Well, at least one member of the Burnt Orange contingent expected it.
"I think I was the only one in the country that anticipated this," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I said this is exactly what's going to happen. I told the guys in the pregame talk that there was going to be a fantastic atmosphere and you're going to be frustrated because they're going to throw some halfback passes and run reverses. They're going to pull it all out because they've got nothing to lose. I was really, really not proud of myself that I was right."
The one thing that clairvoyant UT coaches did not fully envision was backup QB Stephen McGee logging all 76 snaps and then running the option the way Nebraska still wished it could. With three-year starter Reggie McNeal (ankle) spending Senior Day in his civvies, the RS-freshman engineered a 277-yard ground game representing the most rushing yards Texas has given up this season. True, Texas has depended on its secondary for more run support this season but it's not a good sign when your free safety (Michael Griffin) leads all tacklers with 21 stops.
"Dennis (Franchione) had a good plan with their change of quarterbacks," Brown said. "It put us at a disadvantage. Stephen did a great job and we didn't stop him very well in the second half, either. We did a better job but not a great job."
Earlier this week, Texas defensive players said that most of the film studies centered on McNeal while coaches said a change at quarterbacks would not necessitate a change in A&M's offense. McGee ran for a game-high 108 yards on 24 carries while freshman RB Jorvorskie Lane added 104 yards on 17 totes, marking just the second time in the 112-year history of the rivalry that a pair of Aggies eclipsed the century mark in a single game against the Horns. The Aggies also controlled the clock, holding the ball for 35:17.
Brown said the ugly win was the best thing that could have happened to his team that, despite two-week's worth of rhetoric about respecting the opposition, mailed-in a performance.
"It got our attention and we're going to go back to work now," he said. "We can quit talking about how great we are and understand that we need to stop the run better, we need to run the ball better, we made too many mistakes on defense and we couldn't get the ball back."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis' blueprint was typical for this type of rivalry game, keeping it close to the vest in the first half, and then some. Texas put the ball in the air just 13 times in the first half, completing six for 88 yards, against college football's worst secondary. An A&M defense rated No. 109 nationally held Texas to a season-low 336 yards and sacked QB Vince Young three times.
The Aggies brought the linebackers to try to frustrate Young and to clog the inside running lanes. It allowed Ramonce Taylor to bounce outside and finish with a team-high 102 yards on 15 carries. Young uncharacteristically looked for the home run ball on too many occasions and failed to find open receivers running intermediate routes. Even so, VY found an 11th hour receiving threat in FB Ahmard Hall. The senior finished with 39 yards on two catches, including a 14-yard TD reception on a key 3rd-and-seven to help regain the Longhorn lead at 21-15.
Bottom line: Texas notched its first undefeated regular season since 1983 by dispatching of its in-state rivals for the sixth straight year. UT has posted three straight wins in College Station for the first time since 1969-73 and now leads the all-time series, 73-34-5. The Horns now face the last team standing from the Big 12 North in the conference championship at Houston's Reliant Stadium on December 3. (If Iowa State wins against Kansas Saturday, the Cyclones are in. Otherwise, it's Colorado.) Meanwhile, the Aggies are left to look for a silver lining in an inspired ball game but, still, a 5-6 season and left out of the bowl season for the third time in four years.
"The character always comes out in rivalry games like this," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik. "We talked about having to hold off a surge but it was a four-quarter surge. In the end, it came down to a couple really big plays by some guys and we ended up with a win."
The only real damage in this one is that Young may have lost enough style points to keep him entrenched as the Heisman runner-up behind USC's Reggie Bush. He committed three turnovers (two fumbles, one INT). But his 162 yards passing (13-of-24 with one TD) and 19 net yards rushing (11 carries) gave Young 3,212 total yards in 2005, enough to break Major Applewhite's school record for most yards in a single-season. He also raised his record to 28-2 as a starter, tying legendary Bobby Layne for most wins by a UT quarterback.
Brown once said that five or six plays determine the outcome of most games, but Friday's Family Feud could be reduced to three. First, there was the successful fake punt attempt that extended a 10-playing scoring drive midway through the third quarter that gave Texas the lead for good. It was followed by a blocked punt for TD and then, arguably, the play of the game: LDT Rod Wright's fourth quarter forced fumble at the Texas 14 when it was still a one-possession contest.
"It was a pass play and I just came off the ball and pressed off the guard," Wright said. "(McGee) was just sitting there with the ball and I don't think he saw me. I just made the play."
Make that THE play. It was Wright's first fumble of the season but it could not have been more timely. The Aggies had third-and-two at the Texas 10, and it's a safe that Lane takes the handoff and tries to rumble for the first. Instead, A&M coaches called for the play-action pass that resulted in Wright sacking McGee for four-yard loss while stripping the ball.
"When I tackled him, I thought he threw it," Wright added. "I looked over and saw a lot of guys scrapping for the ball. I was relieved when it ended up in our hands."
RS-freshman DE Brian Orakpo came up with the biggest fumble recovery of his young career as the Aggie never threatened again.
Blocked kicks have been huge for Texas in this series as of late. Michael Griffin's block of a Jason Brantly punt on A&M's next series not only set a new school record with his career fifth, it more importantly resulted in Cedric Griffin's 11-yard return for TD that served as the emotional swing in this game. This is where you knew the Horns were not going to let the Aggies steal Christmas.
