Comeback Kids

Four weeks ago, coach Mack Brown admitted he didn't know if the Longhorns currently had the stuff to battle from behind the way it did when QB Vince Young patented all those fantastic finishes during his Texas tenure. Four straight comebacks later, we have an answer.

A three-point halftime deficit to Oklahoma. A first-quarter 10-point deficit to Baylor. A late one-point deficit at Nebraska. A first-quarter 21-point deficit at Texas Tech. The result is the same: four Texas Ws.

"It's the heart of this team and the determination of this team that's getting us over the top," said Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. "We never lost hope and we fought to the end."

For my money, Texas' biggest comeback this season was at Nebraska. Sure, the hole wasn't as deep in Lincoln as it was in Lubbock. But the Cornhuskers had the ball, and the lead, and all the momentum in the world, with 2:23 remaining. Heck, the Huskers had the first down and the game won before LCB Aaron Ross comes up with Texas' biggest defensive play of the season. Still, Saturday's affair could have snowballed into one of those runaways reminiscent of when run-and-shoot Houston teams embarrassed the Horns from 1987-89. But it didn't because this is a Texas team that not only knows it can mount a comeback without Vince, but expects to.

Two huge fourth-down defensive stands in the final frame, a career-high seven catches from FL Quan Cosby, a dominant offensive line, an impregnable run defense and an unflappable RS-freshman quarterback who made plays with his arm and his feet (and overcame an early pick-for-six) were enough to overcome an early 21-0 deficit and 519 total passing yards from QB Graham Harrell. McCoy's 33-yard scramble on 3rd-and-five from the 49 sealed the deal. (It was a sprint-pass option where the primary receiver Billy Pittman was running a wheel route, a play that he converted into a long-distance score against Oklahoma just before halftime last season).

Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis may have called a better game than Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik. You may never see Texas Tech play a better first quarter. Staring at a 21-point deficit, Davis relied more on the I-formation than at any moment this season. The move roused Texas' O-line which had been a sleeping giant during the first-quarter nap and began to dominate in the trenches. By game's end, a Longhorn ground game that has been roundly criticized for its dearth of long runs, recorded (by my count) nine explosive plays of 12+ yards. Texas' 227 rushing yards (on 44 attempts) represented its best outing since the Rice game.

Chizik stayed with three linebackers and stubbornly remained with his base defense all night. (The flip side is that if the backup DBs are as confused about alignments and coverage responsibilities as SS Michael Griffin said they are, then Chizik does not have the luxury to rely on his nickel- and dime-packages). Chizik generally trusted his front four to pressure QB Graham Harrell, and the results were mixed. Texas did not record its first -- and only -- sack until 2:36 into the second half, but it was evident that Harrell was starting to press by the third quarter. Harrell torched Texas for 519 passing yards on 42-of-62 passing, but the Red Raiders managed just 154 total yards after intermission. Tech occasionally runs the ball to keep defenses honest and finished with minus-one yards on 13 carries. Obviously, the biggest defensive stat is 'scoring defense' and Chizik's bend-but-don't-break bunch pitched a second-half shutout that seemed utterly improbable after the first 15 minutes of play. The defense continues to give up big play after big play but, in the end, they make the biggest play of all.

The goose-egg was preserved after the defense produced not one, but two, critical fourth-down stops on Tech's final two possessions. Facing 4th-and-15 from the Texas 35, Harrell hooked-up with WR Joel Filani for at least 14.5 yards, but LCB Ryan Palmer (who came up with his first career INT earlier in the quarter) in essence forced another turnover by keeping Filani just outside the Red Zone. Following a Longhorn fumble, the defense faced a do-or-die 4th-and-1 at their own 15 with about 4:30 remaining. Harrell appeared to have lost his footing on the QB sneak but SLB Drew Kelson was first on the scene to ensure that Harrell stayed put. From there, Texas put the ball in the air just once on its final drive (collecting a pass interference penalty) as it rode the surge of its offensive line.

The last time I saw the kind of shell-shocked despondency on the faces of the home team and its fans was when Notre Dame rallied back against Michigan State in September. No, wait: seems like I saw it at Lincoln last Saturday. The Horns, meanwhile, have the look of a team that is going to beat you regardless of the score or circumstance. As such, Texas remains the only unbeaten team in league play and looks to move up to No. 4 in the human polls following USC's loss at Oregon State.

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