"I think we're back in the mix," said Texas coach Mack Brown, now 8-2 against TTU. "I think we're starting to play like that (a BCS team). If we can make a statement at College Station, then we'll have to be one of teams that people talk about."
For now, people are talking about Texas' resurgent running game courtesy of speed-demon Jamaal Charles and spin-doctor Colt McCoy. The junior RB sprinted for 174 yards on 23 carries (7.6 ypc) to move past All-American Roosevelt Leaks into sixth-place on Texas' career rushing list with 3,075 yards. He now has 1,366 yards on the season (No. 6 UT all-time). Best of all, Charles is running downhill and (for whatever reason) has markedly improved his field vision.
"I didn't think I was ever going to get stopped," Charles said. "I was aiming for 300."
Charles had 165 yards at halftime on a day when the only folks who could slow him were Longhorn trainers. Charles injured the back of his left heel on Texas' first possession of the second half and did not return until 10 minutes remained in the game and Texas leading by 10. More than anything else, his presence was intended to send a message to those who have questioned his toughness and durability.
"If I'm hurt," Charles said, "I'm gonna suck it up and go back in the game."
Offensively, it was Texas' most complete game of the season. Even with the latest O-line injury -- LT Tony Hills was carted off the field with 5:13 remaining in the opening frame and Buck Burnette checked in at center while Chris Hall moved from center to LT -- the big uglies up front dictated the line of scrimmage. When he wasn't spinning and juking on 22-yard TD runs, McCoy was an efficient 21-of-30 passing for 268 yards and four TDs.
For the first time in school history, Texas boasts three players with 40+ receptions (Nate Jones, Quan Cosby, Jermichael Finley). Yet, for the first time this season, Texas ran to set-up the pass. Sixty-two rushes netted 283 yards.
Despite the gaudy offensive numbers, here's the stat that jumps out at you: Texas ran 92 plays (92!) and held the ball for 40:12. The best defense against the nation's most prolific offense, of course, is to keep them on the bench.
"It wore them (Tech) down that we were able to stay on the field," said McCoy. "We were able to run the ball effectively and that helped our offense tremendously."
Yet, this is a team that appears to have found its identity with Zone Read runs in the fourth quarter against Nebraska.
"The fourth-quarter against Nebraska flipped it for us," Brown said. "We look like we have an identity. The first of the year, it looked like we didn't have a clue."
Even before Hills' injury, Texas added a wrinkle by running behind the TE. Tech's halftime adjustment including putting a linebacker on top of the TE and occasionally showing nine-man fronts. It opened up lanes for Mister Clutch Quan Cosby, who posted a team-best eight receptions for 94 yards and two TDs.
There was no question that Tech QB Graham Harrell would pick apart a mediocre Texas pass defense, characterized by inexperienced and undersized DBs as well as starting linebackers who have never came close to wearing No. 60. Harrell completed 36 passes for 466 yards and five TDs. Once again, the middle of the field remained wide open for WRs. The 43 points is the most Texas has ever surrendered in a winning effort (tying the mark set in Texas' Holiday Bowl comeback against Washington in 2001). Texas tackled better Saturday than it did at Oklahoma State, Brown said, and, at times, manufactured semblance of a pass rush. Yet, damage control ultimately came in the form of limiting Tech to just 55 plays (48 of them passes), and 37 fewer snaps than Texas. In fact, we were three minutes into the fourth quarter before Tech began its second series of the second-half.
"Both offenses just ran up and down the field," Brown noted. "Every fan that likes offense got a season's full."
With both offenses scoring at will, Texas finally got separation when it cheated Tech out of a possession when true freshman Curtis Brown recovered a fumbled 'sky kick' at the Red Raider 32. It led to Charles' 24-yard TD run and a 28-10 lead with 8:26 remaining until the break.
"The sky kick really changed the game," Brown noted.
Texas also rolled the dice four times by going for it on fourth-down. It worked every time. (Somewhere Les Miles is smiling.) The most dramatic fourth-down conversion saw Jordan Shipley rush for six yards on a fake FG attempt while facing 4th-and-two at the Red Raider 29. It came on Texas' opening series of the second half, culminating in McCoy's 20-yard TD toss to Cosby.
"We had to be aggressive," Brown said. "We knew they were going to get their points. We told our team to expect them to score when they had the ball."
