On offense, that strength was the Texas offensive front of Jonathan Scott, Kasey Studdard, Jason Glynn, Mike Garcia (and Lyle Sendlein) and Justin Blalock. Combine that with solid tight end blockers David Thomas and Bo Scaife, plus fullback Will Matthews and a bruising running back in Cedric Benson and you have a ground-gaining, time-consuming attack that controlled the fourth quarter and much of the game.
The last three weeks, I have noticed a real joy in Benson at the close of the ballgames. The miracle comeback against Oklahoma State, the last second touchdown pass at Kansas and his circle of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Friday afternoon during his last moments in front of the home fans at DKR; I think it's all hit Benson and he is proud of his time in the Orange and White, being such a force for the Longhorns. Cedric didn't attain the stature of Earl Campbell or Ricky Williams, but he has been the terrific workhorse running back that every great Texas team has possessed.
Why can't Cedric match Earl or Ricky? Close your eyes and say "Oklahoma" four times in a row. Benson was never a winning factor against the Longhorns' biggest rival, and this year's performance, while his best ever vs. the Sooners, sealed his fate in terms of reaching the Heisman heights of his predecessors.
But don't try to sell that line to any other Longhorn opponent this season. Running, blocking and catching clutch passes, Benson did it all without rest in remarkable fashion. I loved it Friday when, during one of his assaults on the A&M defense, he broke into the Aggie secondary and just before going down ejected a maroon-clad tackler.
Cedric, somewhat taken for granted, will be missed.
For Vince Young's speed option movement, Greg Davis added the reverse pivot, gaining time for the Longhorn front to maul A&M defenders backwards. And that they did. I counted at least four of these crucial runs by Young that sustained momentum during the second half.
Young only had one bonehead play and -- you guessed it -- that would be his junior high, "but-I-saw-an-NFL-player-do-it" attempt just before the half to thrust the ball, one-handed, toward the goal line. A&M, of course, knocked the ball loose and ran it back 98 yards for an embarrassing, potentially game-altering score.
The sophomore QB more than made up for that one mistake in a near flawless second half.
Mark this down: on this beautiful fall afternoon in Austin, the Aggie offense could score but six points against Greg Robinson's Longhorn defense. The front four of Tim Crowder, Rod Wright, Larry Dibbles and Brian Robison controlled the game defensively. They are the reason Texas A&M turned into a bad imitation of Texas Tech in the second half. There was simply no room to run. And Dibbles, Crowder and Wright all had key pass deflections. By game's end, Aggie QB Reggie McNeal knew what a shooting gallery bear feels like.
Derrick Johnson wore No. 60 with pride and made a final, certainly Butkus-winning statement with his play.
Speaking of statements, last season a disappointed Longhorn squad went to San Diego with its attention elsewhere and it showed in a 28-20 loss to underdog Washington State. This year, the Texas team should be ready to make a commitment to the Cotton Bowl if the BCS doesn't come calling and Orangebloods should make a commitment of their own to fill up the old stadium with Burnt Orange the morning of Jan. 1. Leave all this agonizing about being left out of the BCS to others and finish the 2004 season with an outstanding 11-1 record. A distracted Longhorn team, like last year's in San Diego, will have their heads handed to them by a two-fisted SEC team. It happened in 1999 when the Arkansas Razorbacks did the honors, 27-6.
But in the back of my mind, I'm recalling the 1968 wishbone team that lost two then raced to the Cotton Bowl and whipped Tennessee 36-13, setting up a national championship run in 1969. Winning begets winning. Like the '68 team, this '04 bunch is on a roll. Finish the job!
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.