"That was the most unbelievable change of momentum I've ever seen," Brown said, "and to see Vince Young and the football team overcome it and dominate the second half makes a coach feel really good."
Obviously, the Horns have stared down the gun barrel of adversity these past two ball games. But the Horns would also be staring at a wide-open A&M offense that would get the ball to start the second half and QB Reggie McNeal looking as comfortable in Texas' own backyard as he presumably does on his living room sofa. But if Young's first half miscues have taught Orangebloods anything, it is not to be too worried about his psyche.
"At halftime, he was upset but it was good upset," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said. "That's all I can tell you. I told Vince, 'We're gonna need you in second half.'"
Teammates were also quick to offer words of encouragement.
"I hate going in to halftime with a turnover like that," Young said. "All our guys tried to pick me up and say, 'We love you' and 'You are the man.' I knew they were all behind me and I knew what we had to do to win."
What "we" had to do, initially, was come up with a defensive stop. Texas got that, and then some to start the second half. On 4th-and-two from the Aggie 28, Michael Griffin blocked a Jacob Young punt that CB Bobby Tatum recovered for a 10-yard return for TD.
Senior Dusty Mangum, who earlier had missed his first PAT in 68 attempts, lined up for the critical conversion but this time without his usual holder (FL Tony Jeffery, who left the game in the second quarter with a rib injury). Backup Matt Nordgren mishandled the snap which Mangum booted waist-high into the heart of the Aggie defense. But A&M's attempt to return the block for a two-pointer resulted in a fumble that FS Jaxson Appel recovered in the end zone. Game officials huddled near the goal line to confer about the proper ruling.
Rule 8, Article 2, Paragraph I.
It's what happens when a PAT attempt becomes a two-point try before a team recovers its own fumble in its end zone. The result: a one-point safety and a 13-13 game with 13:33 remaining. More important, all the momentum had swung back to the Texas sideline as the Longhorn defense then pitched a shutout for the remainder of the contest.
"I'd never heard of such a thing before tonight," Brown said. "I didn't know it was a rule. I thought a safety was supposed to be two (points). But I thought that erased the negative loss of momentum before halftime."
In what Brown described as "a great day for college football," 19 Longhorn seniors closed out their home careers by posting the best record (42-8) for a single class. The day, of course, belonged to the best defensive player in college football (WLB Derrick Johnson posted eight tackles, two TFL, one sack, one pivotal blocked PAT) and the most overlooked RB in college football (Cedric Benson totaled 168 yards on 33 carries and had more rushing yards at halftime than the Aggies did all day).
It was also a day when Brown took off his Mister Congeniality label to lobby the media to jump his team ahead of Cal and Utah in the polls. No. 5/6 Texas at least nailed down a January bowl berth by upping its record to 10-1, 7-1 in conference play. No. 22 Texas A&M fell to 7-4 and is likely headed to the Alamo Bowl to face Ohio State. The third largest home crowd in UT history, an announced 83,891 fans, saw Texas win its fifth straight against the Aggies and eight of the last 10.
"Being a senior and not ever losing to the Aggies, that's great," Johnson said. "That's something I'll always remember."
As advertised, Johnson wore jersey No. 60 during the game as a way to honor Longhorn legend Tommy Nobis and other UT defensive greats.
"Knowing Tommy Nobis wore that number was very special to me," Johnson said. "It made it possible for guys like me to play linebacker at Texas."
Benson's last run at DKR was actually a victory lap around the stadium, soaking in the adulation of the Texas fans who remained to sing not only "The Eyes of Texas" and "Poooor Aggies" but also his praises.
"I thought I'd take a good look at everything one last time," Benson said. "I really enjoyed the excitement from the fans. I enjoyed them standing up, cheering and clapping like that. You know, they've come a long way themseves this season."
Texas generated 405 yards of offense, including 274 yards rushing. Young was an efficient 12-of-18 passing for 131 yards and no INT. He added 93 yards rushing on 19 carries. The Aggies totaled 278 yards but netted just 31 yards running on 25 attempts.
