With the Horns clinging to a 22-20 lead at Arkansas with 2:54 remaining, DT Larry Dibbles forced a QB Matt Jones fumble that FS Phillip Geiggar recovered at the UT seven. It was one of three HUGE takeaways that the Texas D forced during the final 7:48 of the too-close-for-comfort nailbiter and the reason why Texas may be an undefeated, Top Five team by day's end.
A drained head coach Mack Brown said afterwards that he "couldn't have scripted it any better."
"Cedric (Benson) changed the game offensively from the beginning of the game to the end," Brown said. "Our defense is young, with only two seniors, but Derrick (Johnson) and Phillip did an excellent job of stripping the ball twice. We felt like the two turnovers and the defense were the difference in the ballgame."
Maybe this is the play that jump-starts the career of Dibbles (a prep All-American but never sufficiently conditioned to where coaches could count on him). If Texas can win at least 10 games and wind up in a BCS bowl this season, it all comes back to that fumble.
"This win helps us in knowing we can handle adversity on the road," D.J. said. "They made mistakes and we capitalized on them. Matt Jones is a great player, and he made some great plays."
Jones obviously played a gutsy game in which he carried his team to the brink of the upset. I'm anticipating a miserable flight home to Austin when suddenly the ball pops out of Jones' grip, as if he was attempting a shovel pass. Now, that fumble becomes part of the lore of this historic rivalry that probably won't be revived any time soon.
"Our guys played their guts out but you can't fumble against a good team," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said, before adding, "I told Matt to keep his head up and keep going. Texas is so fast and they come up behind you. He's not used to that. Once he gets past the first line of defenders he thinks he's okay, but they sneak up behind you."
A record crowd of 75,671 saw Texas snap Nutt's non-conference regular season win streak at 21 and avenged last year's setback to the Hogs in Austin. But, almost to a man, Texas players said this one was more about respect than revenge.
"In the past, people labeled us as soft or not tough enough," DT Rodrique Wright said. "I think we answered that tonight."
Benson rumbled for 188 yards on 29 carries, including a 60-yarder when Texas staked a 16-7 first half lead.
"We came out here to run it down their throats and this felt good to me," Benson said. "This was a real football game."
Arkansas actually racked up more total yards (458 to 409) as Jones dissected the UT defense with 14-of-29 passes, but with those two key fourth quarter picks. (Much-maligned CB Cedric Griffin got the trend started with his INT with 7:48 remaining.) Texas generated 259 yards on the ground while QB Vince Young managed just enough of a passing attack (11-of-22 for 150) to keep the defense honest and yes!, those were Texas tight ends catching the ball!
To no small extent, the difference in the ballgame occurred on just the fourth snap from center. Facing 4th-and-13 from its own 17, Arkansas' deep snap sailed over the punter's head and nearly into the cheap seats. The safety gave Texas a 2-0 lead just 22 ticks into the game.
Texas' first offensive possession began on its own 30. After scrambling for 12.5 yards on third-and-13, Young leaned for the first at the Texas 40. VY scrambled for 8 on a bootleg around right end following a false start penalty, and then Benson answered with an 8-yard run off tackle. That set up Young's 49-yard strike down the middle to a wide-open TE David Thomas. Texas took a quick 9-0 lead at the 11:37 mark following the seven-play, 70-yard drive.
The Razorbacks responded. On 2nd-and-5 from the Arkansas 37, Jones found SE Chris Baker on a deep route, good for 46 yards. Jones picked up nine on the option, and then FB Peyton Hollis carried it in around left end to cap the eight-play, 80-yard drive to make it 9-7 with 8:41 remaining in the opening frame.
Texas answered just as quickly, covering 76 yards on seven plays, with Benson picking up 60 on a sprint down the left sideline before cutting upfield to the Razorback 4. Two plays later, he scored from three yards out on a handoff out of the shotgun. Young converted a key 3rd-and-1 at the Arkansas 33 to keep the drive alive.
But Texas would go 0-for-5 in third down conversions during the second quarter. However, Arkansas could not run between the tackles but served up a steady diet of Jones' scrambles, crossing patterns, slants, and screens.
The Pigs drove to the Texas 33 on their first possession of the second quarter but SS Michael Huff forced a TB DeCori Birmingham fumble that Cedric Griffin recovered at the UT 27. Young mishandled the snap on third-and-three from the UA 34, but a running into the kicker call gave Texas a first down at the Hog 39. A pair of penalties (illegal substitution, false start against RT Justin Blalock) killed the drive for the Horns.
On third-and-6 from the UA 40, a scrambling Jones found FL Carlos Ousley on a crossing pattern for 23 after getting separation from CB Tarell Brown. Two plays later, Nutt pulled one out of the bag of tricks. Jones lateral pass was complete to Ousley who then found Birmingham streaking down the right sideline with nearly three steps on two Texas DBs. Ousley's first-ever pass attempt capped the five-play 64-yard drive and narrowed Texas' led, 16-14, with 5:18 remaining until intermission.
A fire-breathing Arkansas defense forced a thee-and-out, setting up 1st-and-10 from the 37 following a 40-yard Richmond McGee punt. On third-and-7 from the 40, Jones tossed a simple screen to Dedrick Poole that went for 50 yards to the Texas 10. The defense stiffened against the shortened field, but the drive resulted in a 27-yard Chris Balseiro FG and Arkansas' first lead of the game, 17-16, with 2:08 remaining. The Hogs took the one-point advantage into the locker room.
Benson had 94 first-quarter yards (on nine carries) but just 18 (on four attempts) in the second quarter. The Hogs were keying on VY and I asked Brown post-game about halftime adjustments.
"The coaches made great adjustments at halftime," the Texas head coach told me. "We had to come out of halftime and get some people off of us."
After forcing a 54-yard Jacob Skinner punt on the Hogs' first possession after the break, Texas took over at its own 28 to start the second half. That's when Young found Jeffery on play action post pattern, good for 30 yards. (Brown said Tony Jeffery got some new contact lenses 10 days ago "and it's really helped him.")
Benson's holding penalty on a 14-yard VY run gave Texas 1st-and-six from the 26. Then, on 2nd-and-6 from the 13, Young displayed some vintage shake, rattle and roll. The QB spun out of the grips of three UA defenders and flipped the pigskin to a wide-open Benson in the right flat for the catch-and-run score. Young's QB draw on the two-point attempt was stuffed but Texas regained the lead, 22-17, at the 8:22 mark of the third quarter. The drive covered 72 yards in nine plays.
Credit DE Brian Robison with a key QB pressure, forcing an incompletion on a 3rd-and-13 from the 48. (Robison was helped off the field two plays earlier but came back to make the stop.) Then, a 14-play, 62-yard Texas drive ended when senior Dusty Mangum's 41-yard FG sailed wide left. It was a shot in the arm for the Hogs, as Jones engineered a nine-play, 58-yard drive. The key play was his bootleg around right end that covered 28 yards of real estate on 2nd-and-7 from the 41. His alleged 22-yard completion to SE Steven Harris (the ball was clearly trapped) gave the home team a first down at the Longhorn 17. The drive resulted in a 35-yard Balseiro FG as Arkansas narrowed the Texas lead, 22-20, with just under 10 minutes to play, setting up the thrilling final few series.