Just two weeks ago (after his 1-of-4 showing against Oklahoma State), we said the outcome of a Texas game would be decided by whether or not sophomore Dusty Mangum makes a late, fourth quarter field goal. In Manhattan, Magnum connected on a clutch 27-yarder with about 94 ticks left to break a 14-14 deadlock in a contest that emerged as the defensive tilt that nearly every one anticipated.
Chris Simms (God love him) was 13-of-24 with two touchdowns and withstood relentless K-State defensive pressure, plus an even heavier blitz of nasty commentary from national media and fans who had already decreed that Simms' legacy is to grip in big-time games against ranked opponents when everything is at stake.
A loss would have dropped Texas to last place in the Big 12 South and, whether it is fair or not, would have served as a referendum on the state of a football program where some doubted not only the skills but also the intestinal fortitude of its players and coaches.
Immediately after the game, head coach Mack Brown said he didn't want anyone questioning the toughness of his team ever again.
Texas lived on the edge at times, but the edge is where you find seasons on the brink. The running game is still distressing (46 net yards on 32 attempts) but Brown's squad not only salvaged the season, they also displayed the collective heart that he knew was there all along.
With two of the nation's Top 5 defensive units (No. 2 Texas; No. 5 KSU) setting the tone, yards and first downs were at a premium. Texas would finish with 230 total yards while a Wildcat team averaging 415.5 yards and nearly 47 points per game was held to 261 yards and 14 points on the night.
Cedric Benson was limited to 59 yards on 23 carries, the fourth time this season the sophomore has not passed the century mark. Meanwhile, those annoying 5-7 scatbacks continue to give Carl Reese's bunch fits as RB Darren Sproles darted around Texas defenders to the tune of 136 yards on 20 carries.
While the Texas ground game remains missing in action (I think they left it in the French Quarter last month), B.J. Johnson delivered his best outing of the year with 132 yards on four grabs and one touchdown, including that critical, critical, critical 34-yard reception with the offense facing 3rd-and-11 to set up Mangum's game-winning field goal. The junior's 40-yard touchdown reception on UT's first possession of the second quarter gave his team much needed momentum to open the scoring and to dampen the raucous purple-clad crazies in a jam-packed Kansas State Stadium (The reported attendance of 50,659 was the 11th largest in K-State history).
The Ell Taco combination plate (QB Ell Roberson to WR Taco Wallace) was never an ingredient Saturday.
The junior quarterback had an average night through the air (7-of-18 for 102 yards) but your eyes would light up every time the elusive Roberson scrambled for precious yardage.
The first 15 minutes ended in a scoreless tie, but almost lost in the stirring, down-to-the-wire finish was a key, 10-play Texas drive to end the quarter. The series didn't produce points but it got Texas out of the shadow of its end zone, Benson picked up 20 yards on six totes while Roy Williams had a pair of grabs totaling 12 yards.
The important thing is the drive shifted the turf war in Texas favor. With Kansas State punting from its own end zone to open the second quarter, Texas took over on the Wildcat 40. While offensive coordinator Greg Davis would not state this past week that KSU was vulnerable to the deep ball (it was pretty much the difference in Colorado's win over the Wildcats a few weeks ago), he did say that his unit would have some one-on-one opportunities against man coverage.
Saturday, B. J. was the man.
Wasting no time, Simms went up top finding Johnson on a 40-yard touchdown strike over (5-8) CB James Dunnigan to put Texas on the scoreboard first. Mangum's PAT gave the Horns a 7-0 lead with 14:14 remaining in the second quarter.
But the Wildcats would respond.
With Texas stacking the line on 2nd-and-10 at the KSU 20, Sproles burst up the middle on a 61-yard scamper before CB Nathan Vasher ran him down at the UT 19. The play set up a Nick Hoheisel one-yard touchdown run, his first carry of the year. (While Brown says he no longer worries about stats, KSU head coach Bill Snyder is a statistical slut. He lives for the kind of stat that says Hoheisal is the 18th Wildcat to score in seven games.) Better check those field goal stats, coach. Thornton's block on the PAT made it Texas, 7-6, at the 11:55 mark.
On Kansas State's next series, Tony Jeffrey partially blocked a Wildcat punt. Texas would then make a rare third down conversion on WR Kyle Shanahan's 13-yard reception on slant pass over the middle, but the quarter ended with each team trading possessions, including Brian Bradford's 51-yard punt to pin K-State inside its own 20.
KSU, which entered the game as the nation's third best team in third-down conversions, moved the chains on just three of eight first half possessions. Texas' third-down woes continued as the Horns converted on just two of eight third down attempts.