The Horns picked up a pair of first downs on their opening drive with an 18-yard completion to TE David Thomas on play action and then a right sideline pass to WR Nate Jones. But on third-and-16 from the UT 44, SE Limas Sweed could not hang on to Young's toss that hit him in the numbers.
QB Reggie McNeal came out gunning on A&M's opening series, hitting WR Terrence Murphy four times for 27 yards. On 4th-and-7 from the UT 35, Texas came with the nickel blitz and hurried McNeal's sideline toss to Murphy. The Horns took over on downs following the incompletion.
Texas used Benson as a sledge hammer on its 65-yard scoring drive, as the senior carried nine times for 48 yards, including a 22-yard burst on 3rd-and-8 from the Aggie 38. VY's option keeper around left end for three yards capped the 14-play drive in which Texas never put the ball in the air. Dusty Mangum missed his first PAT in 68 attempts as Texas led 6-0 with 2:35 remaining in the opening frame.
The Aggies immediately answered with a seven-play, 67-yard drive that was kept alive by McNeal's 21-yard completion to WR L' Tydrick Riley on 3rd-and-18 from the A&M 33. Three plays later, McNeal found a wide-open WR DeQawn Mobley between the hashmarks for the score. Johnson blocked the PAT attempt, knotting the score at 6-6 with :46 remaining in the opening quarter.
Texas' next drive began with a nine-yard loss from its own 18 as Benson recovered Young's errant pitch. Young scrambled for 11 on 3rd-and-16, brought down by LCB Erik Mayes' shoestring tackle. The Aggies took over on their own 27 after Mayes' five-yard return of Richmond McGee's 55-yard punt.
McNeal passed the Aggies down the field into the stiff southerly breeze, including a 23-yard completion to WR Chad Schroeder to the Texas 36. But five plays later, Todd Pegream's 32-yard FG attempt was wide left. Texas opened on its own 20 as Young deftly dropped the ball over an Aggie linebacker and found TE Bo Scaife for 30 yards. Following two incompletions, Young recovered his own fumble at midfield.
A roughing the kicker call on CB Cedric Griffiin kept the next Aggie drive alive, spotting the Farmers a first down at the UT 49. With Johnson leading the charge, the D threw RB Courtney Lewis for a four-yard loss on first down. Lewis had just 15 yards on seven carries for the afternoon. McNeal fired two incompletions under heavy pressure. David Young's punt bounded 42 yards to the Longhorn 11.
We can talk all day about Texas' 87 yard drive that resulted in Buhl's 98-yard fumble return for TD which represented a 14-point swing.
"The play at halftime changed the whole dynamics of the game or we're winning 33-7 in the fourth quarter," Brown noted.
But that play doesn't happen if a) Texas hadn't squandered all three timeouts before the end of the first quarter and b) if Young wouldn't carry the ball as if it was a diseased rat. What was so crushing about this drastic reversal of fortune was that it was an otherwise brilliant drive, mixing pass and run, highlighted by Benson's reception on 4th-and-four at the Aggie 31 where he carried four tacklers for the first. Young scrambled for 15 on 3rd-and-four from the 19 but, again, no timeouts! Benson carried for three off right tackle on 1st-and-goal from the four but, with less than 15 seconds remaining, Justin Warren swatted the diseased rat out of Young's hands as he tried to extend the ball over the goal line on the QB keep.
"We've not been stopped on a sneak all year," Davis said. "Vince tried to go over the top, the ball got batted and we didn't get it in. Any blame goes to me."
From there, Buhl carried the ball, and the momentum, 98 yards untouched for the score.
"That's the most freakish play I've ever seen," Brown said. "We messed up as coaches because we didn't save timeouts. We put our kids in a tough spot. We should have downed the ball."
Texas upped its blitz package in the second half, hoping to disrupt McNeal and clog the running lanes. Thanks to 36 yards in sacks, McNeal's 17 carries netted but seven yards. Offensively, Davis called for an option game to the strong side of the field after the break. He went with a two-back set, a quicker snap count, and quick-hit boxes because the A&M defense continued to stack the box. Meanwhile, Brown described the opening minutes of the second half as a contest to see "who was going to screw up the kicking game the most."
