Rice Game Turning Point

<B>turning point</B> - <I>n.</I> The point at which a very significant change occurs; a decisive moment.

Following a Texas touchdown that put the Horns up 21-3 with just over a minute to go in the first quarter, the Texas kickoff coverage unit looked like a sieve as the Rice return man, Andray Downs, ran untouched more than 50 yards before Texas kicker Richmond McGee brought him down at the Texas 46-yard line. The Texas defense stiffened and forced a three-and-out including a spectacular pass deflection on third down by a high-flying Derrick Johnson. What happened at the conclusion of the next Texas offensive possession essentially showed Rice, the Texas fans, and anyone watching that the Horns weren’t just going to settle for a convincing victory using a limited arsenal. They were going to win in a dominant manner and even pull a few tricks out of the bag.

After the big defensive stand and with just under 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Longhorns looked poised to score a fourth touchdown in as many possessions. On a drive that started on its own 20, Texas moved down the field at Will – as in Will Matthews. Spelling Cedric Benson who had already topped the century mark in the first quarter, the senior fullback, who had a total of seven carries in the previous two games, toted the pigskin four times on the drive for 29 yards. It wasn’t so much the number of carries or the yards he accrued, but how he did it. Each time Matthews wasn’t even looking for holes. He was looking for contact. He found plenty of it including his last carry on the drive where he bowled over two Rice defenders and lost his helmet in the process.

Not to be outdone by his backfield cohort, Benson got in on the act as well carrying the ball six times for 41 yards on the drive including a pair of one-yard runs that put the ball at the Rice 4-yard line. On third and goal, Texas looked as if it would finish the drive just as it had started it with Matthews getting his number called once again. This time, however, Matthews caught a pass from Texas quarterback Vince Young in the left flat for a modest gain of one. Fourth down. The drive had stalled. No problem. For the season and up until that drive, the Longhorns had been in the red zone 13 times and scored each time, 11 touchdowns and two field goals. Impressive. Texas set up for what appeared to be its third three-pointer of the season.

Dusty Mangum lined up for the kick. Tony Jeffery set up for the hold. The latter turned out to be more important than the former as Mac McWhorter and Mack Brown decided to send in the "Wedge" play from the sideline. It turned out to be the ideal call as Rice overloaded the right side of the line in an attempt to get a rush on the kick. The left side wasn’t completely vulnerable, but it wasn’t prepared for what happened next. From his kneeling position Jeffery took the snap, promptly stood up, and headed left.

The left side of the Texas line collapsed down forming the wedge and at the same time opened a lane for Jeffery who, ala Ricky or Earl, leaped over the line to cap off the 13-play drive with a touchdown. The Horns took a convincing 28-3 lead and more importantly, Texas made a statement. They could have easily settled for the three, but didn’t.

From that point it was all decided but the final score. Unfortunately from a Burnt Orange offensive perspective, there wasn’t much more scoring the remainder of the game. Despite a sputtering offense in the second half, it didn’t matter because of one offensive play by the special teams in the first half that sealed the deal and set the Horns on the path to a convincing 35-13 victory.

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