"He said he wanted to be a workhorse," QB Chris Simms said of Benson, "but I don't know if he knew he was in store for that kind of work. He loves having the ball. He gets the same after the first carry as he does the 37th, and that's the good thing about him."
Simms, despite tossing his first interception of the season (the ball bounced off FL Tony Jeffery's shoulder pads and into CB Victor Malone's paws), turned in another solid day at the office by completing 20-of-30 passes for 233 yards. Simms' performance brought his career offensive total to 4,567 yards with at least nine (ideally, 11) games remaining, but it was enough to move him past Earl Campbell's career mark (4,443 yards) for sixth place on the school's all-time chart.
The balanced offensive, combined with an absolutely stellar defensive performance (Texas held a Houston team averaging 411 yards-per-game to 31 yards rushing on 23 attempts, 121 yards passing on 27 attempts and 1-of-12 on third down conversions) was enough to offset another scoreless third quarter as well as the chilling first quarter image of SE Roy Williams clutching his leg in pain in the back of the south end zone. On UT's second possession, the junior had a step on a Cougar DB in the end zone but pulled up short in obvious pain before collapsing to the turf. The initial word is that Williams, who returned to the Texas sideline in his street clothes near the end of the second quarter, strained a hamstring.
SE Sloan Thomas took up most of the slack in Williams' absence, contributing 87 yards and one touchdown on six receptions.
In holding Cougar RB Joffrey Reynolds to 38 yards on 13 carries (the senior had been averaging 137.3 ypg to rank No. 15 nationally), the defensive showcase was made all the more impressive in that the unit was thinned by injuries to starting CB Nathan Vasher and DT Marcus Tubbs. True freshman DT Rodrique Wright made his first career start in Tubbs' spot, while it took two players to replace what Vasher usually brings to the table (Michael Huff started at cornerback while FS Dakarai Pearson handled punt return duties).
"They (Houston) are a better football team than in the previous two years we've played them," head coach Mack Brown said. "I'm really pleased that we held Reynolds to 38 yards rushing because he's a really good football player. He had more than 105 yards total offense against us last year."
With the win, Texas extended its home winning streak to 15, the fourth best in school history and the fifth-longest in the nation. The Longhorn teams are now 23-2 at home under Brown. Texas now leads series against UH 16-7-2
Houston QB Barrick Nealy (4-7-1-18) was hobbled on the opening possession after Huff leveled him following a 7-yard sprint-out around right end. He was replaced that series by QB Nick Eddy (10-20-1-103), who would stand behind center the entire second half.
Following a 50-yard Jimmy McClary punt (the first of nine for the Coogs), Texas took over on its own 19 yard line. Benson would do most of the damage on the opening possession, carrying seven times for 40 yards. The Longhorns got on the scoreboard first when Simms hit Williams on a slant pass, who then juked and slashed his way into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown reception. Dusty Magnum's PAT made it 7-0, Texas, with 9:01 remaining in the first quarter.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Texas took over on its own 40 yard line following a 17-yard McClary punt. Simms found TE Brock Edwards for 11 yards on the third play of the drive (Williams would be injured on the next play). The Horns converted on fourth-and-1 at the UH 33 behind a Benson plunge and a strong line surge. WR Kyle Shanahan's nine-yard grab was his first reception of the season.
Facing fourth-and-three at the UH 24, Texas reached into its bag of tricks and pulled out a play that head coach Mack Brown said it had been working on for more than a year.
Lining up for an apparent 41-yard FG attempt, holder Beau Trahan instead raced with the ball 24 yards into the end zone. (One almost wishes Texas had saved a play like that for Oklahoma, or Kansas State, or Nebraska, or Iowa State, or anyone but Houston. But Brown said the play gave Texas much-needed momentum, going into the second quarter, leading 14-0).
It was the third straight game Texas opened strong in first quarter, racking up 143 yards while holding Houston to 30. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis hitched the Horns' offensive wagon to Benson, who had his hand in 11 of 25 first-quarter plays, gaining 56 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
Texas was driving again in the second quarter after the D produced another three-and-out but Malone raced 57 yards with a tipped interception of a Simms' attempt for Jeffery (the Texas QB ran Malone down along the Houston sideline). The play set up Dustin Bell's 42-yard FG, his seventh make in seven attempts so far this season.
With 6:07 remaining in the half, Texas responded with an 11-play, 84-yard drive, highlighted by true freshman WR Robert Timmons' first career grab, a 13-yard reception on a post pattern. (The 6-2, 205-pounder already developed a reputation in practice for mixing it up in heavy traffic.) Texas would later use a three tight end alignment to give Benson an extra push as he carried it over from the one with 1:42 remaining.