SS Erick Jackson logged his first start since the Baylor game. Roddrick Muckelroy logged the start at WLB, but it was Scott Derry stopping Aaron Crawford on 3rd-on-2 to force a three-and-out on Tech's opening drive. The Horns ran the Zone Read to the TE side on the opening series with Charles collecting 28 yards on four carries. The seven-play, 74-yard march was capped by Shipley's leaping grab in the back of the north end zone, literally getting a toe into paydirt. The 18-yard reception spotted Texas a 7-0 lead 4:45 into the ballgame.
CB Ryan Palmer didn't bite on the direct snap to Tech's Crawford, dropping the RB for a two-yard loss on third-and-one at the Texas 16. The Red Raiders settled for a 35-yard FG, but the Horns responded with a 75-yard, 13-play scoring drive capped by Vondrell McGee's one-yard run. The Red Raiders answered with a 10-play, 80-yard drive, scoring on Harrell's eight-yard toss to Eric Morris.
Texas would return serve, the big play courtesy of Charles' 35-yard run. OC Greg Davis rolled the dice on 4th-and-one from the seven. The play-action rollout toss to RB Chris Ogbonnaya was good for six yards. McCoy would lunge for the Texas' third TD in as many possessions after bobbling the snap from the center. The 80-yard march extended Texas' lead, 21-10, with 9:22 remaining until halftime.
After the ‘sky kick' and quick TD for the Horns, the track meet continued with Tech's 63-yard, five-play scoring drive, culminating in Harrell's 22-yard TD pass to Edward Britton, making it 28-17. McCoy's third-down sack forced Texas' first punt of the day with just under four minutes left until halftime. Four Harrell completions moved the ball to the Texas 20, but Melton's PBU on an inside screen attempt probably prevented a TD. Alex Trlica's 37-yard FG made it a 28-20 ballgame at intermission.
On the opening drive of the second half, McCoy twice moved the chains on third down with his feet, and then bought time with his feet on 3rd-and-seven from the Tech 20, before hooking up with a wide-open Cosby in the left corner of the north end zone.
Cosby juked RCB Chris Parker, pretending to break back towards McCoy, to complete the kind of 86-yard drive teams need against Tech: 17 plays draining 6:51 from the game clock. It gave Texas some breathing room at 35-20.
"Once we did that, I knew what they were going to do defensively," McCoy said. "I felt like, overall, we are able to move the ball any time we wanted to. That feels pretty good against a team like Tech."
Texas had not stopped Tech's offense since the Raiders' opening series. A holding penalty negated a Tech TD on 4th-and-five from the 13. Mike Leach's bunch attempt more fourth-down conversions than any team in college football, but on 4th-and-13, a hurried Harrell threw incomplete in the back of the south end zone. It was the most controversial series of the ballgame as Tech lost not one, but two, Coach's Challenges. Leach will probably be reprimanded, if not fined, for his post-game commentary directed at officials: "The review system that we have is a sham. It either needs to be done away with or done correctly. As far as the review system goes, typically what will happen is you will have to be on the sideline, and the refs will buy time and hope that the guy up top, 'Wink, Wink', reviews the play and they say you don't have to use a timeout. It's a brother-in-law process that makes the officials look like they got the calls right."
Texas tacked on another three with Ryan Bailey's 25-yard FG. Vondrell McGee's 10-yard dash on 4th-and-one from the 16 sustained a 16-play drive that covered 69 yards that kept Tech's offense sidelined for 7:29.
In fact, Tech's second possession of the second half did not come until 12:13 remained in the ball game. But the Raiders didn't waste any time, negotiating 39 yards in two plays and 25 seconds. It was still anybody's game at 38-28 and 11:48 remaining following the two-point conversion.
Yet, almost half the points in this wild one were scored in the fourth quarter. McCoy's spinning (in fact, he orchestrated a pair of 360s) resulted in a 22-yard TD run to hold Tech at arm's length with a 17-point cushion. The Horns outscored Tech, 24-23, in the final frame.
Overall, it was a day in which a recently slow-starting Texas was fast out of the blocks and maintained its level of offensive intensity despite injuries to key personnel. It lends credence to the thought that a team known for its resiliency may be peaking just in time for bowl season.
"We still have a ways to go," Cosby concluded, "but tonight was a step forward."