For a team that had national championship aspirations, that post-season destination can be viewed as nothing but a disappointment.
"These kids have won 10 games, they're going to go to a nice bowl game which will give us an opportunity to win 11," Mack Brown said, providing a positive-as-possible spin on his team's latest letdown. "Eleven-and-two is a great year and we want to finish in the top 10 and I'm really, really proud of this football team and I told them that."
The Horns may have been on their way to making Brown proud AND picking up that 11th win mid-way through the first quarter Saturday night before Simms telegraphed his pass attempt to Bo Scaife allowing Aaron Killion, one of Colorado's back-up inside LBs, to step in front for the INT and 73-yard return, setting up the Buffs' for the tying score. Before the pick, Texas had dominated the game and had an opportunity, with a first-and-10 at the CU 22, to go on top 10-zip at the least and possibly 14-0. Instead, the Colorado offense took three plays to cover the 12 yards that Killion came up short on his return to knot the score at seven. It didn't stay that way long.
The interception by Killion "started the onslaught of bad things," as Simms put it, that continued throughout the first half. And onslaught may be an understatement.
Texas went three-and-out on its next offensive possession and the Buffs took the lead for good at 10-7 with a 39-yard field goal on the second play of the second quarter.
Over the next four possessions, Simms basically gave the game to Colorado by putting the ball in the hands of Buffalo defenders three times, with all three resulting in CU TDs. First, the Texas QB threw a perfect strike to Buffs' ILB Joey Johnson. Six plays later, after Chris Brown's second TD rush of the day, Colorado 16, Texas 7. Following a field goal drive, Simms found another way to turn the ball over, fumbling away to the Buffs while fighting to slip out of a potential sack. One play later, Colorado 22, Texas 10. Finally, with just under three minutes left in the half, Simms allowed CU to skip the intermediate step in the turnover-offensive drive-TD routine, throwing to CU's back-up FS Medford Moorer, who returned the INT 64 yards for another score. Colorado 29, Texas 10.
The Chris Simms of early '00, of last year's Holiday Bowl, and of this year's OU game made a brief but disastrous appearance in Irving.
Not only did Moorer's INT return push the Buffs' lead to 19 points, it knocked out two of the Horns' offensive starters. RT Mike Williams and RB Cedric Benson collided at the 30 while trying to bring down Moorer on the run-back, sending both guys to bench for the remainder of the game with what Mack Brown post-game called "stingers." In under two quarters, Benson had 79 yards on 13 carries.
Simms, who finished 9-for-17 for 130 yards with three INTs, lasted just one more play than Williams and Benson. Following the Colorado kickoff, the Horns' junior QB, returning to the Texas huddle to a chorus of boos from many of the 55,000 Longhorn fans in Texas Stadium, hit his hand on a rushing CU defender, dislocating his left ring finger according to Brown, on a completed first down pass to Sloan Thomas.
Enter Major Applewhite.
UT's senior QB and sentimental fan favorite replaced Simms and two plays later hit B.J. Johnson streaking free in the Colorado secondary for a 79-yard catch-and-run TD. The quick score got the Horns back in the ballgame, cutting the CU lead to a manageable halftime score of 29-17.
Carl Reese's defense, though, couldn't come up with a stop on Colorado's first drive after the break. After forcing CU into a third-and-16 from the UT 46, Bobby Pesavento found Derek McCoy down the right sideline. Quentin Jammer had the blanket coverage, but McCoy beat Jammer in the want-to category, going up and plucking the ball out the air for a 33-yard gain and a first down at the 13. Two plays later, Brown barreled over for his third rushing TD of the game, a deflating score that gave the Buffs a near-insurmountable 36-17 lead.
The Horns again dominated the game after the CU score, allowing just a single field goal to the North champs, but despite two long drives, the UT offense managed just two field goals on its next three third and early fourth quarter drives.
And when the Texas D really needed a stop, it couldn't get it. After Rod Babers' fake-punt INT-for-a-TD cut the Colorado lead to 36-30 with just over nine minutes to play, the Longhorn D gave up a 16-play, 51-yard drive that ate up over seven minutes and resulted in a field goal that essentially put the game out of reach at 39-30 with less than two minutes to play. On the drive, CU converted a fourth-and-one and a third-and-eight and got a freebie first down when Phillip Geiggar smashed into the leg of punter Mark Mariscal.
Major led Texas on a 13-play, 56-yard TD drive to cut the lead to two with 31 ticks left on the Texas Stadium clock, but CU TE Daniel Graham covered David Pino's on-side kick attempt, sealing the game for the underdog Buffs.
"Regardless of the first half, we had chances to win the ballgame," Applewhite said following his 15-for-25, 240-yard, two-TD relief performance. "We did not do it. We had so many opportunities to get back in this ballgame. Even after all of the turnovers we still had a chance to win the ballgame and we didn't get it done. You can't put it on the coaches, you've got to put it on the players. We did not get it done, end of discussion."
Given the results of the Horns' two games in Dallas this season, and more specifically Simms' performance in those two games, there will almost certainly be no end to the discussion about the coaches' decision to start Simms over Applewhite this season. Would Texas be Pasadena-bound right now if Major had been under center all season? Perhaps, but we'll never know for sure.
What we do know is Saturday night's game came within three points of providing the perfect storybook ending for Major's Texas career. Instead, it simply added another depressing chapter -- title this one Will the Misery Ever Cease? -- to the novel that chronicles UT's football fortunes.
The loss sets up an almost must-win situation in the bowl game in what will be an almost no-win situation. If Texas indeed ends up in the Holiday, a loss to a mediocre 8-3 Washington team in San Diego would send the Horns spiraling down in the rankings, turning a national championship season into a bitter, three-loss debacle. Thus the must-win situation. But a win will be expected, so the game can do absolutely nothing to change UT's reputation as a team that can't win the big game because frankly, it won't be a big game. Thus the no-win situation, a situation that the Horns brought entirely upon themselves.
Finally put in control of their own destiny, with Rose or at worst Fiesta or Sugar waiting, the Longhorns failed to take care of business, so now its back to Burnt Orange business as usual; Texas as a mere spectator on the national championship scene.