"We cannot do it any worse than we did today and we win," head coach Mack Brown said of his team's passing game. "I figure that's a good sign."
Presumably, so would Texas Tech, the nation's leading passing team, which hosts the Horns next Saturday in Lubbock. It's also a telling sign when your leading passer is backup RB Ramonce Taylor, who lofted a ball 48 yards down field to QB Vince Young on a flea-flicker to set up Texas' short-lived 14-0 first quarter lead. Young's 23 yard-TD run to cap that four-play, 80-yard drive was vintage VY. Unfortunately, so was his 3-of-9 passing for 19 yards.
"It wasn't very good," offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said of the passing game. "We'll continue to work on that to be better at it. We'll also continue to understand what we are. We are a physical team now and that's our strength. There's no question we have to do a better job of shaking people free and converting some third downs (Texas was 3-of-12)."
Young exited the game (ribs) late in the second quarter, after he got leveled throwing his second INT in as many possessions, and did not return. He was later cleared for action, Brown said, but that word did not reach the sideline until just after Texas rode workhouse RB Cedric Benson on the game-clinching 71-yard TD drive to open the fourth quarter. Senior Chance Mock, hampered by a nagging, pre-season high ankle injury, was not that much more effective (4-of-10 for 39 yards) but completed a clutch 3rd-and-9 attempt to SE Limas Sweed to keep alive that pivotal 11-play drive.
Young was so subdued after the game that you would have thought Texas had lost.
"You know me, I love to play," he said. "Coaches said we were going with Chance now and I respect that."
Obviously, the passing game's ineffectiveness can not be laid entirely at the feet of the quarterback. Too often, the receivers run poor routes. Too often, the QB and pass-catchers are just not on the same page. Yet, Brown did not exactly give Young a ringing endorsement when asked if there was a possibility Mock would get another shot to lead this team.
"I don't know. I'm a little confused right now," Brown said. "We've got to go back and look at it. We've been in a fight to get a rushing game going around here for three or four years. We've got it and we're really excited about it. We throw it a lot better in practice than we did today or last week. We've just got to go back and throw it better. It's not one guy's problem. It's a group of guys' problem."
But I like the way Mock phrased it: "These young receivers aren't young receivers any more. We're halfway through the season and I expect them to be making more big plays. I think you saw Limas, last week, coming out of his shell with that big catch."
In addition to Benson's 150 yards on 28 carries, this game came courtesy of Texas' bend-but-don't break defense that was on the field for 81 plays but produced a pair of tide-turning interceptions. As important as was RDE Brian Robison's 2-yard INT return for TD to open the scoring, Texas would have likely have trailed 21-14 at the half were it not for CB Aaron Ross' 64-yard INT return to the Missouri 12.
Brown considered going with a one-minute offense just to force the issue and try to "get the guys to relax." Obviously, he'll take the win over what should be the eventual Big 12 North Division champ. He was especially pleased with his offensive line and with the backups on defense, as RS-freshman WLB Robert Killebrew produced a key sack on Missouri's last gasp attempt to get into the end zone. (WLB Derrick Johnson left the game with what he described as a "banged up" shoulder and expects to play at Tech.)
Robinson said the game seemed to "last forever," not surprising when MU controlled the clock for 34:26. Missouri ran 22 more plays than Texas, generating 358 yards (173 rushing, 185 passing).
"It was a 60 minute battle," Robinson said. "Our guys rose up and finally came up with a huge play there at the end."
MU opened with a 28-yard play-action strike to TE Martin Rucker but LCB Tarell Brown was all over Smith's lateral toss to WR Thomson Omboga.
Texas took over at its own 20 after Matt Hoenes' (pronounced like 'heinous') 47-yard punt carried into the end zone.
Benson fumbled twice on Texas' opening drive, recovering his own loose ball following a 23-yard sprint at the MU 44 and then coughing it up six snaps later at the Tiger 10. VY carried four times for 30 yards on the drive that covered 70 yards but yielded no points.
"We came out running it and played smash mouth football," Benson said. "We were trying to send a message early. I think around here that's the way football out to be played. It lets the opponent know we're coming in there to take care of business."
The defense, with outstanding pass coverage, forced a 27-yard Hoenes punt to spot the offense a first down at the UT 47. This drive encapsulated VY's throwing woes. On 2nd-and-six from the 49, Young badly misfired and missed wide-open WR Brian Carter along the MU sideline. He threw behind FL Tony Jeffery on third down.
P Richmond McGee responded with his best boot of the year, a 46-yarder with the wind that turned over beautifully and pinned the Tigers on their own 3-yard line. The junior averaged 42.3 yards on six punts, prompting Brown's remark: "Richmond McGee may have been our most valuable player." His most valuable punt was his first one, setting up the game's first score.
Robison isn't blessed with blazing speed but he's got the vertical leap of Spiderman. With MU operating out of his end zone on first down, Spidey dropped back into zone coverage, went airborne and pulled down Smith's pass at the 2-yard line and carried it in untouched. Texas led, 7-0, with 6:44 remaining in the opening frame.
