"We've got a chance to be really good because we haven't played near our best game yet," Brown said. "There were too many penalties, we turned it over, and we still scored 51 points. We told our guys we can play better than this and we'll have to continue to grow as a team. But the fun thing is we're 4-0 and we don't think we scratched the surface."
There's something about Missouri that brings out the worst, and best, in QB Vince Young. His low-water mark against MU in 2004 (a 3-of-9 showing for 19 yards) is well documented, as is his career-defining turnaround to raise his record to 21-2 as a starter (one 'W' shy of tying Major Applewhite at No. 6 on Texas' all-time list). On Saturday, Young's ball handling was excruciating to behold during the Horns' second and third series, especially given the field position the Horns squandered when it was a tie ball game.
With the game tied at 7, Ramonce Taylor's KO return of 43 yards set up shop near mid-field, but the Keystone Cops of an offensive series saw Young bobble two snaps out of the 'gun while the Horns were also flagged for a false start penalty. Texas found itself at midfield on its next possession, but the series quickly ended when VY tossed his fifth INT on first down. Young would also fumble later in the half on fourth-and-goal from the three.
And yet he ultimately had his hand in 344 yards of offense. Time and again, the junior signalcaller displays a remarkable proclivity for not only overcoming his self-inflicted adversity but actually thriving as a direst result of it. He posted three dazzling runs of 30+ yards, including a 33-yard TD on the zone read fake to RB Selvin Young, to give Texas a 14-7 lead it would never relinquish. He led all rushers with 108 yards on 13 carries, while adding 236 yards through the air on 15-of-22 passing.
Then there was his play on Texas' next-to-last series of the first half. Like too many of Texas' possessions Saturday, this one initially went into reverse when a holding penalty, a chop block and a QB sack produced a third-and-30 situation from the Longhorn 34. It set the table for vintage Vince. Reminiscent (though not as critical) as his 4th-and-18 scramble at Kansas last season, VY dropped back and, as the pocket collapsed, eluded the grasp who two crashing linemen who would have a wrapped up a normal quarterback. Instead, the Freak of Nature cut left and darted down the left hashmark and didn't stop until he was dragged down 34 yards later. Young followed his dash with a 9-yard keeper, before three straight Selvin Young runs set up first-and-goal from the 10. An open Carter couldn't quite come down with the tall pass in the left corner of the end zone, setting up a 26-yard David Pino field goal to give Texas a 24-13 halftime lead.
"He's a great player, and he makes a lot of plays," MU coach Gary Pinkel said of Young. "He turns an average play into a great play, and he did that several times today. He also plays with a lot more confidence, that's a big difference too, that he's won a lot of games. He's had some comeback games and done a good job."
Likewise, there's something about Missouri that brings out the beast in MLB Aaron Harris. Last season, the senior posted a career-best 18 tackles against the Tigers. On an unseasonably warm Midwest afternoon, Harris tied FS Michael Griffin with a game-high nine stops. Harris set up Texas' first score with his 27-yard INT return of a Brad Smith pass to the MU 3-yard line (credit NT Frank Okam with the hurry). Then, on Texas' first possession, RB Jamaal Charles broke two tackles, stiff-arming a Tiger DB, before high-stepping it into the end zone. The Horns led 7-0 with just 73 seconds ticked from the game clock following Smith's third pick of the season. Harris was in on three straight tackles on MU's first possession of the second quarter when the game was still too-close-for-comfort, throwing Smith for a five-yard loss on 3rd-and-5 from the 28. (You can hear it in the stands when Harris levels the hit.)
Charles probably erased any doubt about who should be Texas' starting RB. He darts like Tony Dorsett, catches like a wideout and blocks like a seasoned TE. He finished with 97 yards on 15 carries (6.5 ypc) and notched the first TD grab of his collegiate career with his 32-yard reception as Texas began to get separation at 21-13. Yet, the starting RB will not necessarily be the featured RB in Texas' tailback-by-committee approach that rolled to 349 net yards on 50 attempts. Teammates rave at how the freshman can "get small," finding the open hole and squeezing through just before it closes. You also gotta love how he doesn't leave his feet when maneuvering through traffic and when trying to pick up tough yardage, preferring to lower his shoulder pads and power for first downs and those precious yards-after-contact.
