and four TDs. Simms accounted for the Horns' other six-pointer with a QB sneak, in the process tying Benson and Ivan Williams for the team lead in rushing TDs with five. Over the last three games, the UT QB has accounted for 14 (12 passing, two rushing) of the Horns' 16 TDs.
Three of Simms' four TD passes came on rollouts (completed to B.J. Johnson, Brock Edwards and Roy Williams) and the other, which finally put the game comfortably out of the Tigers' reach at the 4:27 mark of the fourth, traveled all of about four yards in the air, where Brett Robin snagged the shovel and scooted 40 yards for the score.
The defense gave up drives of 76, 67 and 56 yards to the Missouri offense, early on giving up chunks of yardage to tight end Dwayne Blakeley (three catches for 47 yards for the game) and later cannonball RB Zack Abron (109 yards on just 13 carries, a 8.4 per carry average), so the Horns come out of this one with work to do on the defensive side of the ball, but Reese and Brown both said they'll gladly take the end result even with the occasional struggles. "A lot of people would like to have our problem," the head coach said.
On this Saturday in college football, that list would include Bob Stoops, Frank Beamer and Bob Toledo.