‘Nobody doubted. Nobody lost faith. Everybody kept their heads up, kept fighting," said McCoy. "The thing about this team is we're going to fight to the end."
And fight to the end they did. The Longhorns' offense took off in the second quarter, but it was the defense who stepped up late to seal the win for Texas. Leading 35-31 late in the fourth quarter, the Longhorn defense was twice faced with 4th down situations in their own end of the field and both times they stopped the vaunted Tech offense.
The first was an inches short of the first tackle by Ryan Palmer.
That's right Ryan Palmer, the latest in a line of Longhorn back-ups that have been making big plays this season.
"I think it's a classic example of a guy stepping up to the plate," said Longhorn co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. "That's becoming the M.O. of this team. Different guys are stepping up and making plays. It's a different guy every week."
Running back Selvin Young fumbled the ball back to the Red Raiders, but the defense again took Texas Tech to fourth down. On fourth and inches, Harrell's QB sneak attempt was pushed back by the front line. Texas head coach Mack Brown was impressed with the confidence his team showed in getting the stop and preserving the comeback.
"It's really hard to win these games," said Brown. "We can get better as a team, but we can't get any better with confidence, and that's what I'm so proud of."
The coaching staff was impressed with the Texas D's performance the entire second half. After being entirely unable to stop Texas Tech in the first half, giving up 31 points, the defense came out and, not just slowed, but shut out the Raider air attack. One of the most important changes was the effectiveness of the pass rush in the final two quarters. The defensive line started getting to the quarterback, and Chizik said a big part of that was the rotation used in the unit.
"We tried to get a substitution plan that allowed our defensive linemen to stay fresh and, as you can see, late in the game when we started getting pressure is where it became big," said Chizik.
That substitution plan included the debut at defensive end for Texas running back, or rather, former Texas running back Henry Melton. Hank was one of the slew of Texas players that brought Harrell down when Texas sacked the Tech QB for the first time.
The Horns played strong at the end, but the game didn't start out so rosy. Tech received the ball to begin the game and immediately began slicing their way through the Texas secondary, driving the ball all the way into the end-zone. On the touchdown pass, the Harrell hooked up with running back Shannon Woods on an 18-yard screen. The Longhorns struggled to defend the screen pass in the first half, with Harrell deftly tossing the ball over the head of the blitzing Longhorns into the hands of his running backs and receivers.
"Texas Tech played as well as I've seen ‘em," said Brown. "The first half was as masterful as I've seen."
Texas cornerback Aaron Ross, who, as always, came up with big plays down the stretch, was frustrated with his unit's inability to stop the Red Raiders in the first half, partially because it seemed like it didn't matter what they tried against Harrell.
"Every ball he threw was on the money. Everything he did was right," said Ross. "First quarter they were on rhythm."
The Texas offense had little opportunity to get into rhythm in the game's first frame. It initially looked as if the Longhorns were going to move down the field as easily as the Red Raiders, but at the Texas Tech 21 yard-line, running back Jamaal Charles coughed up the football, giving it back to Tech.
Gaining momentum from the turnover, Texas Tech moved the ball as easily, if not easier, than their first drive. Harrell fired down the field and set up another quick score, this time with a 3-yard pass to Eric Morris, who got his first career TD reception.
After trading three-and-outs, Texas took over deep in its own territory. Down two scores and determined, McCoy retook the field…and threw an interception to Texas Tech linebacker Fletcher Session, who returned it 19 yards for a touchdown. The Longhorns were now down 21-0, but Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said he knew his players would respond.
"Our kids just hung in there," said Davis. "Even when it was 21 to nothing, we felt if we could get ‘em settled down then we would be ok and they could make some plays. And that's what happened."
When the second quarter arrived, so did the Texas offense. The Longhorns put together a 13-play, 80-yard drive, ending with a Nate Jones touchdown reception.
Tech responded with another scoring drive, but were held to a field goal and the gears of the Tech attack started to grind for the first time in the game.
Texas responded on its next drive, again pushing the ball down the field and placing the ball in the endzone with a 28-yard strike to Jordan Shipley. An important part of the drive, and the entire game for Texas, was dominance in the run game as the Longhorns frequently made use of the I-Formation to run straight at Tech. The offensive line responded by playing inspired football.
"They (the offensive line) dominated up front," said McCoy.
The defense had some flashes of brilliance late in the first half of their own. Aaron Ross recovered a fumble and Texas immediately went on the offensive, as McCoy launched a 45-yard touchdown pass to Limas Sweed.
Before the half, the Red Raiders had some theatrics of their own, as Harrell found Jarrett Hicks for a 30-yard TD pass in the front corner of the end-zone. The game went to halftime 31-21, but the game was finally in reach for the Longhorns.
It appeared we had a high scoring shootout on our hands, but the Longhorn defense would have none of it. After a combined 52 points were put up in the first half, the only scoring in the second half was a pair of Texas TDs. That's it. The defense pitched a second half shutout
"Our statement at halftime was ‘Don't let them see you sweat.' And that's really what we took out onto the field in the second half," said Chizik.
With 7:51 remaining in the third, Selvin Young dove over the line for his fifth touchdown of the season, bringing the Horns within three. Young fumbled on the next drive for Texas, but it mattered little as the Texas defense held the Raiders to consecutive punts. The Texas offense would be much more fortunate than their crimson counterparts.
On the next drive, Colt McCoy rolled out of the pocket to his left and found his favorite target when things break down, Quan Cosby. The speedy wideout caught the ball on the sideline, turned up the field and took off for a 28-yard touchdown and the lead. Cosby finished the game with seven catches for 79 yards and the TD.
With a 35-31 lead, the scoring was over and the Texas defense locked down. When Texas Tech got the ball back, they quickly gave it up as Ryan Palmer (remember him?) picked off Harrell and took the ball back to midfield. Texas could only muster a three-and-out, but it didn't matter, thanks to the aforementioned defensive stops.
But after the stops there was still 4:24 left in the game. The Longhorns had to drive up the field and kill the clock.
They did just that.
"When the defense made the great stand on fourth down, we wanted to do a couple things," said Davis. "We wanted to run the ball make them use their time outs. But at the same time we felt we couldn't give it back to them."
The game was finally sealed with a 33-yard cross-field scramble by McCoy. Before the play, Brown gave his quarterback explicit instructions.
"We told him to throw it if they (the receivers) were wide open and run it if they're not," said Brown. "They were wide open and he ran it anyway. I didn't blame him. We said it better not be incomplete and it darn sure better not be tipped or intercepted. If it is we're gonna have a visit."
McCoy may have ended with about half the yards of Harrell, 256 to 519, but the Longhorns moved the ball on the ground as well, out-rushing Tech 227 to 0.
Texas returns home next week to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Nov. 4th match-up is scheduled for 6 p.m.