"Our offensive is explosive and we do have some long drives," WR Billy Pittman told me. "Long drives are good for our defense but, if we can score quick, I'm sure they like that, too."
Just call him Big-Play Billy, who led all receivers with a career-best 138-yards on three grabs including a 75-yard TD toss from Vince Young on Texas' opening drive of the second half. (Young struck a Heisman pose, briefly, following his career-best scoring strike.) Pittman called the play. Sort of. During the first half, Pittman noticed that Tech safeties were spinning down and jumping on intermediate routes.
"I told Vince to give me a seam route, and he did." Pittman said. "Well, he gave it to me earlier but he didn't throw because Ramonce (Taylor) was open (on Texas' first possession of the second quarter). Then, in the second half, he gave me another seam route, the same seam route that was open."
The third (Sub B) wideout in the Longhorn offense, Pittman has logged a 63-yard reception at Ohio State, a 41-yarder at Missouri, that glorious 64-yard TD reception just before the half against Oklahoma and the 62-yarder against Colorado last week. And his wide-open 75-yard TD strike was his highlight reel, one-handed grab for 58 yards to the Tech 30 on the deep drag route across the middle on Texas' final possession of the first half. It set up RB Selvin Young's seven-yard TD run that capped an 88-yard drive to make it a 31-10 game with 1:57 remaining until the break.
The Horns had all the points they would need before half time, as the Texas defense held a Tech offense that was averaging 53.7 ppg to just one extended TD drive.
"They came in averaging 54 points and held them to 17," Chizik said. "We're not perfect and we've still got a lot of work to do. But, at the end of the day, I'll take that (score) every time."
Chizik got a sustained pass rush from his front four, playing (by his estimates) up to 10 down linemen. He came with cornerback blitzes, safety blitzes, linebacker blitzes and zone blitzes as the Horns notched six sacks for 51 yards. Cody Hodges is the most mobile QB Tech his fielded during coach Mike Leach's five-year tenure, and managed to elude the grasp of rampaging defenders at the last nano-second to complete 42-of-64 passes for 369 yards, including two TD and one INT. Yet, Hodges was battered like a birthday piñata throughout the contest and was walking with a noticeable limp by the time this one reached the final frame. The secondary threw a mix-and-match of man and zone defense, while the one wrinkle that the secondary polished this week was disguising its man coverage -- and Texas played a lot of man against the high-flying Red Raiders, who entered the game as the top passing team in Division-I (472.3 ypg).
"Our coaches brought out all the marbles," said LCB Tarell Brown. "They have a lot of confidence in us and we have a lot of confidence in them. They make a great game plan for us every week and we just try to go out there and execute it.
SS Michael Huff and RCB Cedric Griffin played every snap. SLB Robert Killebrew, who logged his first start of the season at Missouri earlier this month, had the game of his young career by leading all tacklers with 13 stops. Eric Hall, who started 12 games last season at SLB, came off the bench to give Texas fresh legs and a burst of speed at DE. The senior was credited with two TFL totaling nine yards. Chizik even dusted off SLB Eric Foreman (who finished the spring atop the chart depth but has been the invisible man in this defense). Foreman contributed a solid outing, throwing Hodges for an 11-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
The difference in the ballgame, Brown said, may not have been the defense but rather special teams.
Let's start with the much-maligned KO coverage unit. PK Greg Johnson enjoyed his best game as a Longhorn as seven-of-nine Tech possessions began no further than their own 20 following a Longhorn kickoff. His day included four touchbacks as he averaged nearly 63 yards per KO.
Thanks to the defense, Richmond McGee did not punt until there were 45 seconds remaining in the third quarter. His three punts netted 36.7 yards, but they were rockets. McGee placed two inside the 20 and had one returned for just six yards. And Michael Griffin's blocked punt just before the half may have been the turning point.
Coach Mack Brown said a week ago that return specialist Quan Cosby was primed for a breakout game after being slowed by a September 17 shoulder injury against Rice. The 22-year old freshman returned two punts for 68 yards and a KO for 30 yards. Ramonce Taylor added a 37-yard KO return in the second quarter.
Showing dime package on second and third down, the Texas D forced a three-and-out on Tech's opening series. Alex Reyes' punt traveled all of 19 yards, setting up the Horns at the Red Raider 43. Starting RB Selvin Young moved the chains, picking up 17 yards on three straight carries. The six-play drive resulted in a 40-yard David Pino FG as the Horns have now scored on their opening possession every game this season.
RB Jamaal Charles saw limited action with his heavily bandaged left ankle, running for 39 yards on seven carries. Young finished with a bruising 77 yards on 16 totes. His teammates were convinced it was the best outing of the year, including his roommate.
"I've been talking to Selvin every day at home." Vince said, "and I've just been telling him to let the game come to him. For the way he played today, I was really proud of him."
The defense manufactured another three-and-out while VY picked up a couple of first downs on the Horns' second-possession. But on 1st-and-10 from the Longhorn 47, RCB Chris Parker stepped in front of Young's right sideline pass and returned it 37 yards to the Longhorn 21. Hodges' pass in the left flat to RB Taurean Henderson capped the four-play drive as Texas trailed at home for the first time this season, 7-3, with 5:03 remaining in the first quarter.
