"The second half could be a defining moment for this team if they take it as a challenge and continue to get better," head coach Mack Brown said Monday. "The way they played in the second half is what we expected out of our team all year."
Now, if we could just bottle that effort and uncork it (in case of emergency) during upcoming road swings to Nebraska and Texas Tech. It begs a couple of questions: what was said in the Texas locker room after the offense managed all of one yard in the second quarter? What defensive adjustments were made after OU pinned 10 unanswered points on the Horns in the same frame?
Sooner defenders had been treated to a steady diet of high-percentage tosses in the recent history of the series. That's why they continued to blitz linebackers and CBs, bumped WRs at the line and camped on intermediate routes. Colt McCoy was 6-of-11 at intermission, but three of those completions were the type of hitch passes that had become a staple in the Longhorn playbook against OU from 2001-04.
The breaking point, for Brown, was the hitch pass to WR Billy Pittman that covered all of two yards on Texas' final snap of the first half. It was the third hitch of the contest that "didn't go anywhere. We needed to get out of that and start throwing the ball down field."
Texas saw an early touchdown lead become a three-point deficit at the break. And Brown was not happy.
"I was harder on the coaches at halftime than I was on the players," he said.
Brown told Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis to "turn Colt loose. We've got to get the ball down field more."
Just before Texas returned for the second half, Brown told coaches and players that "the next 30 minutes would define this team."
McCoy was five-for-five in the pivotal third quarter for 66 yards and 2 TDs. His 33-yard TD toss to SE Limas Sweed on Texas' opening drive sent a message to an aggressive, blitzing Sooner defense, Brown believes.
"That pass said, 'Back off!'"
It also speaks volumes of McCoy's maturation since Ohio State. On the TD, McCoy checked-off when he saw that Sweed was in man coverage. McCoy signaled for a 'go' route.
"We have signals, and I gave him the signal for that route," McCoy said. "The DB was shorter than him. I felt like if Limas got a good release, we had it."
McCoy's TD pass to FL Jordan Shipley on Texas' next series was McCoy's best completion of the game, Brown believes. The Horns had 3rd-and-goal from the seven, but settling for a FG would have kept it a one-possession game; the result would have been a momentum boost for the Sooners. Instead, Texas began to get separation when McCoy stepped into heavy blitz, took a shot and released the ball before Shipley turned on the wheel route.
"He got hit right in the mouth," Brown said, "and he has to hold the one (defender) who's coming at him. He holds it and holds it, and then turns it loose as he's getting hit. It's one of those where he's looking to see what happened at the end. That's a tougher throw (than the TD to Sweed). He's thrown that one to Limas every day, but the one to Jordan took a lot of guts and composure to hang in there."
It's not a throw McCoy would have attempted against Ohio State, Brown added.
"He's growing up in front of our eyes. This game is a defining moment for a player. It will give our players a lot more confidence in him because of the pressure that he handled and the calmness that he showed in a tough spot."
The second half comeback began when the defense forced a three-and-out on OU's opening drive. Two days later, Co-Defensive Gene Chizik was still intentionally vague about his halftime adjustments, but DE Brian Orakpo gave Inside Texas a few of the specifics: "When they started throwing stuff at us, like the option, we had never really seen the option from Oklahoma. We had never seen slide-protection from Oklahoma. Coach Chizik did a great job adapting to that. He told us what to do and give us certain plays to run. He gave us a great plan for when they started throwing stuff at us that we didn't practice last week."
OU coaches tried to get Peterson in one-on-one match-ups against Texas' CBs, using a kind of Student Body Left (and Right) running attack. Lost in the stat sheet was, with but a few exceptions, the terrific job of open-field tackling that Texas got from RCB Tarell Brown and LCB Aaron Ross. Peterson was held to 38 yards rushing in the second half, all the more impressive given that he has generated nearly two-thirds of his career rushing yards after intermission.
