Culpepper's Commentary: Texas-Texas Tech

Want an idea about the atmosphere in Lubbock Saturday afternoon? Thousands of Tech students camped at the southeast gate of Jones SBC Stadium hours before the game in an effort to secure front row seats in the student sections, the best place to hurl insults (now that tortillas are a banned substance) at the visiting Horns. The crush of Red Raiders also unwittingly blocked the visitor entrance to the stadium, forcing the Texas team buses to the other side of the stadium.

Upon arrival, Longhorn players and coaches quietly, stoically walked to their dressing room as Orangebloods, including players' parents, offered encouragement in the hostile environment. The TBS crew filming the event picked out Anthony Harris for an interview. Anthony is the father of Texas junior middle linebacker Aaron Harris. The elder Harris coached his son in youth baseball and saw his son develop into an outstanding shortstop, 90-MPH pitcher and line drive hitter. The lateral skills developed in baseball have served Aaron well at linebacker.

The interview with Anthony was short as Harris admitted that this was a turning point game for the Longhorns and it would be difficult to win.

The reporter then said, "I need a player's mother to talk to." A lady with a button that identified her son as a front line player stepped forward. And Mom didn't hesitate in spite of the gathering crowd (which caused me to miss the identifying number on the button!) and the questions hanging in the air about the Texas offense. "We are going to whip them," she said in a loud, clear voice.

She projected confidence, much more than many of us could muster heading into the showdown on the South Plains.

With a week's rest after destroying Nebraska, Texas Tech had many pundits, its players and a record crowd in Jones SBC Stadium believing. T-shirts were printed -- BEAT TEXAS -- and a national spotlight added to the party atmosphere.

On the other hand, for two weeks, from every direction, Texas fans, parents, coaches and players had listened to doubters. They heard and read about the great coaching going on at Texas A&M and how quarterback Reggie McNeal had emerged as one of college football's most exciting players while VY regressed. The morning of the game, they heard Lee Corso on College Game Day examine Vince Young's lack of progress and pick Texas Tech to win in a shootout. Whatever magic Vince Young possessed in high school, consensus opinion had it that Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis' system had reduced him to inconsistency.

But somewhere in the aftermath of the OU and Missouri games, Greg Davis decided to flush trying to turn Vince Young into Chris Simms. Twenty-five times the tall Texas quarterback ran the ball, and what is telling is that at least 20 were by design. It is a complete departure from the Texas offense in Dallas three weekends ago. This is not the NFL; college quarterbacks can still run and be big winners.

As best as I could see things from 33 rows up in section 116 of Tech's stadium, these are new plays I saw Saturday from the Longhorn offense:

1. The speed option to the tight end side. This put Young on the corner with the choice of running or pitching the ball to Cedric Benson.

2. The quarterback sweep around end with Benson leading the blocking.

3. The keep to the inside off the zone read. Young didn't wait for the outside cut, he took it up inside and made first downs.

4. Passing downfield after a fake to Cedric Benson. A deep drag to Bo Scaife and a post to Tony Jeffery were the result of this action.

The fog seems to have lifted. Greg Davis appears to have seen the light (or maybe he just likes living in Austin). And believe me, there are at least four defensive coordinators in the Big 12 -- at Colorado, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Texas A&M -- that won't like this development.

On the other side of the ball, on Tech's first few possessions, I imagine defensive coordinator Greg Robinson was thinking, "I never saw this kinda stuff in the NFL!" The Longhorns' three-man defensive line wasn't pressuring Sonny Cumbie and the Tech quarterback had time to scan the field and let his receivers get between the Horns' three linebackers and five secondary defenders. The Red Raiders easily went 86 yards in five plays on their second possession to make it 7-0. Texas, though, used a few of its new plays and Vince Young's legs on a near-five minute drive to answer, making it 7-7.

Tech looked ready to roar back down the field, completing a 20-yarder on its first play after the UT score as the black and red clad fans went bonkers. That is, until the next play when UT DC Greg Robinson called a zone blitz, which led to pressure on Cumbie from Frank Okam and Aaron Harris charging from his left. That pressure forced an off-balance throw across his body, and defensive end Aurmon Satchell, who had dropped into coverage, intercepted the ball and ran it back 26 yards to the Tech 25.

Two key runs and a two-yard keeper by Vince Young made it 14-7 at the end of the first quarter. Tech responded with a 12-play, 71-yard tying touchdown drive. Notice, though, that it took seven more plays, as well as three-and-a-half minutes more in clock time, to score than on the first Raider TD drive. Why? Because by this time the Longhorn linebackers were dancing in and out of the wide splits in the Tech offensive line and would rush of drop back on the snap. On the outside, the ends and outside linebackers and safeties were playing games as well. The Texas defense was sowing the seeds of confusion in Cumbie that it would harvest the rest of the night.

From that point on, the lights went out in Lubbock. What happened over the game's final two-and-a-half quarters was the very best combination of coaching and playing the Texas Longhorns have shown so far this season. Robinson denied the Raiders any deep passes with his umbrella coverage and blitzes and Greg Davis continued his epiphany in football strategy.

Don't you dare say "Texas Tech really wasn't that good." That is not fair to the Texas players and coaches.

Mack Brown deserves credit for the overall plan he put together. Texas now has a two-headed offensive attack built around a hard-charging tailback and a running quarterback that can throw off play action and rollout passes, the Horns have learned to play defense, and special teams are excellent.

But don't think for a minute it will be easy in Boulder, Colorado. The Horns might have to come from behind to win this one. They can. Texas 24, Colorado 17.

Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.

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