Young was picked off on Texas' next possession as well. One of the key plays of the ballgame that won't show up in the stat sheet is that RCB Khalid Naziruddin collected the tipped ball in the end zone but, rather than taking a knee and spotting his offense on the 20, he jitterbugged and then circled right before heading upfield where he was tackled at the two-yard. On 3rd-and-8, Chizik brought a blitz out of the dime package as Hodges' left sideline pass to Jarrett Hicks fell incomplete. That set up Cosby's 38-yard return of a 42-yard punt and RB Henry Melton's one-yard TD plunge over left guard, making it 10-7 Texas.
A sign hoisted in front of ESPN College GameDay cameras stated 'Vince Doesn't Need a Push' (a clear reference to the assist USC's Matt Leinart got from Reggie Bush in the last-second win at Notre Dame last week). Vince may not need a push, but he needed to get those obligatory INTs out of the way early. The Heisman candidate shook off two first-quarter picks to finish 12-of-22 passing for 239 yards, including two passing TDs and one 11-yard TD to make it a 45-17 laugher. It was a modest outing, by Young's lofty standards, who said he graded out at a C+.
"I was getting frustrated," admitted Young, whose book stood at 2-of-6 passing for 15 yards and two INT after 15 minutes of play. "But I went off to the side, I put myself in a corner and just talked to myself to get ready for the next series."
Young must have known something because he was dancing on the sideline moments before Texas took the field during the second quarter. That's when Brown went with a one-minute offense early in the second quarter, and the unit began to hum. With the score knotted at 10, Young glided for 16 yards on the zone read keeper before connecting with RT for 14 yards. Two plays later, he found RT again, this time on a post pattern good for 20 yards to the Tech 19. After Charles darted up the middle for nine, Selvin Young carried it in to give Texas the lead for good, 17-10, with 8:58 remaining until the half.
Then came, arguably, the game's turning point: Hodges hit four straight passes to move his crew 47 yards to the Texas 35. MLB Aaron Harris broke-up a slant pass designated for Robert Johnson, setting up one of those rare moments when Tech actually punted on fourth down. The snap was wide, allowing a crashing FS Michael Griffin to block his third punt of his career. He recovered his own block at the Tech 23 as VY and company went with a no-huddle offense. On 2nd-and-2 from the 15, Young rolled left and hit Big-Play Billy in the left corner of the north end zone to spot Texas a 24-10 lead with 6:41 remaining until the half.
The Texas defense came up with what may have been the dagger on Tech's next possession. From his 20, Hodges crisply moved his squad to the Longhorn 21 on five plays. (Mark it down as one of the finer defensive stands of the season.) On 1st-and-10, Hodges throws incomplete under heavy pressure from DTs Larry Dibbles and Frank Okam. On 2nd-and-10, Eric Hall blows up the bubble screen to Henderson, resulting in a one-yard loss. On 3rd-and-11, Henderson sprints 18 yards on the draw play to the Longhorn four. Griffin threw to Henderson for a three-yard loss on the next play. Then, on second-and-goal from the seven, SLB Drew Kelson comes with blitz and Hodges hurries his throw. Harris was credited with the batted ball (from the press box, it looked like it hit him in the helmet) as DE Tim Crowder came away with the pick.
"It's a possible 14-point swing and, for sure, a 10-point swing," Brown said. "Greg Davis did a really great job of getting two plays called at the line of scrimmage. He called it before they could get into position."
It took Texas all of three plays to plunge the dagger, beginning with Charles' 18-yard sprint on 2nd-and-10 from the 12. That set up Pittman's spectacular, one-handed grab on the deep drag across the middle, good for 58 yards. A pass interference penalty on Naziruddin (who was beaten by SE Limas Sweed) moved the ball to the Tech seven. From there, Selvin Young hit paydirt with his second TD run of the afternoon.
Okay, so there is one question that could be asked of the 7-0 Longhorns: when will this team bring its A-game? Again, Brown credited his team for playing hard and winning big but is still looking for 60 minutes of football from his national title contenders.
"We're still a work in progress," he said. "I didn't think this was near our best game. We've played halves that we thought were really good. I didn't think we played a great half today. The offense didn't play as well until the fourth quarter but the defense played great. The defense didn't play so well in the second quarter but the offense played great. To not have your best game and still score 52 points just says you have a chance to be really special."
The Horns now turn their attention to some of the lower lights of the Big 12 conference, traveling to Oklahoma State and Baylor before the final home game against Kansas, after a completing a trifecta against bitter rival OU, then-No. 24 Colorado and No. 8/10 Texas Tech.
"This team has shown the ability to put an exciting win behind them," Brown said. "This will be the biggest test of getting them back and getting them ready to go because there will be less attention in this game (Oklahoma State) than there was the last three. I think they're enjoying the ride. We told them that you don't get into this position that many times in your lifetime, so you really need to enjoy it."