Horns Dodge A Bullet: Texas 27, Kansas 23

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Darrell Royal once said the mark of a great team was when it played horrible and still won. By his measuring stick, Texas now borders on greatness with its 27-23 comeback at lowly-but-determined Kansas. QB Vince Young found FL Tony Jeffery on a post corner route with 11 seconds remaining to stave off what would have been college football's biggest upset of the 2004 season.

If Young doesn't make that completion, if he doesn't scramble for 22 yards on 4th-and-18 just four plays earlier and, hell, if WR/DB Charles Gordon isn't whistled for offensive pass interference at the end of his 13-yard completion with little more than two minutes to play and Kansas leading, you're staring at the ugliest upset in head coach Mack Brown's seven-year tenure. If, if, if!, none of that happens then you'd still hear the laughter reverberating all the way from College Station. This one could have been more embarrassing than Baylor's win over the Aggies last month.

But it wasn't -- thanks to a suddenly-poised Longhorn team that rallied from the kind of 23-13 deficit with 7:41 remaining that has torpedoed the seasons of previous squads wearing the Burnt Orange. QB Brian Luke's one-yard TD pass to Lyone Anderson was a slap in the face to a Texas team that thought Kansas had no business being on the same field with them.

"After that touchdown pass, we said 'Whoa! We better pick it up,'" Brown said. "They showed the attitude, confidence and energy to go ahead and win the game."

KU coach Mark Mangino ain't buying it. A seething Mangino said the offensive pass interference call was BCS-motivated, intended to protect Texas' lofty standing in the latest ratings.

"You know what this was all about don't you? BCS," insisted Mangino, who said he didn't care if Big 12 officials fined him for his candor. "That's what made all the difference in this game. All of America sat at home and watched the play. We'll let them be the judge about that call."

He applauded his team's gutty effort before concluding, "I've got a football team to fight for. I'm not gonna be pushed around. I'm not about to let this team or this university be pushed around because we're not the big spenders or the big BCS people in this league."

Brown attributed the remarks to "a third year coach" who had just lost a bitterly fought contest in the waning seconds: "We had 100 more yards in penalties than they did (103-23). Obviously those comments are for the Big 12 office and not for me."

You can't really blame Mangino; nor can you thump your chest after a fourth-team QB (junior Brian Luke) who never started a collegiate game came off the bench in the second quarter and passed Texas silly with a career-best 225 yards on 14-of-25 completions. Keep in mind that Luke was replacing the other fourth-team walk-on QB John Nielsen who came off the bench last week but who was injured Saturday on a busted play just before the half. KU's quarterback roster reads like the admission sheet for a critical care unit and this one still came down to the final 11 seconds.

"The guy barely got any practice time because all the snaps went to Nielsen," Mangino said. "I am really proud of Luke, he overcame a lot of adversity this season and has over his whole career. You really have to give credit to him, he did a marvelous job."

Luke's 73-yard completion to WR Mark Simmons on 3rd-and-four set up his one-yard scoring toss to Anderson. The ten-point lead prompted press box officials to start issuing warnings about Jayhawk fans storming the field and tearing down the goal posts. Vince Young, meanwhile, was able to overcome his third straight erratic first-half performance with 22-of-40 passing for a career-best 289 yards, including two INT and one TD. For the second straight week, he passed and ran for more than 100 yards, adding 114 yards rushing on 19 totes.

"One of the great things about Vince Young is that he can beat you both ways," Brown said. "He had over 100 yards rushing and threw the ball great."

Texas' game-winning drive couldn't have gotten off to a worse start, as Young was sacked for an eight-yard loss on first down at the KU 47. Two incompletions later, Texas faced 4th-and-18 as well as a season that teetered on extinction. But Young had already noticed a trend in the Jayhawk defense.

"On the previous series, those guys were dropping back and trying to protect against the deep ball," he said. "They probably thought we were going to throw a big pass into the end zone and go by fate, or something like that. I just saw those guys drop back real far and I took it down with my feet."

Young's feet took him 22 yards, after he was flushed out of the pocket on the go route. Then Young rushed for nine yards on 2nd-and-12 from the KU 26 and found Jeffery for five more to reach the Jayhawk 21 with 17 seconds remaining. Kansas called for time. Texas called for the flanker to run a corner route with a hitch on the outside. Texas had run the play three times earlier in the game; each time, KU lined up in zone coverage. This time, they did not.

It was a sprint-out where Young had the option to keep the ball but, with just seconds remaining, he went with his senior flanker.

"On that particular route, it was the first time they were in man coverage," Jeffery told me. "They had been taking away that route with the zone coverage all day long. We felt like, since they were at the goal line, they would man-up and try to bring the blitz. It was a great call by Coach (Greg) Davis and great execution of the play.