SLB Drew Kelson came up with the game's first big play. Temporarily subbing for banged-up MLB Aaron Harris on A&M's second series, Kelson stepped in front of McGee's attempted screen pass and spotted his team a first down at the Aggie 17.
Following an offsides penalty, Texas needed an inch on third down but RB Henry Melton could have given them a country mile. The H-train rumbled for eight and posted the first score of the contest. The Horns led 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Young powered for 11 on the QB draw following an A&M three-and-out, setting up a first down at the Aggie 37. RB Jamaal Charles then scampered for 12 on the zone read before VY found SE Limas Sweed two plays later on the seam route, good for 19. From five yards out, Ramonce Taylor hit paydirt to complete the seven-play, 48 yard drive. It was a 14-0 ballgame with 4:19 remaining in the opening frame.
A&M's first sustained drive resulted in a 31-yard Todd Pegram FG. The series began with a 25-yard completion to Jason Carter and reached the Texas 13 before WLB Rashad Bobino stepped up. The RS-freshman lassoed Lane for a one-yard loss on first down before breaking up a 3rd-and-11 McGee pass. Pegram put the home team on the scoreboard, 14-3, following the 12-play, 67-yard march.
Texas' next possession began when SS Melvin Bullitt tipped Young's pass attempt that Jaxson Appel picked off and returned 17 yards to the Texas 35. From there, Lane completed a 35-yard scoring toss to a wide-open Jason Carter on the halfback option and, suddenly, it was ballgame. A bobbled snap on the PAT kept it a 14-9 contest heading into the second quarter.
Texas picked up one first down on its next possession but the short-lived drive resulted in a 31-yard Richmond McGee punt. The Aggies began at their own 15 as their option game began to click. Little-used RB Brandon Leone put the finishing touch on the seven-play march with a 16-yard TD run on the option pitch. The two-point conversion attempt failed but Aggies led for the first time, 15-14.
Here, you're looking for Texas to answer, but Charles fumbled at mid-field following a five-yard gain. SLB Robert Killebrew, though, came up with the key defensive stop of the half, throwing McGee for a 22-yard loss. The Aggies were swinging their laundry when Texas took over on its 23 with 6:39 remaining until halftime.
Taylor darted for 29 first-down yards before Young found Thomas for six. Then, on 3rd-and-1 from the 39, Melton bounced outside left end against a stacked front and careened for 22. Disaster nearly struck for Texas as Young was thrown for a 10-yard loss back at the Aggie 27. Next snap, VY scrambled for 13 before Bullitt hit him in the breadbasket. The blow forced the second Longhorn fumble in as many possessions, but this time SE Limas Sweed recovered at the 14. C Lyle Sendlein was injured on the play, as RG Will Allen slid over to center. Then, on a critical 3rd-and-seven, Young found Hall all by his lonesome in the right flat and Hall ran untouched into the end zone on the 14-yard swing pass. The Horns took a six-point lead into the locker room, 21-15, after driving the ball 77-yards in seven plays.
But Young was guilty of his second fumble of the afternoon as DT Red Bryant forced the turnover at the Texas 15. It took the Aggies two plays to cash in, as McGee carried twice and scored from 11 yards out. The Aggies regained the lead, 22-21, with 2:24 eclipsed from the game clock.
Four plays prior to that fake punt, it looked for the world that LCB Danny Gorrer would step in front of VY's sideline toss and take it to the house but Sweed made a bobbling catch to move the chains on 3rd-and-four from the 41. The trick play, followed by the personal foul facemask penalty, gave Texas the first down at the A&M 23. A six-yard Taylor run followed a nine-yard completion to Quan Cosby. From the eight, RT found room to roam following Hall's clearing block and strolled to his second rushing TD of the afternoon. The drive covered 80 yards in 10 plays as Texas took the lead back, 28-22.
The defense did its part, forcing a 4th-and-14 from the Aggie 21. That's when Michael Griffin broke on through to the other side, blocking the Brantly punt attempt that Cedric Griffin carried in from the 11. Pino's PAT hit the upright but Texas now had the Big Mo on its sideline with a 34-22 lead and 5:45 remaining in the third. The Aggies quickly answered. Next A&M possession, Lane gored the Texas D for 47 yards on two carries, setting up shop at the Longhorn two. McGee's one-yard TD run capped the eight-play, 65-yard drive and narrowed the Longhorn lead, 34-29.
Texas went right to work, beginning with Taylor's 23 yard run to the A&M 43. Young hooked up with Hall again, as the senior demonstrated some unexpected shake-and-bake on the 25-yard reception. The six-play drive resulted in a 41-yard Pino FG to open the fourth.
The Aggies had one last charge, ignited by McGee's 35-yard run on 2nd-and-20 from the nine. Lane and Leone stepped off another 35 on consecutive runs. An offsides penalty gave A&M a 2nd-and-2 at the Texas 10. Harris and freshman DT Roy Miller combined to hold Leone for no gain, setting up Texas' biggest defensive stand of the game. When Orakpo recovered the McGee fumble, the 67-yard march came to an abrupt end as did A&M's last real threat to send this one into overtime.
McGee was classy and gracious in defeat.
"I look back on that as the decisive play in the game," he said. "I should have held on to the ball. That was my job as a quarterback."
Pino's 29-yard FG put an ugly win in the record books. As it is, the nation's No. 2 team is still looking for a complete game this season.
"We've been through this before," Wright said. "We've been through one like this already at Oklahoma State. Unfortunately, we know what this feels like. But we showed a lot of character on our team."