Just What the Doctor - and Brown - Ordered

For two consecutive weeks, the Texas Longhorns have met – and in some cases exceeded – expectations. Ironically, they are just 1-1 in those games: a better-than-most-thought-possible effort that resulted in a loss to Oklahoma and an Ames, Iowa, wipeout Saturday afternoon of the Iowa State Cyclones.

After each of the first five games of the season, Longhorns coaches and fans – and some fans who want to be coaches – had plenty to complain about. No running game. No short-yardage running game. No turnovers forced. Poor linebacking play. Poor play-calling by the offensive coordinator. Same old songs.

Saturday's game – the second consecutive week that Texas has put together a consistent, 60-minute effort – might not have put to rest some of those worries, but certainly gives the Longhorns something to feel good about. And dare we say it? Yes, hope that maybe – possibly – a two-loss team can win the Big 12 South.

Granted, that's jumping to conclusions, but none of the teams in the division are undefeated on the year, and Texas has games remaining against three of the teams who will figure prominently in the race: Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

Okay, now that we've got that bit of fantasy out of the way – just so we can look back with the chance to say ‘I told you so' – let's talk about Saturday's game.

First and foremost, a disclaimer: this was a bad Iowa State team whose inept offense is only slightly better than its defense, which couldn't cover a bed in a sheet factory. Bad, bad, bad.

Having said that, Texas has shown a propensity to play way down to inferior competition, so what was seen in Iowa was impressive on many fronts. In previous games against weaker teams, the Longhorns have merely feigned interest, displaying limited passion and energy, minus a knock-out punch.

Not Saturday.

The Texas offense was in fine form – picking up where it left off last week against Oklahoma, when it moved the ball with relative ease. The most obvious change in the Texas offense came not just in quarterback Colt McCoy's stats, which were formidable (298 yards passing, four touchdown passes and one touchdown rushing), but more importantly in the change in his demeanor.

McCoy has been beleaguered all season, running for his life, a strained and worried look plastered permanently on his face. On Saturday, after a highlight-reel 44-yard touchdown scamper, he left the field with a huge smile, the burdens of trying to lead a comeback at home against Kansas State all but forgotten. The stats were great, yes; but this was, again, Iowa State. The longer-term positives from this game can be gauged more by the previously-absent glint in McCoy's eye than in the numbers on a stat sheet.

The Texas defense ended a 12-quarter turnover drought as well, the most prominent of which was cornerback Brandon Foster's 38-yard interception return for a score early in the third period. But again, the tangible things might be the least important things of all to carry from this game. A Texas defense that occasionally has seemed soft this season continued its hard-hitting ways long after the outcome against the Cyclones was decided. A couple of vicious Sergio Kindle hits had to have warmed Texas fans' hearts that have yearned for a fast, swooping and lethal 'backer since Derrick Johnson took his talents to the National Football League. But, again, it was just Iowa State.

The Texas receivers – minus their most heralded member, the out-for-the-season Limas Sweed – were uncoverable, and had much to do with McCoy's smile. One player's loss perhaps is another's opportunity – Jordan Shipley was open all day, literally: on the first play of the game, he found himself alone in the Iowa State secondary, where McCoy hit him for a 58-yard score. He caught three balls for 71 yards, two of which went for touchdowns.

Quan Cosby was the same old reliable Quan Cosby, and Nate Jones reemerged after a slow stretch in his season. Cosby had five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown and Jones snared seven balls for 125 yards and a score.

Certainly questions remain as Texas enters the home stretch of Baylor, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. The Longhorns will likely be favored in every game remaining on their schedule (that statement might not necessarily reflect the opinion of all members of the Inside Texas staff), but they still haven't answered a couple of questions: Can Texas run the football in a close game when it's imperative? Can the Longhorns become a big-play defense against a high-octane offense (a.k.a., Texas Tech)? Can the Longhorns go man-on-man and stop a downhill running game (a.k.a., Texas A&M)? Can the Longhorns plug in a backup quarterback and move the ball effectively enough to win?

Those questions remain unanswered.

But Saturday's game did answer some other important questions:

Do the Longhorns have the capability of putting teams away when they get a lead? Yes.

Can McCoy regain the confidence he needs to carry this pass-oriented offense for the rest of the season? Yes.

Can Jamaal Charles complete a game without fumbling? Yes. (Having said that, seven carries is hardly a full load.)

Can the Texas defensive backs shut down one of the best receivers in the Big 12 (Todd Blythe)? Yes.

Can the Longhorns just go out and play without burdening themselves with too much thought? Evidently.

Mack Brown and his Longhorns will bring only positive thoughts into their game next week against Baylor, against whom they should use the Iowa State game as a blueprint. Win that one and Texas moves to 6-2 as it hosts Nebraska in two weeks, a game in which the Longhorns will be double-digit favorites. With wins against Baylor and Nebraska, the Longhorns will enter the home stretch of Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M with enough confidence to win, though by then the Oklahoma Sooners could very well be completely out of sight.

What did Texas get from its game against the Cyclones Saturday? Much-needed confidence. Now and again we all need a boost, a pick-me-up, a ‘thattaboy.' The Longhorns got all of those against Iowa State, and it should serve them well the rest of the season.

"This was the effort and complete football game we've been looking for," Brown said after the game.

You're not the only one who feels that way, Mack. Now do it again next week.

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