Sidelined most of September with an ankle injury, Selvin celebrated his 22nd birthday by contributing 65 bruising yards on 11 totes. Young's got heart and power, but not the burst that Charles gives to this offense. Freshman RB Henry Melton also rumbled for 57 yards on nine carries, including a pair of TD plunges.
Taylor finally got in on the offensive act with 55 yards on three catches, both career highs, including a highlight reel 27-yard scoring reception on Texas' first possession of the second half. It was deja vu all over again for the Horns, as the series marched backwards 15 yards (holding penalty, false start) before moving forward. On 2nd-and-10 from the 20, VY stepped out of a collapsing pocket and cut it up field for 36 yards, picking up an extra five following a wicked stiff arm. Then, facing second down from the MU 28, VY spotted RT flaring out into the right flat. The pass was tall but RT went up for it like it was an ally-oop assist, turned on the jets down the right sideline before going airborne and extending the ball over the pylon just as he was being shoved out of bounds. Hard to believe that it was the first TD reception of Taylor's Longhorn career. It was this five-play scoring drive that spotted Texas a 31-13 lead and, for all intents and purposes, signaled a point-of-no-return for the Tiger offense.
Smith can't be counted out even against above-average defenses, but this may be a Longhorn D for the ages. He entered the game rated No. 3 nationally in total offense (362.3 ypg) but finished with just 57 yards rushing on 25 carries. He completed 19-of-37 passes for 181 yards after averaging just under 250 ypg through the air. The Texas D forced the turnovers that led directly to Texas' first three TDs, posted four sacks and forced seven punts.
Missouri's revamped spread offense lived up to billing during the early going as Brown admitted the Tigers' no-huddle offense caught Texas by surprise. The Tigers responded to Texas' one-play scoring drive with an 11-play, 87-yard march that featured option tosses, counter treys, and draw plays before Jimmy Jackson took a deep hand off before crossing the goal line from 12 yards out. Mizzou took advantage of Texas' inability to provide weakside containment, running counters and play action against the grain, resulting in a 13-play, 80-yard drive that would have knotted the affair at 14 had not the Tiger PAT attempt ricocheted off the right upright.
Missouri averaged six ypc during the first quarter but finished the game with just 139 rushing yards on 47 attempt (just under three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust in what had been a high octane, Urban Meyer-esque spread attack).
"We were making them block us one-on-one up front by bringing the safety, or bringing Aaron Harris a lot, and then still able to cover them," Brown said. "You can not play them in zone. If you sit back and let (Smith) sit back there, they've got really good receivers, and he's so talented. He is able to look around and find the open guy. They were just killing us to slow death for a while until we started bringing pressure."
PR/CB Aaron Ross displayed some of the speed missing last season when he nursed a nagging hamstring injury. His 29-yard punt return set up Melton's two-yard TD run with 8:46 remaining in the third quarter. Pino's 30-yard PAT attempt (following Jonathan Scott's holding penalty) was wide right as Texas upped its lead, 37-13. But Ross would cap the scoring for Texas midway through the fourth quarter, taking a MU punt 88 yards to the house for Texas' first punt return for TD in two seasons and the first of his career. At 51-13, the Horns had reeled off 37 unanswered points.
Smith led an 11-play, 72-yard scoring drive against a collection of second- and third-teamers as their first score since the first quarter came with just 3:54 remaining and the outcome long since decided.
DE Brian Robison left the game in fourth quarter with an apparent rib injury and did not return. RS-freshman Brian Orakpo filled in for Robison while true freshmen Aaron Lewis and Chris Brown took snaps at DE during Missouri's final drive.
"Texas is a great football team, they have a lot of great players and a lot of great plays," Pinkel concluded. "We have to give them credit for that. We're certainly disappointed in how we played, especially in the second half. I think we got a down a little bit and there were a lot of mistakes."
And Texas certainly had its fair share while still managing to roll to a 31-point win. But there is no mistaking the fact that Texas can now turn its attention to Oklahoma. Kickoff is set for high noon, October 8, in the Cotton Bowl.