On a day when Notre Dame loses to Navy and Kansas drops an historic 76 on Nebraska, one had plenty of reason to believe that Texas' decade-long escape artistry against Okie State would also go by the wayside.
Can anyone name a college football series this past decade that has been as wild and weird as Texas-Oklahoma State? Texas' comebacks against the Cowboys, leading to a 10-0 mark since Mack Brown arrived in Austin, have been well-documented. For Cowboy fans, though, this one may have been the cruelest of them all. By and large, Longhorn fans barely broke a sweat when their team stared down a 28-point deficit in Austin three years ago. And everyone, regardless of their favorite shade of orange, just knew Vince Young would deftly orchestrate a 19-point comeback during Texas' national championship campaign. But would Texas possess the firepower and the moxy to overcome a three-touchdown deficit with less than 15 minutes to play?
On Saturday, the biggest question was whether Texas possessed the defense. I told you pass defense would be the difference in this ballgame, but it was Texas' porous pass coverage that nearly led to its undoing. Only three programs have put up worse numbers this year than OSU's pass defense, ranked No. 116 nationally. But who would have thought that Cowboy QB Zac Robinson would obliterate Texas to the tune of a career-best 430 yards on a 20-of-32 outing. Texas' early reliance on nickel- and dime-packages was about as ineffective as linebacker blitzes have been all season. The Cowboys had 87 (87!) plays from scrimmage and three Longhorn turnovers obviously contributed to that. But Texas' defense failed to produce a three-and-out all afternoon. In fact, Texas forced only one punt until three minutes remaining in third quarter. But when the No. 116 pass defense produces a pick-six on Texas' first play, you know it's going to be one of those days (All three INTs were courtesy of RCB Jacob Lacey).
The holes on the 2007 Longhorns are gaping, almost across the board. Tackling so poor that it's borderline John Mackovician. Failure to build depth in Texas' undersized secondary last season. Consistently ineffective blitzes from the starting linebackers. Colt McCoy's interceptions and his tendency to prematurely bail out of the pocket. And how many times this season -- whether its offense, defense or special teams -- have you seen a Longhorn running on the field late?
For three quarters, it was the Cowboys sideline that provided the kind of innovative play-calling that dictated the tempo and kept UT defenders on their heels. The 4th-and-one TD toss on the last play of the first half was gutsy but, upon further review, almost inevitable. OSU coach Mike Gundy stated what all fans of this series already knew: points have come at an absolute premium for OSU as Texas had outscored the Pokes 134-7 in recent match-ups. But OSU's game plan eventually proved too cute for its own good. Quick-snap and no huddle when you need to milk the clock in the fourth quarter? A late and ill-fated end-around? Late pass attempts on third-and-shorts? Longhorn fans everywhere are deeply appreciative of the kind of late play-calling that gave the Texas defense a chance to make some stops, or at least stop the clock. Hey, Mike Gundy is young. He's just a 40-year old man. He'll learn.
Through ten games, though, nothing is more pronounced than Texas' tenacity, heart and resolve to overcome, well, itself.
Ugly as it was at times, this is Texas' biggest win of the season. The Cowboys were tied atop the Big 12 standings coming in and were a bad call and a QB injury away (against Texas A&M) from being undefeated in league play. Before Saturday, Texas' only win against a team with an above-.500 record was Central Florida. This one may not win you style-points, but it keeps Texas on trajectory for at least a New Years Day bowl game (Gator, Cotton or, best-case scenario, at-large Sugar Bowl berth). And for those hand-wringers who question how a team could have fallen all the way from a national champion to 8-2 in two seasons, keep in mind that the past three national champs each have at least two conference losses already.
The most encouraging aspect of the game, from a Burnt Orange perspective, was Jamaal Charles' outstanding performance (and especially the way he cradles the ball with two hands when he feels the pressure in the open field). His 180 yards on 16 carries (can you live with 11.2 ypc) against a good run defense proved that his outing at Nebraska was no one-night stand. The speedster has rushed for nearly 500 yards the past two outings and won the battle between the league's top two RBs. Big 12 rusher leader Dantrell Savage netted 103 nets yards on 23 totes, but he wasn't even the game's second-leading rusher. That honor actually went to McCoy who ran for 106 net yards on a career-best 16 carries. He was 20-of-27 for 282 yards. Most important of all, McCoy hit all eight of his passes in the critical fourth quarter.
Following Texas' ugly home-opening win against Arkansas State, I warned Horn fans to keep the Maalox handy all season long. But for one more Saturday, Texas' heartburn kids found another way to avoid becoming the heartbreak kids.