Smith got untracked on MU's next possession, carrying twice for 20 yards and completing 4-of-6 for 25 of yards. But Robison came up big on third down, throwing Smith for a one-yard loss. The stop resulted in a heinous 21-yard punt against the wind.
From the Texas 20, VY opened with a confidence-building 12-yard completion to SE Limas Sweed in the right flat. The running joke around sports media this week was Texas would open its bag of tricks the week after OU. Wah-lah! RB Ramonce Taylor's deep pass to VY covered 48 yards down the Missouri sideline (making Young Texas' leading receiver for the day).
"We wanted to get some momentum for our offense," OC Greg Davis said. "It was executed well. Ramonce threw a great ball and Vince made a great catch. He was actually interfered with."
Young dropped back to pass from the MU 23 but then cut left to sidestep a crashing WLB James Kinney. Kinney gave VY a shove (memo to Kinney: you're allowed to use hands on defense), as Young sprinted around left end before diving into the end zone for the score. Texas led 14-0 with 23 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
MU's second possession of second quarter began at its own 34. A SLB Eric Hall sack of Smith was nullified (made possible?) by 12 defenders on the field. On first down from the Texas 44, Smith patiently followed his lead blocks on the zone read on a 26-yard keeper. Three TB Marcus Woods' carries made it second-and-goal from the three. After WLB Derrick Johnson was credited with throwing Smith for a one-yard loss, the QB faked a fade before hitting WR Sean Coffey at the right pylon, capping a 66-yard drive in nine plays. Mizzou cut into the Texas lead, 14-7, with 6:55 remaining until halftime.
Facing 3rd-and-four at the Texas 26, VY hit RCB Shirdonya Mitchell right in the numbers who returned it three yards to the Longhorn 33. From there, TB Damien Nash raced untouched for the score. That knotted the affair at 14 with 5:26 left in the second quarter.
"They got those two scores on us before we blinked," DC Greg Robinson said. "We were out of position on the second (TD) play. Then got control of things for two quarters and they got that one drive there in the end."
It was deja vu all over again on Texas' next possession. Young's 3rd-and-six pass from the Texas 24 was fielded by SS Nino Williams as if he was back returning punts. Instead, he returned VY's second pick 23 yards to the Texas 32 before LG Kasey Studdard dragged him down. Young was shaken up on the play and did not return.
For the second time in the half, Texas' best offense was its defense. On 4th-and-5 from the Texas 27, CB Aaron Ross stepped in front of Smith's pass and returned it 64 yards to the Missouri 12. QB Chance Mock checked in and, on 2nd-and-11, Benson rushed 13 yards up the middle for the score.
Texas took a precarious 21-14 into the locker room, basically the result of two INT and one trick play, after generating just 17 yards in the second quarter. During the final 30 minutes, Texas showed more of a two-back look to try to offset a stacked box and blitzing outside linebackers
Scott's holding penalty nullified Benson's 61-yard TD run on the second snap of the third quarter. Missouri took over on its own 30 following a 41-yard McGee punt into the wind. MLB Aaron Harris leveled Smith on second-and-5 from the 46, stopping him for no gain and sending him to the sidelines for the series. He returned on MU's next possession and found WR Sean Coffey over the middle for 25, setting up a first down at the Texas 41. Johnson's 3-yard TFL of Woods on first down, plus a holding penalty on third down, snuffed out the Tiger drive.
Texas took over at its own 29 with 2:15 remaining in the third. That's when Brown huddled with Benson and the O-line, telling them: "We're gonna put it on your shoulders. You guys need to knock 'em off the ball."
But then Texas faced a critical 3rd-and-9 from its own 42. That's when Mock found Sweed for 10 yards to move the chains. From that point, it became the Cedric Benson drive. From near midfield, Benson carried six times for 49 yards and recovered his own fumble (his third of the day, losing one) after reeling off 14. Hs 14-yard TD burst put the exclamation point on the type of drive that Texas must patent next Saturday in Lubbock. The Horns lead 28-14 with 12:52 remaining.
"I thought the line, (FB) Will Matthews and Cedric took the game over," Brown said. "We didn't want to take any chances in the third (quarter) because we were going into a strong wind. That's so key in our stadium when you have a strong wind. Obviously, I was not happy that we weren't moving the ball but neither team was moving the ball. We just wanted to hang on until the fourth and that 71-yard drive was key for us."
The Tigers answered with a 16-play, 77-yard drive as Smith passed his team down to the Texas 20 before keeping it on the ground with TBs Damian Nash and Marcus Woods. Smith scored on a 4th-and-1 keeper but then mishandled the snap on the PAT. Texas led 28-20 with 5:25 remaining and called on its defense one last time following another three-and-out.
For Brown, this is the bottom line: "For us to throw that poorly and win against the number one team in the (Big 12) North says something about the spirit of this team. For us to make the mistakes we made, and not do some things near as well as we have makes you feel pretty good coming out of here with a win."
The Texas Tech game is slated for a 6 p.m. kickoff on TBS.