"That's a phenomenal stat," Brown said, "and one we can build on."
Texas intentionally kicked-off to Peterson; the idea was that additional pounding in the return game might eventually take its toll on the ultra-talented junior. Oklahoma lost three fumbles and tossed two INTs, including turnovers on each its final four drives of the ballgame. LCB Aaron Ross almost single-handedly ended Oklahoma's final two possessions with a pair of INTs. His return of QB Paul Thompson's backwards pass capped the scoring and sent Sooner fans heading toward the exits. For his work, Ross was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week Monday.
After the game, OU coach Bob Stoops scratched his head trying to figure out why his team was suddenly giving away the football like it was government cheese. Texas coaches, however, insist that their team forced those turnovers by being more physical than the Sooners.
"We hit so hard that the pounding, over time, started knocking balls loose," Brown said. "That was the difference in the ballgame. You get turnovers because you knock them loose. Those were forces turnovers; those weren't lucky turnovers."
Texas' 232 total yards was almost like a throwback stat, reminiscent of some of the defensive slugfests this series saw in the early 1980s. Stoops saw it as evidence that, minus the turnovers and penalties, his defense held Texas in check. Brown points out that Texas lost an offensive series after Ross returned QB Paul Thompson's backwards pass (a swing screen intended for Peterson) for a TD with 10:37 remaining. Texas never put the ball in the air from that moment on, content to run the clock and allow it's defense to protect an 18-point lead.
The most glaringly ugly stat is that Texas generated all of one net yard in the second quarter, suggesting that the offense was an erratic, hit-or-miss unit against an outstanding defense. The play-calling was conservative during the second quarter that saw OU take a 10-7 lead into the locker room.
"We didn't want to turn the ball over," Brown said. "We wanted to keep punting it instead of taking stupid chances with a young quarterback."
But Texas had all the momentum in the world when it began the second quarter at its own 37 after FS Marcus Griffin forced a Peterson fumble. The series was dead in the water when WR Billy Pittman's reverse lost eight yards on first-down.
"I thought it was a great call," Brown said, "but they slanted right into it."
Texas second possession of the frame was stymied by a holding penalty (C Lyle Sendlein) and a 15-yard QB sack.
"We were probably smart in trying not to overcome a 2nd-and-20 with one pass," Brown continued. "We threw a screen, but they sniffed it out like they were in the huddle. I thought Greg (Davis) was smart in the last two series. It was conservative because of the situation."
Texas' third-and-final series of the half began with an eight-yard Jamaal Charles reception, the only time in the quarter that the speedy RB touched the football.
"The third (series) made me the maddest," Brown said. "We were 2nd-and-two and can't make a first down on two plays."
McCoy was tackled for a one-yard loss and, needing three, his subsequent hitch pass to Pittman covered just two yards. The Sooner defense forced three-and-outs on every Longhorn possession of the second period. Brown resisted the urge to yell at his team during intermission. The most confusing aspect, Brown believes, was his team's body language in the locker room.
"I didn't see the pep, or the spark, or the twinkle in their eyes. I was trying to figure it out walking into the dressing room. I felt like we weren't giving (OU) credit for the plays there were making. More than anything else at halftime, we told our guys to have some fun, enjoy being here and quit worrying about every play. It was like everybody was afraid of the plays instead of enjoying the moment."
Overall, the third quarter remains in stark contrast to not only the remainder of the game but also the Ohio State game last month, Brown believes.
"We had our chances just before the half and we had our chances right after the half. We had a chance with 12 minutes left, and we didn't seize that moment. That worries you about your team because you don't who's going to step up. For this team to have been behind at halftime, and to come out and dominate the second half, is a huge moment that gives them the possibility, if they keep playing like that, to be really good and have a special year. If they had not played well in the second half, that question would have still been out there. They started defining themselves Saturday in the second half."
The operative word is 'started' but, for now, it looks like the start of something great.