But the Longhorn defense refused to let this one slip away, and Simms found a way the get the ball to Johnson, who clearly had the hot hand Saturday just when Texas needed it most.
By Texas' second possession of the third quarter, the offense had but two third-down conversions the entire game. But Simms moved the chains when he hit Sloan Thomas for nine yards to give Texas a first down at the KSU 44.
Then came the second of Johnson's three big plays on the evening, and the 52-yard completion to the junior flanker was his most determined as he churned, fought and pushed his way to the KSU 3-yard line (reminiscent of his touchdown against OSU two weeks ago).
For just the tenth time all season, an opponent was inside the KSU red zone. Two Benson runs netted two yards. On third down, Simms faked the dive to Benson, rolled left, and found freshman TE David Thomas alone in the end zone (much like he did against Tulane) as Texas went up 14-6 with 5:35 remaining in the third.
Stellar play from the defensive end spots are absolutely mandatory in containing an option team like Kansas State's who come at you with a mobile quarterback and another of those squirty, little running back, and Texas got that stellar play from Cory Redding.
Redding turned his best outing of the year, contributing six tackles and two sacks.
True freshman DT Rodrique Wright also played his best ball of the year. He added six tackles and harried Roberson. WLB Derrick Johnson (six tackles) showed why he is a Lombardi Award semifinalist and may be the fastest linebacker in the country.
If one series epitomized both Texas' spirited defensive play and Roberson's sheer escape-ability, it was KSU next offensive series that began at its 23. Redding sacked Roberson for an 11-yard loss, but the quarterback scrambled for 21 on the next play. Two plays later, the Cats were set up with second-and-2 from the Texas 45, but Rodrique Wright threw Roberson for an eight-yard loss, followed by Redding's four-yard drop of the quarterback.
But Texas could not muster a first down and Bradford's punt carried only 37 yards to start the fourth quarter.
Facing a critical third-and-10 from the Texas 42, Roberson hit WR James Terry over the middle for a 26-yard gain after Texas brought both its linebackers. Two plays later, Redding hit Roberson as he was pitching the ball, but an alert Sproles recovered the errant toss at the Texas 27. But, with a fourth-and-9 at the Texas 15, Roberson hit TE Thomas Hill on a scoring pass at the 10:40 mark. Sproles ran it in to complete the two-point conversion and knot the game at 14-14.
With Texas having failed to produce a first down in any possession since its third-quarter score, you could feel this one slipping away when KSU took over on its own 31 with 8:39 remaining.
Then, the break Texas needed! SLB Lee Jackson recovered a Roberson fumble at the KSU 30. But, on the first play from scrimmage, Simms threw into double coverage and was picked off by KSU's best defensive player, CB Terence Newman, at the 4-yard line.
After the Cats drove to the Texas 27, the defense came up big, ending the series when Redding dropped Roberson for a four-yard loss.
The Horns game-winning (and season-saving) drive began on their own 36 with 4:26 remaining. A personal foul facemask penalty against KSU spotted the ball on the Wildcat 48. But staring into the eyes of yet another of those daunting third-and-longs, Simms orchestrated what was Texas' most pivotal third-down conversions of the season.
The 32-yard completion to Johnson gave Texas a first-and-10 at the ‘Cat 17. The drive stalled at the 10 yard line and the Horns called timeout with 1:41 remaining. Mangum's successful 27-yard boot made it 17-14, Texas.
But before UT's celebratory block party could start, Roberson hit Terry on consecutive completions of 28 and 20 yards, giving KSU a first down at the Texas 18 with 21 seconds left.
Roberson took two stabs into the end zone before Brite trotted onto the field with seven ticks on the clock to attempt the 37-yarder.
Friends, is there anything more heartening than the resonant thwack! of a blocked kick in just that kind of situation? On the road? Against fans who would just as soon shove their grandmothers into heavy traffic than lose to a perennially hyped-up Texas team?
FOR THE RECORD
Brown's road warriors have now won 11 consecutive games away from DKR (not counting neutral sites) and have not dropped a game the week after playing Oklahoma in his tenure.
You think Brown gets criticized for his 3-7 record against Top 10 teams? The loss drops Snyder's record against Top 10 opponents to 2-23.
The win ups Texas' record to 6-1, 2-1 in Big 12 play. Texas leads the overall series against KSU, 4-3, but this is the Horns first win over KSU since Big 12 play began in 1996.
Saturday's effort yielded a badly-needed quality win against a national ranked opponent that will be reflected when the first BCS Poll is released Monday.
The Horns return to Austin for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff against nationally-ranked Iowa State (smarting but still dangerous after its 49-3 thrashing at Oklahoma) and Heisman Trophy candidate QB Seneca Wallace. ABC-Sports will televise the game on a regional basis.