Trailing 35-7 with 1:21 left until intermission, No. 6/7 Texas exploded with 49 unanswered points to upend No. 19 Oklahoma State to move its record to 8-1 and keep its BCS hopes alive (a pair of Fiesta Bowl officials were guests in the press box). It was Texas' biggest come-from-behind win since former QB Major Applewhite rallied the troops from 19 down in the 2001 Holiday Bowl win over Washington.
But this is what Brown told his team during intermission: "I told them they (OSU) couldn't play any better. They can't play any better than they played in the first half. It was just unbelievable. It was just a perfect half of football for OSU. We didn't respond. We stood there and watched it. We were amazed. And I told them that they can't play that way for a full game and we can't play any worse than we were doing. I said, 'They don't know who we were. What we're gonna do is go out and score on the first drive and beat them.'"
Brown's half time prediction: Texas 42, OSU 35.
"I apologized to them for underestimating them," Brown laughed.
The most underestimated Longhorn this season is arguably QB Vince Young. Once he settled down, it was quite simply VY's finest hour in a Texas uniform. Oft-criticized for his quirky, half-cocked throwing motion, Young' shook off the effects of two early INTs and responded with a who-would'a-thunk-it, personal best 18-of-21 passing for 278 yards, plus 123 yards rushing on 12 carries.
"I've never seen Vince play any better than that," Brown said. "I'm really proud of him that he overcame some adversity in the same game to come back and pay so well."
His 12 straight completions during that pivotal third quarter surpassed the school record that Chris Simms set (11) in 2001. TE Bo Scaife (five grabs) and SE Limas Sweed (four catches) each tallied 70 yards in receptions.
If there is any justice in the college football world, RB Cedric Benson would already have airplane reservations for the Downtown Athletic club next month. It's not just that he posted a career-best five rushing TDs when his team needed it most. It's not just that Benson has now scored in an NCAA record 35 games. And it's not that his 141 yards on 23 carries gives him 5,144 for his career, moving him to No. 9 on the NCAA all-time rushing chart. It's how he gets those yards. It's that punishing, slashing, refuse-to-lose determination that makes Cedric a joy to behold as he puts the finishing touches on a stellar career.
For Benson, Saturday's affair was not so much about his stats as it was the maturity (not to mention intestinal fortitude) of this team.
"The thought crosses your mind that there's a chance you could lose," he said. "When that thought crosses your mind, you have to make a decision. You can change it right now or you can just lay down. I'm sure that thought crossed a lot of guys minds and they made a decision tonight."
The decision, of course, was to come out of that locker room and seize the day.
How dominant was Texas in the third quarter? Consider the evidence: Texas racked up 266 yards of total offense while its defense held OSU to minus-five yards and no completions. Texas averaged 12.6 yards-per-play during that pivotal 15 minutes. The Horns collected 11 first downs while the Pokes did not move the chains. Not once.
All told, Texas scored on seven consecutive possessions (the longest drive taking just 3:39 off the game clock; four of those drives taking less than two minutes) while the defense limited OSU's vaunted running game (No. 6 nationally) to just 37 yards in the second half.
The Horns generated 600 yards of total offense, the 15th highest total in school history.
"It shows the character of this team as far as not giving up," WLB Derrick Johnson said. "We never gave up. We played to the end."
Texas held Morency, who finished with 100 yards on 20 totes, to just 18 yards on eight carries after halftime. The defense also came up with a key INT and limited OSU to 3-of-13 on third down conversions. OSU entered the contest averaging 254.5 rushing ypg and was held to 178 net yards. QB Donovan Woods was 12-of-18 for 224 yards but, again, most of that damage was done in the first half.
Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson said there weren't many adjustments made during the break.
"It was really more about us trying get an awareness of what they were doing to us," he said. "It was more about our players coming out and playing unbelievable in the second half. It was just incredible to be a part of it."
Call it tale of two halves, but Brown said Texas' efforts during the final 30 minutes was every bit as perfect as the two opening quarters for Oklahoma State.
"I just thought this team was good enough to do this (come back)," Brown said. "I can't explain the second half better than the first half. The first half, I can't explain, I absolutely can't explain it."