The biggest special teams screw-up, of course, went to the visitors. Following the blocked punt for TD and that one-point safety, Texas knotted the score at 13 but scored a knockout punch in terms of momentum.
McNeal finished with 247 yards on 20-of-38 passing but looked more and more uncomfortable as the second unfolded. He was harassed by the heat-seeking missile that is Derrick Johnson all afternoon. Johnson's tipped ball on McNeal's 3rd-and-9 attempt from the A&M 31 resulted in Young's 27-yard punt into the window. Taking over on their own 42, VY collected eight determined yards on first down. He picked up nine more yards three plays later on an option keeper, carrying to the Aggie 37. From there, the drive stalled but Texas reclaimed the lead, 16-13, with Mangum's 44-yard FG.
A holding penalty took some of the steam out of Texas' next drive that reached the Aggie 35 following Young's 12-yard left sideline toss to Sweed against the corner blitz and Benson's 8-yard gain on the option pitch. But with Texas clinging to a precarious three-point lead, the drive came down to Mangum attempting a career-best 52-yard FG on an afternoon where he had already missed two PATs for the first time in his career. This is the self-talk that went on inside Mangum's head as he trotted onto the field: "It's a clean slate. It's a new half. Lets get it done."
"They let me go out there and kick it and I was glad I had this opportunity," Mangum told me. "I was just going to give it my best shot. Even though the PAT is not 45- or 52-(yards), it was redemption -- especially with the streak that I've had with PATs. I was really frustrated when I missed it. It was redemption but it was also icing on the cake for my whole career."
"They're an outstanding team and they deserve to be ranked where they are," Aggie coach Dennis Franchione said. "We came to their house and fought them right down to the end. We just have a little more work to do to get to where they are."
Mangum responded with a career-long 52-yard field goal as Texas added to its slim lead, 19-13, with 1:22 left in the third quarter.
The Farmers moved the chain's on Lewis' nine-yard run to the Texas 33 but the defense stiffened and forced a 56-yard Young punt (at least 15 of those yards the result of the ball rolling to the UT 11). But that set up the game-clinching 89-yard drive in which the Texas O-line absolutely flexed its collective muscle and blew the Aggies off the line of scrimmage for nearly six glorious minutes. The most important play of the drive was Young's 22-yard lob to Thomas on 3rd-and-five from the Aggies 15.
"It was a great pass and a great catch," Brown said. "If we don't complete that, we're kicking into a heavy wind."
Young carried twice for 28 yards to reach the A&M 35. Two plays later, Benson rushed up the middle for 16. On 3rd-and-2 from the A&M five, DT Marcus Jasmin grabbed Young's face mask and twisted him to the turf as if he was wringing a chicken's neck back home on the farm. The personal foul gave Texas 1st-and-goal from the three. Two plays later, Benson hit paydirt. His one-yard plunge capped the 11-play, 89-yard drive and completed the scoring at 26-13 with 8:57 remaining.
The Aggies last legitimate shot at a comeback began with McNeal's 12-yard toss to WR Jason Carter but DE Tim Crowder got every inch of that real estate back with his 12-yard sack on the next play. FS Phillip Geiggar forced a McNeal fumble (recovered by C Chris Yoder at the A&M 12 ). On their next possession, CB Tarell Brown stepped in front of McNeal's desperation heave at the UT 16 to seal the deal.
"All in all, it was a fantastic effort by guys," Co-defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson said. "The front (linemen) came on like gang busters. It was just a phenomenal effort. We were dominant. That was a good football team we played."
But it was a better football team that won. Texas controlled the clock, 37:53 and held the ball 10:05 in the critical fourth quarter. The Horns were 7-of-16 on third down conversions while the Ags were just 4-of-15. A Texas defense that couldn't buy a sack the first half of the season recorded eight sacks Friday. Just as important, the Horns were 1-for-1 in botched PATs that become two-point tries that result in one-point safeties. The resolve and fight the 2004 Longhorns have shown cannot be quantified on a stat sheet.
"We're a team that doesn't like to lose, that's for sure," Benson said. "Greg Davis says every time we step out on the field, our reputation is at stake."