"Colt probably won't have more pressure on him than this in his whole career," head coach Mack Brown said following his QB's second outing in a Longhorn uniform. "He didn't panic and I thought he played well. I thought he showed us some really positive things for the future."
Two things immediately emerge about McCoy's performance. Initially, the Zone Read will be a thing of the past for Texas unless McCoy becomes more of a threat to hang on to the ball and run. Two games in row, the defense over-pursued the RB and strung the Zone Read plays outside. The second thing (and maybe this should be left at the feet of the Offensive Coordinator rather than the QB) is Texas must find a semblance of a vertical passing game.
I thought there might be some opportunities with Texas' talent and depth at WR against four new Buckeye DBs. (In fact, I thought this may have been the one area Texas clearly had a mismatch in its favor.) But what we saw Saturday was a steady diet of swing passes, quick outs, hitches and dump-offs to RBs. The longest completion to a Longhorn WR all night was Limas Sweed's 18-yard reception. Brown said it was generally a matter of "young quarterbacks gaining more confidence in getting it down field." At the same time, it's also a matter of an offensive coordinator gaining more confidence -- not just in his QB but in his WRs.
"We had a hard time getting the ball down the field," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said, before adding, "We did not get in sync as an offense. The inability to finish some drives was critical."
The times when Texas was, in fact, in sync was when the team ran the ball effectively out of a no-huddle offense. It dictated the tempo while Davis added a wrinkle of running a counter away from the flow of the zone read. You could see the offense clicking on the Horns' second possession. RB Jamaal Charles ran for 34 yards on three straight carries to launch the series. McCoy then found Quan Cosby in the right flat for 10 and, two plays later, RB Selvin Young ran over left guard for 12. A pass interference penalty gave Texas 1st-and-goal from the seven. The drive ended two plays later in what will likely be Texas' costliest turnover of the season.
Many will point to WR Billy Pittman's fumble as the turning point in the game, given the fact that his turnover at the goaline was return to midfield (in essence, a 14-point swing given the fact that the Buckeyes then cashed-in on a five-play drive). But this play happened too early to call it the gamebreaker. I didn't mind the call on second-and-goal from the two when Texas threatened to draw first blood in the opening frame, even though my tendency is to want Texas to rush three times behind RT Justin Blalock, keep it on the ground and let your big O-line lean forward for the score. Pittman had a nice cushion, given the dearth of real estate. It looked like had he cut outside, he would have stepped in untouched.
The Buckeyes took advantage in the sudden change in momentum, not to mention FS Marcus Griffin temporarily sidelined with a knee injury, to orchestrate a five-play 50-yard drive. Smith completed five straight passes on the march, three to Antonio Gonzalez including the 14-yard scoring toss on the flag pattern. The Buckeyes led, 7-0, with 64 ticks remaining in the first quarter. Texas knotted the affair with a 13-play, 78-yard drive with 1:55 remaining until halftime. Charles and Young nickeled-and-dimed the Buckeye front, stepping off three-, four- and five-yards per pop. The big plays were a 14-yard toss to Sweed over the middle plus a roughing-the-passer penalty following an incompletion on 3rd-and-six from the nine. Two plays later, McCoy found Pittman just beyond the right pylon of the south end zone for Texas' only score of the evening.
The momentum was short-lived as Ohio State answered with a five-play, 66-yard drive as WR Ted Ginn Jr. beat LCB Aaron Ross on a 29-yard strike with 16 seconds remaining until halftime. Ross was assigned to shadow Ginn all night. That left Brandon Foster and Ryan Palmer to fill the void left by RCB Tarell Brown, suspended for this game because of the off-the-field incident early Monday morning. It gave WR Anthony Gonzalez room to roam as he led all receivers with 142 yards on eight grabs.
Much was made of Ohio State replacing nine defensive starters. It's no excuse, but the fact is Texas was without six defenders who figured prominently in this game at Columbus (Michael Huff, Cedric Griffin, Tarell Brown, Rod Wright, Drew Kelson, Aaron Harris).
"They gave us a lot off different looks," Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said. "There was a lot of shifting and motion and things like that. That's no excuse. We've got to play better, and tonight was a great learning experience for us."
SS Michael Griffin, who posted a team-best 10 tackles, said Brown's absence did not have an impact on the Longhorn secondary that was surprisingly porous.
"Nothing changed," Griffin said. "We played our hearts out. We have 85 scholarship players. We can't look at that and say that was the reason we lost. The best team won."
MLB James Laurinaitis picked off McCoy on Texas' opening series of the second half.
"The linebacker was dropped back deep, and the whole game he hadn't been doing that," McCoy said. "I just made a bad decision."
The ball was returned to the Longhorn 21, and the Buckeyes were held to a 31-yard FG courtesy of DE Brian Robison's seven-yard sack on 2nd-and-8. Yet, the 10-point Buckeye lead almost felt insurmountable given Texas' difficult to complete a deep ball.
Texas' D-line was, generally, a bright spot, limiting the Buckeyes to 79 net yards rushing on 29 attempts. In fact, the game marked the first time in Brown's Texas tenure that the Horns outrushed an opponent and lost. Texas netted 172 yards (31 attempts), with Young (in what was his most determined effort in recent memory) led all ball carriers with 94 yards on 11 carries (8.5 ypc).
"Our guys played hard but we didn't make big plays," Young said. "They have a great defense and a great team. They're the No. 1 team in the country. We just didn't get a chance to make plays. We had a few dropped passes here, some dropped balls there. We'll correct the mistakes this week and get back to work."
No small part of the reason for Texas' advantage in rushing offense was that it had to contend with the looooong field all night. Buckeye punter A.J. Trapasso pinned Texas on its end of the field all night, averaging 50.8 yards per boot. PK Aaron Pettrey added four touchbacks in five kicks.
The 24-7 setback snapped the nation's longest winning streak at 21. It was also Texas first home loss since Arkansas upended the Horns three years ago this weekend.
"The guys are very disappointed but they're not embarrassed because they played hard," Brown said. "The most losses for any one kid on this team is four. We haven't lost much."
It was the end of a longer streak for Chizik, who saw his personal winning streak (dating back to his stint at Auburn) end at 29.
"I don't think about those things," Chizik said. "I'm worried about The University of Texas right now. It's not about me."
Otherwise, the Horns stil insisted that most of their goals for this season remained unchanged: win the Big 12 Conference title, return to a BCS bowl and remain in the mix to repeat as a national champ. Obviously, the Horns will now need some help from other teams to achieve the latter goal, prompting yet another question regarding the risk-benefit of scheduling a team the caliber of Ohio State.
"I thought it was smart of us to play this game last year and really stupid this year," Brown said.
It was the closest thing there was to comic relief during Texas' post-game press conference.
A record 89,422 were on hand to see the nation's top two teams battle for the first time in the history of Memorial Stadium. Texas now regroups to face Rice (and first-year Owl offensive coordinator Major Applewhite) at 5:00 p.m., Saturday, at Houston's Reliant Stadium.