Young lofted the ball, and the hopes of the 2004 season, into the chilly Kansas breeze. Jeffery cradled the pigskin, coming up with the biggest grab of his career just inside the left pylon. It gave him a personal-best 131 yards receiving on seven receptions. But where would Texas have been in this one without RB Cedric Benson's 161 yards on 28 carries? That real estate gave Cedric 5,305 career yards, passing two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, Heisman winner Herschel Walker and LaDainian Tomlinson for sixth place on the NCAA's all-time list.

"It's weird when you rush for over a hundred yards and the game is still close," Benson said. "Kansas played a great game and you have to give them a lot of credit."

Horrific special teams play, a spotty pass rush, soft coverage in the secondary, dropped passes, plus an infraction against a Longhorn coach for running into a referee on the field made for a frustrating first half in half-empty Memorial Stadium at Lawrence, Kansas. The Horns allowed a pair of backup QBs, who had never logged a career start, to pass them silly and stake a 9-7 Kansas halftime lead.

Logging his first career start on Senior Day, senior walk-on John Nielsen completed three straight tosses (including an 18-yard completion to TE Lyonel Anderson on 3rd-and-8) to move the Jayhawks to the Texas 28. But Johnny Beck's 44-yard FG attempt was wide left as the Horns took over on their own 26. Young connected with FL Tony Jeffery for 9 and, four plays later, found SE Limas Sweed for 12 on a rollout, right sideline pass. But Benson lost four on 2nd-and-5 from the KU 39 and Texas was forced to punt following Young's incompletion under heavy pressure.

On KU's second possession, DT Rod Wright stuffed RB John Randle for no gain on a 3rd-and-1 play from the Jayhawk 37. But CB Tarell Brown was whistled for pass interference on Kansas' fake punt attempt, giving the home team a first down at midfield. The Jaybirds reached into their bag of tricks once again but Charles Gordon, throwing off the lateral toss, was picked off by SS Michael Huff at the KU 13. The Horns were flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty after a UT coach ran on the field (from the press box, it looked like Co-Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina) and into a game official. On second-and-four from the 13, Benson dashed for 42 yards followed by Young's 15-yard screen play to TE David Thomas down the left sideline. ILB Kevin Kane stepped in front of Young's third-down attempt and returned it 27 yards to the Texas 46.

KU converted the turnover into a six-play, 24-yard drive culminating in a 39-yard Beck FG. The big play was Nielsen's 21-yard completion to WR Marcus Henry, good for 21, as the walk-on had ample time to throw most of the opening half. KU grabbed a 3-0 lead over sleepwalking Texas with eight seconds remaining in the opening frame.

TE Bo Scaife dropped two straight passes on Texas' first possession of the second quarter, and the Horns were forced to punt. The defense forced the first three-and-out of the ballgame as Texas took over on its 30 following a 36-yard punt.

Texas got untracked, momentarily, with an eight-play, 70-yard drive that culminated with Benson's 16-yard TD run. RS-freshman SE Limas Sweed compensated for an early holding penalty with his clutch 15-yard grab over the middle. Young came back to Sweed for an eight-yard toss down the left sideline to the KU 33. From there, it was all Benson, who collected the final 33 yards on three carries to set a new NCAA record after scoring in his 36th straight contest.

Brian Luke checked in at QB on KU's next series, the fourth Jayhawk to start this season after Nielsen was shaken up on a busted, third down play. His option pitch to Randle lost four yards. Kyle Tucker's punt carried 51 yards, after Aaron Ross allowed the ball to bounce an extra 12 to the UT 10.

Benson went over the century mark with a 13-yard run on second-and-six, but the Horns were forced to punt after nobody bit on Young's third-down QB draw. Luke's first-down pass was complete to WR Brandon Rideau down the right sideline for 36. The play set up Beck's 29-yard FG, narrowing the Texas lead, 7-6.

KU forced a three-and-out and took over on the Texas 46 following CB Cedric Griffin's unsportsmanlike penalty on the return. A pair of Anderson receptions moved the ball to the Texas 26, setting up Beck's 36-yard FG as time expired. KU took a 9-7 lead into locker room.

Benson quickly stepped off 20 yards on first down to open the second half. But TE David Thomas was whistled for a false start and Young's third down attempt was batted down and almost intercepted (this is where that half-cocked throwing motion gets VY into trouble, week-in and week-out. So many of his short range attempts barely clear the outstretched hands of down linemen and, two or three times per game, do not).

