This is the first in a series of post-game stories throughout the season that will describe the turning point of the game, or the time at which momentum swings to an irreversible point that ultimately results in a Texas victory or defeat. Sounds simple enough, right? But turning points or ultimate shifts in momentum come in strange packages. Sure, there are the more obvious scenarios like a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, or a long-scoring drive that puts a team up by 9 with under a minute to play. There are also those moments in a game that arent as palpable such as a delayed play call resulting in a wasted timeout or bungled snap that blows a crucial attempt at a third-down conversion. Whatever the case may be we will cover it this year. You may agree or disagree (take your disagreements to the bulletin board), but you can get a feel for what we believe was the turning point in the game.
Based on the final gaudy, lopsided numbers posted on the scoreboard it would be easy (and a copout) to say the turning point for the TexasNorth Texas season opener occurred when the two squads stepped on to the turf at DKR Saturday night, or, maybe even when the game was put on the schedule. But how much fun would that be?
Scheduling and disproportionate talent aside, from an on-the-field standpoint the decisive moment occurred with just more than three minutes to go in the first quarter. After the first three North Texas possessions yielded a woeful net of zero yards and three three-and-outs, the Mean Green took the ball on their 20-yard line trailing 17-0.
On first down North Texas quarterback Scott Hall found tight end Andy Blount open on the right side for 19 yards and UNTs initial first down of the game. Following an incomplete pass, Hall looked to the other side of the field and connected with his fullback, James Mitchell, who was streaking across in the left flat. Mitchell scrambled down the left sideline before Derrick Johnson tracked him down from behind, but not before Mitchell had gained 20 yards to the Texas 42 the first and only time North Texas sniffed Texas territory.
After two completions for lucrative yardage in three attempts, Hall went to the passing well again. From the shotgun Hall took the ball and sprinted to his right. He quickly hit the brakes, looked back to his left and off-balance, fired a pass across the field to his wide receiver Zach Muzzy. Muzzy caught the ball at the Texas 45 and sprinted down the left sideline. D.J. took a bad angle and almost missed the speedy, smaller Muzzy. However, Johnsons talent, namely his speed, allowed the All-American to turn a near miss into a huge play. As Johnson corralled Muzzy from the side and slightly behind, his right arm landed squarely on Muzzys right arm and the ball. The force and angle from Johnsons hit turned Muzzy sideways. As Muzzy began his fall forward, Johnson, who was completely airborne, hung on desperately. Finally, as centrifugal force was about to propel Johnson off the smaller receiver, Johnson made one last yank at the ball. The ball went airborne and Johnson went sailing out of bounds.
The most fortuitous part of the entire play occurred when Muzzy hit the ground. The redshirt freshman tried desperately to grab the ball. Unfortunately for North Texas, his right hand knocked the ball off the sideline and back toward the field of play. In one last attempt to recover his own fumble, Muzzy reached for it with his left hand but knocked it further from his grasp. Three members of the Longhorn defense pounced in the vicinity of the ball and Kaelen Jakes came out with the recovery on the 37-yard line and less than a yard from out of bounds.
Six plays and 63 yards later Texas fullback Will Matthews found paydirt and gave Texas a 24-0 lead with just more than a minute to play in the first quarter. The rout was officially on.
That Johnson-forced turnover (the first of his three credited for the game) with 3:20 remaining in the first quarter shut down a North Texas offense that had gained 39 yards in three plays and for the first time in the game had shown some signs of life, ironically not in the much ballyhooed running department with the nations returning leading yards per game rusher in Patrick Cobbs. With the rushing game non-existent and the passing game successful on that drive, it appeared North Texas might drive down if not for a touchdown, at least an attempt at a field goal. The turnover not only stopped momentum for the drive, it also deflated a North Texas offense that was looking for any bright spot and wondering how it would keep up with a Texas offense that was unstoppable. On the flip side, that play for the Texas defensealready confident coming into the game with its new coaching staffdiscovered that its new "fly to the ball" mantra paid dividends as evidenced by two additional forced fumbles by Johnson later in the game that were recovered by the Horns.
Kyle Dalton is an Austin-based freelance journalist. He has been a contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, San Antonio Express-News, Avid Golfer Magazine, and several other golf magazines and Web publications. He also authored "Burned Orange: Tom Penders and 10 Years at the University of Texas."