This one got off to an ominous start when KR Robert Jones collected Richmond McGee's boot at the one-yard line and raced 53 yards to the Texas 46. Facing 4th-and-1 from the 37, Morency raced 34 yards on the option pitch. Fullback Julius Crosslin carried it over off right tackle two plays later for the score. The Cowboys led 7-0 with 3:02 eclipsed in the opening frame.
Texas answered with an eight-play, 80-yard drive. QB Vince Young hooked up with FL Tony Jeffery on a nine-yard toss, setting up second-and-one at the Texas 40. But the big play on this series was Young's 46-yard swing pass to backup RB Ramonce Taylor. Benson scored from the seven on the option pitch as Texas knotted the score with 8:39 remaining in the first quarter.
But the Cowboys struck back, covering 80 yards on three plays. On first down, QB Donovan Woods stepped out of the misdirection play, threw across the field to Morency who shook two tacklers, cut across the grain and raced 68 yards untouched into the end zone. The Pokes led 14-7
Young was sacked for a 7-yard loss on 3rd-and-6, recovering his own fumble at the Texas 15.
SLB Eric Hall was whistled for a roughing the passer on a 3rd-and-15 call from the OSU 27, but LDE Tim Crowder's first-career sack threw Woods for a three-yard loss on 3rd-and-16 from the 30. The Texas running game began to click, starting with Benson's 19-yard dash to the UT 46 followed by Young's 27-yard sprint on the quarterback keeper. But following a pair of false start infractions (RT Justin Blalock, TE David Thomas), RCB Daniel McLemore picked off Young's pass intended for SE Limas Sweed in the back of the end zone.
The Cowboys converted the giveaway into an 11-play, 80-yard drive, sparked by Woods' 24-yard completion over the middle to older brother D'Juan. The Cowboys kept the drive alive with FB Shawn Willis' 3-yard plunge on 4th-and-1 at the Texas 42. Donovan found his brother again, this time for 11 yards from the Longhorn 39. His 10-yard completion to Croslin on 3rd-and-5 set up a first down at the Texas 13. From there, Morency carried it in virtually untouched across the goal line. OSU 21, Texas 7, with 9:31 remaining until intermission.
"This was a train wreck," Brown said, aptly describing the first 25 minutes of the contest. "This wasn't adversity. We were splatted and scattered just before half time."
On 2nd-and 10, DT Clay Coe tipped a Young pass that LB Pagitta McGee picked off at the Texas 20. TB Seymore Shaw cut through the Longhorn defense like a hot knife through soft butter, covering 19 yards. Woods scored one play later on the QB keeper. The Cowboys upped their lead, 28-7, with 8:13 remaining until halftime. They weren't done.
OSU took over on the Texas 29 following a 34-yard McGee punt. Morency ripped off 15 first-down yards but the dagger came when the Woods brothers hooked up again, this time a 45-yard dart over the middle that gave the Cowboys first-and-goal at the three, following RCB Aaron Ross' incidental face mask penalty. It took four plays but Shaw crossed the goal line over right guard on 4th-and-1 to cap the eight-play, 71-yard drive. Now, the visitors had posted a 35-7 shocker with 81 seconds until half time.
Still, the goal line stand that almost was represented a turning point for the Horns.
"As simple as it sounds, when we nearly held them out of the end zone and they had to go four downs and it was a fight, that showed there was still something left," Brown said.
Facing 80 yards of real estate and a four-touchdown deficit, Young found Benson on a 12-yard screen pass before connecting with Thomas on a left sideline pass for nine. A 10-yard completion to Benson moved the chains on 2nd-and-10 from the UT 46. Then, on 1st-and-10 from the Cowboy 44, Young hit TE Bo Scaife over the middle for 22. A 17-yard post pass to Sweed resulted in 1st-and-goal from the five with 13 seconds remaining. After spiking the ball, Young found Scaife again along the left sideline. The determined TE dragged two Cowboys toward the pylon, extending the ball (admittedly) just short of the pylon (but that's the kind of call you get when you're a sixth-year player on your home turf).
"The drive right before half was huge," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said. "To go and get a touchdown really settled everybody down, and we knew we were going to get the ball to start the second half."
The drive covered 80 yards in 78 seconds but the Horns took a 35-14 deficit into the locker room.
"I was amazed that, as we left the field, our fans were clapping for us," Brown said. "I would have booed. But our fans were great and I thought it helped our kids."