Again, the defense came up big on the next possession with Pearson's 14-yard interception return to the Cougar 25, his third pick of the young season (he had two last week in Chapel Hill).
With all the time in the world to pick apart the Houston D, Simms wasted no time in lighting up the scoreboard again when he connected with Thomas on a play-action pass from 25 yards out.
Texas led 28-3.
With Houston taking over on its own 18 with 47 seconds remaining in the half, Texas did a masterful job both on defense and with clock-management to give Magnum a field goal attempt. Texas called a timeout when Lee Jackson stopped Reynolds on a one-yard reception, and again after hard-charging DE Cory Redding forced an errant Nealy option pitch that Cougar center Al James recovered on the Houston 10 following a 16-yard loss.
Pearson's fair catch of a McClary 37-yard punt gave Texas a first down at the Houston 46 with 24 seconds remaining. Simms directed the Longhorn offense out of a five-wide set, hitting Shanahan on a four-yard toss and connecting with Sloan Thomas for 16 yards. Magnum connected on a 44-yard FG to make it 31-3 as time expired.
Houston was 0-of-6 in third down conversions in the first half, while Texas was 7-of-10 and moved the chains with two fourth-down conversions.
In the second half, the Texas defense outscored the Texas offense. Benson fumbled for the first time this season during Texas‘ first possession of the second half, turning the ball over at midfield at the end of a 22-yard screen pass.
It was déjà vu all over again for the Horns on their next series. After moving the chains on the strength of RB Ivan Williams blasts (he would finish with 26 yards on 6 carries), true freshman RB Selvin Young fumbled at the end of a 9-yard burst.
Eddy came out slinging and set up Houston with a first down at the Texas 29. But the Cougars marched backwards under heavy Texas cornerback blitzes, and ended up punting from its own 38.
The third quarter scoreboard ended as it started. However, Houston broke the second half standoff with Eddy's one-yard touchdown plunge with 14:10 remaining. (It was the first TD given up at home this season.)
Eddy's two-point conversion pass to WR Brandon Middleton closed the gap to 20 at 31-11.
"They had one drive but they didn't consistently move the football," Brown said. "Our defense forced turnovers."
Young's 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was nullified by a holding penalty. Instead, Texas would hitch its wagon to Benson one more time. Benson carried seven times for 23 yards to set up a 35 yard Magnum FG.
"You've got to do what you've got to do, especially at the running back," Benson said, "It's got to be all or nothing. (Extra carries) makes me run a lot harder."
Huff put the exclamation point on the evening's defense highlight reel when he intercepted an Eddy pass and raced 27 yards into the end zone.
"I thought (Houston) was going to pick on me a lot more than they did," Huff said. "He (Eddy) was staring at me the whole time so I figured it was coming my way. (Pearson) gave me a hard time last week about dropping a few, but I'm giving him a hard time because tonight I took it back to the house and he still hasn't."
It was his redshirt freshman Huff's first interception (and score) as a Longhorn.
"I was excited, but I didn't know what to do," Huff said, "so I set the ball down and walked off the field."
His teammates, partying on Huff's behalf, were flagged 15 yards for excessive celebration.
K Matt McFadden connected on a 35-yard PAT, to complete the scoring, 41-11.
The Texas defense and/or specialty teams have now scored in 17 of the past 35 ballgames. Still, Brown was critical of Texas defenders for not hanging on to passes last week that actually hit them in the hands.
"We finally caught some balls in the secondary instead of batting them down," Brown said. "We told them (interceptions) weren't against the rules."
TURNOVERS: REMEMBER THOSE?
It was supposed to be the Cougars' job to turn the ball over. The visitors came to Austin averaging four give-aways per game, while Texas was the only NCAA Division I team to not have a turnover going into Saturday's contest. But it was Texas that fumbled three times (losing two) and gave up an interception. Nealy and Eddy each tossed a pick but their teammates otherwise held on to the pigskin. It was Simms' first interception in 67 attempts while Benson lost his handle on the ball while fighting for extra yards at the end of 32-yard reception. Young turned the ball over after dashing nine yards up the middle.
Despite the turnovers, Texas achieved its offensive game plan of establishing a balanced attack and controlling the time of possession (the ‘Horns had the ball for 39:43), Brown said.
SE Roy Williams left the game in the first quarter with a reported strained hamstring. DE Bryan Pickryl left in the second half with an injured shoulder. CB Nathan Vasher (sprained ankle), DT Marcus Tubbs (mild concussion), and snapper Cullen Loeffler did not play.