"What we couldn't do was what we did and that's turn the ball over early," head coach Mack Brown said. "I was standing there right in front of Vince when he threw it and it was so close. The young man from Colorado just made a great play. We made a poor play on the second turnover but our defense never let up at all."
Indeed. The resurgent Longhorn D held Colorado to 221 yards and just three rushing yards on 18 carries. Buffalo QB Joel Klatt was 17-of-28 for 142 yards and two INT while Young was 8-of-15 for 71 yards.
"Right now the defense is doing pretty good," WLB Derrick Johnson said. "The good thing about this is we still made a lot of mistakes and we can still go back and correct them. Nevertheless, we did a really good job by not letting them get into the end zone."
There is no mistaking the fact that Texas is running the ball the way Colorado used to. The Horns engineered 397 total yards, with 326 coming on the ground on 66 rushing attempts. The Horns absolutely owned the game clock, holding on to the ball for 37:59. The win moved Texas to 7-1 on the season, 4-1 in Big 12, to keep alive its at-large BCS hopes alive. Benson's afternoon also moved him into elite company, becoming just the 10th player in NCAA history to top 5,000 yards. Six of the nine ahead of Benson won a Heisman Trophey.
"It's a big honor to surpass it," Benson said. "I put a lot of work into it."
Benson also had to work hard to help overcome a horrendous start for the offense. On Texas' second possession, backup LCB Terrence Wheatley (AKA the "young man from Colorado") picked off Young's pass intended for SE Brian Carter and returned it 37 yards for the TD. Colorado led 7-0 with 8:50 remaining in the first quarter.
VY lunged for the first on fourth and inches at the Longhorn 30 on Texas' next series. After FL Tony Jeffery dropped a ball that hit him right between the numbers, SE Limas Sweed turned in a 21-yard gain on the catch-and-run down the sideline. Jeffery picked up 11 on a quick read over the middle on 3rd-and-8 from the CU 45. Texas began moving the ball with Cedric Benson and Will Matthews pounding the middle but, once Texas collected a first down at the CU 24, Greg Davis was determined to put the ball in the air. After Young was sacked, he threw his second pick in as many possessions when he threw the ball into LCB Lorenzo Simms' arms instead of tossing it, or running it, out of bounds.
Colorado took over on its own 20 but this drive was killed on first down when heat-seeking missile Derrick Johnson sacked QB Joel Klatt for an 11-yard loss. But dropping back to pass, Young fumbled under a heavy rush that an alert Lyle Sendlein recovered at the Texas 17. The Horns could not overcome the 3rd-and-22 but Richmond McGee's 49-yard punt bought his team some valuable real estate.
The Buffs could not overcome a holding penalty and Texas finally danced with the one who brung 'em on its fifth possession.
"We came out and had a rough start and they had a couple of big plays on defense," Benson said. "We knew we had to turn the game back over real fast. We didn't want it to get out of hand so we started to get the running game going."
Behind a surging offensive line and running like they were going downhill, the Horns got on the board with a 12 play, 91-yard TD drive. Benson carried for 14 on first down before Young hit Sweed on a quick toss to move the ball from the shadow of the Buffalo goal line. It was the last time UT put the ball in the air on the series. Benson picked up 18 yards on second down after future star OG Kasey Studdard adeptly picked up the blitz. Needing six on second down from midfield, VY stepped off a quick 13. Backup RB Ramonce Taylor checked in (just to give Ced a breather in that thin mountain air) and gathered nine on the option pitch from the CU 25. Then, on second-and-goal from the nine, Benson huffed and he buffed and he blew the defense down, generating nine tough yards up the middle. A quarterback keep from less than one yard out capped the drive as Texas knotted the affair at seven with 5:32 remaining until intermission.
"Our offense started clicking in the second quarter," Brown said.
The Texas offense took over on its own 32 after its pressuring D forced a quick three-and-out. Jeffery was good for five on the reverse before VY kept for two on third-and-short at the Buffalo 41. Here, you're holding your breath anytime VY looks to throw but Young looked off his intended receiver and found TE David Thomas over the middle for 20. Young then connected with Benson for eight on a first-down call at the CU 37. Facing second-and-10 from the 25, Young coolly stepped-off 18 on the quarterback draw. It took Benson two carries to punch it in, scoring on the zone read to put the exclamation point on the 10-play, 68-yard drive. Texas had its first lead, 14-7, with 52 seconds left until the break.
Texas had engineered 227 total yards at halftime while the defense held the home team to just 39 yards, including minus-19 rushing (no small part of the reason CU went with five-wides on its opening series of the second half). The Horns went with a nickel package as CU faced a 2nd-and-10 from its own 34. That's when hard-charging nickel back Michael Griffin forced a Klatt fumble that MLB Aaron Harris recovered at the 17.
"(Co-Defensive Coordinator) Greg Robinson had a couple of safety blitzes that forced some turnovers in the third quarter," Brown said, "and that was the time Colorado might could have gotten back into the game."
Benson then carried for seven around the left side before, on 3rd-and-2 from the nine, VY made it look effortless by stepping away from blitz and stepping to the end zone around left end. Credit Benson for sustaining his block for five yards to spring Young. The Horns led 21-7 with 12:21 remaining in the third quarter.
Harris returned the favor on CU's next possession. The MLB batted Klatt's attempt high in the air that Griffin picked off at the Buffalo 20. On fourth-and-1 from the 11, Young darted around right end for five yards on the misdirection rollout. From the six, Benson burrowed in for his 57th career rushing TD to cap the five-play drive. The Horns lead 28-7 with 8:39 left in the third.
The Buffs went with a hurry-up offense, picking up just their fifth first down of the contest (two of those courtesy of penalties on the Longhorn D). But facing 3rd-and-1 from the Texas 43, Klatt hurried a slant that had no chance against CB Tarell Brown's tight coverage.
"We think the defense is going to be great," Johnson said. "That's what we're trying to get to. We're gearing for the end of the season. Hopefully, by the last game, we'll have all the weaknesses ironed out."
Following another CU punt, the Horns took over on their own 20 with 6:50 remaining in the frame and responded with their fifth scoring drive in as many possessions. The big play was Taylor's 37-yard sprint. The true freshman, giving Ced a brief respite, took the pitch from Young, started to the short side of the field before cutting back and reeling off those 37 behind Jeffery's crunching block. David Thomas, whose refuse-to-lose demeanor is on display every snap, gathered in a Young pass in the right flat and lunged for the first on 3rd-and-5 from the 28. Young pump-faked and tried to hit Sweed in the end zone on third-and-4 from the 16 but the incompletion set up Dusty Mangum's 33-yard FG. The Horns increased their margin, 31-7, with 2:19 left in the third quarter following the 10-play drive.
Colorado did not post a third-down conversion until there was 12:32 remaining in the contest. Even on that fourth quarter drive, CB Cedric Griffin picked off a Klatt pass at the CU 3, returning it 29 yards. Texas then milked the clock, draining 7:34 on a long drive (mainly with backups, including QB Chance Mock) that reached the CU red zone.
The Horns face Oklahoma State, who dropped a 38-35 heartbreaker in Stillwater to OU, at DKR next Saturday.
Backup FS Matt Melton injured his ankle and returned after halftime wearing a protective boot. SE Limas Sweed sat out the fourth quarter with an ice pack over his ribs.