Both teams traded punts and Texas took over on its 39. Young's deep ball to Jeffery covered 46 yards to the KU 15. His third down attempt to Sweed in the corner of end zone fell incomplete, as Texas settled for a 32-yard Dusty Mangum FG with 10:06 remaining in the third quarter. The Horns reclaimed a slim, 10-9 lead following the five-play, 47-yard drive.

This is when Texas' shoddy kickoff coverage jumped and bit them in the butt ah-gain. KR Greg Heaggans returned McGee's boot 45 yards before Michael Huff ran him out of bounds. Luke quickly found Simmons for a 16-yard completion but, on the next play, MLB Aaron Harris forced a Simmons' fumble at the end of a five-yard completion. DE Tim Crowder came up with the precious pigskin. But Young immediately returned the favor on the next play when he threw into triple coverage and FS Rodney Harris came away with the INT.

On a critical third-and-three play from the KU 33, Luke's fumble lost 11 yards and carried out of bounds. On fourth-and-14, P Kyle Tucker could not get the kick away and was tackled for an 11-yard loss at the KU 47. On second-and-10, Benson hopped, skipped and jumped to the Jayhawk 33. But Young was hit as he released the ball on third and ten, the incompletion setting up a (who-woulda-thunk it?) season-best 50-yard Mangum FG. Texas led 13-9 with 5:53 remaining in the third. Apparently so worn out from his mid-field gyrating and fist pumping following his 50-yarder (his first since his freshman campaign), Mangum missed from 33-yards out on Texas' next drive.

That, of course, energized the shivering KU spectators but the defense forced another three-and-out. Texas took over on its own 15 following a block-in-the-back penalty on the return. Two incompletions later, McGee's shank covered all of 21 yards. Trailing by four with 12:48 remaining, KU took over on the Texas 39. Luke's 17-yard completion to Gary Heaggans gave KU a first down at the Texas 22. Two plays later, Luke hit Gordon for 21 setting up first and goal from the one. FB Austine Nwabuisi carried over the one and the unthinkable was happening: Kansas 16, Texas 13 with 11:42 remaining.

Young picked up a couple of first downs on a pair of tosses to Scaife. Needing three yards on third down from the KU 42, Benson's carry around right end went nowhere. McGee's punt carried out of the end zone as the surreal continued to unfold. Facing a critical 3rd-and-four from the KU 26, Simmons catch-and-run from Luke covered 73 yards to the Texas one. Luke found Anderson in the end zone to cap the four-play, 80-yard drive. That increased KU's lead, 23-13, with 7:41 remaining.

Every bit as important as Texas' game winning drive was the 13-play effort that began on the Horns' own 13. Young opened with a 12-yard completion to Benson but then misfired on his next two to Sweed. Facing the first of three, critical third-down conversions on this possession, Young dashed for 12 yards around right end to pick up the first at the KU 37. Five plays later, Texas called timeout with 5:37 remaining and facing third-and-four from the Jayhawk 28. Benson carried for seven tough yards but Texas gave them right back when VY was sacked for a seven-yard loss. He then found Sweed for 10 yards to set up another pivotal third-down call, this time 3rd-and-seven from the KU 18.

The 18-yard scoring run was vintage Vince, weaving through traffic and finding a seam into the end zone along the right sideline. Texas chipped away, trailing 23-20, with 4:12 remaining. The so-called "BCS" call came on Kansas' next possession. Kansas was forced to punt from their own 12, following the offensive pass interference penalty against Gordon. Tucker's 35-yard punt set up a short field for Texas, setting also the stage for a comeback that was every bit as improbable as last week's historic comeback against Oklahoma State.

Kansas has thrown some scare into most of the teams it faced this season, playing competitive ball for three quarters, but saw its record fall to 3-7 on the year.

"This one hurts the worst," OLB Nick Reid said. "The sixth-ranked team in the nation and we had them down by 10 points and couldn't get it done."

Statistically, it was a game Brown dreams about. Texas finished with 581 total yards (292 rushing, 289 passing). Both Kansas QBs combined for 308 passing yards (23-of-41) but managed just 40 rushing yards in 27 attempts.

KU fans taunted Texas players as they left the field, hurling the occasional expletive and predicting comeuppance next January during hoops season. Hey, Jaybirds: Texas is a hoops school, too, and has won the last two against your storied program.

"Once again, it was another tremendous performance by this team, fighting back like that at the end of the football game," Benson said. "That's championship stuff out there."

It may not be championship stuff this year, but Texas is still a BCS-contender after hanging on to the kind of game that it has let slip through its grasp in recent years.

"We didn't play very well at times," Brown concluded. "We didn't make the plays we needed to put them away. But we've won more close games down the stretch and I think our guys knew we could win it in the end."

Texas enters a bye week before concluding the regular season against Texas A&M on Friday, November 26.

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