Young stayed with his hot hand to open the third quarter from the UT 20, finding Scaife over the middle for 26 and then coming right back at him for 14. On 2nd-and-8, Young picked a low, bobbled snap up off the carpet and scooted 17 yards to the Cowboy 21. Showing some refuse-to-lose, Benson broke three tackles around right end before he was pulled down at the one. Three plays later, Benson hit paydirt from one yard out as Texas gradually chipped away at the deficit, 35-21, with 11:21 left in the third quarter.
"I was really proud of our coaching staff for not panicking," Brown said. "That first half stuff can really split a staff."
The defense forced a three-and-out after Johnson stopped Woods on 3rd-and-four from the 37. And the offense responded with a five-play, 78-yard drive. It's been gratifying to see Sweed grow up before our very eyes, freezing the DB on a stop-and-go before pulling down VY's 37-yard right sideline pass at the OSU 30. Then, on 2nd-and 3 from the 23, Benson ran unmolested into the end zone as 83,181 crammed into DKR braced themselves for an electrifying finish.
Prentiss Elliot returned McGee's kick-off 46 yards to midfield. Didn't matter. The defense was stoked. Playing like a mad man, Crowder lassoed Woods for an 11-yard loss on third down.
Still needing a TD to tie, coaches dialed up RB Ramonce Taylor and a play they put in the game plan after deciding last Sunday that the true freshman just has too much speed to keep off the field. Despite his electrifying bursts at Colorado last week, it's been a tougher month for RT than most realize.
"Three weeks ago, he hit the wall that all freshman run into," Davis said. "He got over it. This week, after the Colorado game, we put a package in for him to get him involved in space. He responded and certainly did very well."
Here's what RT did with those wide open spaces: on first down at the OSU 48, Young nonchalantly flipped the ball to Taylor who was streaking toward left end on a reverse. The freshman turned on the jets, turned the corned, tightroped the left sideline and headed south. And, yes!, this one was tied at 35!
Now, the energy bottled inside DKR could have lit up a small country. Texas took over on its own 28 after the defense forced another three-and-out. On first down, Young hit Thomas with an absolute dart, good for 25. He followed that with a shovel pass to Benson (where has this been all year?) that picked up a quick 11.
"Keeping poised is the biggest thing for a quarterback," Young said. "I just get out there and make plays for the team. We've got so much respect for the defense right now. We know they can go out there and get the ball back for us."
Facing a critical 4th-and-1 at the OSU 27, Brown thought briefly about going for the FG but quickly decided it was out of senior Dusty Mangum's range. Instead, Benson reeled off 19, leg-churning yards. Then, on 2nd-and-five from the five, Benson broke through into the end zone and, for the first time, Texas broke out on top. The Horns led 42-35 with 13:17 remaining. And they would never look back.
The offense took over at midfield after the defense forced another three-and-out. A 3rd-and-9 pass interference call against CB Daniel McLemore kept the drive alive. The Horns then faced 3rd-and-5 from the OSU 29. You saw this one coming from a mile away but Young ran a quarterback draw, good for 15. Benson capped the seven-play drive with his fifth rushing TD of the night with his six-yard plunge. Texas led, 49-35, with 9:43 left in the fourth.
The shell-shocked Cowboys reached their own 47 behind a pair of completions to WR Prentiss Elliot. But on 4th-and-1 at the UT 47, RB Tarell Brown stepped in front of Woods' pass and raced for what appeared to be a 58-yard TD return. However, DE Neale Tweedie was whistled for a block below the waist, but the Horns would not be denied for long. Behind Benson's clearing block, VY darted around right end for 42 yards on the zone read play for Texas' seventh TD in as many possessions. Now, the scoreboard read 56-35 with 6:57 remaining until sweet victory.
Sweet it was, but Brown wisely cautioned his team not to be thumping their chests too loudly.
"All of us told them not to be too excited about being part of the best comeback in Texas history because that means you were further down than anyone else to come back and win," Brown said. "Understand that you were part of it that got down, too. So don't be too full of yourself over it."
But for now, Benson may have summed it up best: "This team proved a lot. It was such a deficit at half time but this team fought back. I am just very grateful to be part of this experience. It was just amazing today. I'm so grateful to be on this team. It's just tremendous. It's just awesome."
It's just a little 'ol 28-point comeback win. We'll take it.