Snead's only meaningful game-day snaps all season came against Sam Houston State on September 30. That was six weeks ago, at home, against a Division I-AA school. Week after week, we've heard Texas coach Mack Brown lament how he wished he could have gotten Jevan into the ballgame. It was as if Longhorn coaches never seriously considered the possibility that their starting QB might get hurt. It matters not if Snead was working every day in practice with "the Ones" if he was not getting meaningful snaps while the bullets were still flying against the likes of Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor. Coaches were probably right not to insert a backup QB with games still on the line against Nebraska, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. But it cost Texas a realistic shot at this year's national title that Snead did not enter the fray until as late as the eleventh game of the season. Everything from pre-snap reads against live defenses to effecting the timing with receivers, that's what Snead did not have in his otherwise enviable arsenal because he has been an interested bystander all season.
No one here is questioning Snead's talent nor disparaging his effort. Snead nearly rallied his troops from a 21-point deficit. Snead is a big-time player who gave up his Senior Prom to win a game like this for the Horns. It's just that -- through no fault of his own -- it took Snead nearly three quarters to settle in. Plus, he needed nearly flawless performances from his supporting cast. Instead, the Horns committed two fumbles and a blocked punt during that season-altering 3:06 span that saw K-State reel off 21 points. SE Limas Sweed's third-quarter drop at the end of the razzle-dazzle was more lethal as a turnover because it cost Texas a TD. The defense gave up 323 yards through the air and forced Snead to try to match the kinds of big plays they gave up (including consecutive trick plays). For the second week in a row, touchbacks came at a premium for PK Hunter Lawrence. There was also the long punt return to set up a one-play K-State touchdown drive. And it was the O-lines most erratic performance of the season.
Frankly, when McCoy got hurt, my initial thought was that Texas' difficulty in steamrolling people once inside the 10-yard line in short-yardage situations finally cost them. Otherwise, McCoy would not have been in a position for the fourth-down sneak when Texas went up 7-0 and all was still right with the world. Even without McCoy, a Kansas State team that lost to Baylor had no business being within two scores of Texas. The Wildcats are one of the youngest teams in D-I football, and have eight starters who came to the program as walk-ons. Statistically, more than half of all D-I programs have better offenses and better defenses than Kansas State. Yet, first-year coach Ron Prince's play-calling was aggressive and creative. They went right at Texas' top CB Aaron Ross, who gave up two scores. They had their freshman QB put the ball in the air the first play after he threw an INT. Josh Freeman even threw a bootleg across his body to secure the game-winning third-down conversion in the closing seconds. It kept Texas' secondary on its heels despite the fact that the Wildcats were no threat to run. Frankly, a three-point upset becomes an ugly embarrassment if it wasn't for SS Michael Griffin's INT and his blowing up two punt attempts (all leading to scores).
At the same time, it was Texas' only road loss since this very weekend in 2002. Ideally, whatever bitterness Horns fans are feeling today will be eased by acknowledging what a remarkable streak that has been. A sense of history reminds us that Darrell Royal lost at least one game like this nearly every year he was on the job. Yet, it doesn't cover the areas that have been problematic all season for an otherwise Top Ten Longhorn program: a pass defense that gives up too many big plays, a ground game that is still looking for big runs, a run-defense that over-pursues and bites on play-fakes, and a freshman QB who was ill-prepared to win this one without game-day experience and without a more solid performance from his teammates.
On Monday, coaches will talk of how proud they were of the effort, resulting in the near-comeback. And they won't be wrong. Players will speak of how their primary goals remain intact: winning the South Division, winning another Big 12 Championship and going to a third-straight BCS Bowl. And they won't be wrong. The bitter pill is that everything had fallen into place for Texas: losses from Louisville, Auburn and California put Texas in prime position to face the winner of next Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan survivor. But there's very little doubt in mind that, assuming an Ohio State win Saturday, Buckeye QB Troy Smith would again have dissected a Longhorn pass defense that -- save for its outing against Oklahoma State -- has shown little signs of improvement.
When folks asked me during the preseason for my prediction, I said Texas would probably go 12-2. (Obviously, I didn't expect that one of the setbacks would be at K-State). The reason was that, with the losses at QB and in the secondary, and with the early match-up against Ohio State, I thought Texas had a more realistic shot of defending its national title in 2007 and/or 2008.
This one hurts, but Texas' national championship dream did not die Saturday in windswept Manhattan, Kansas. It was just deferred for a year.