For Offense, This Time It Was Personal

For weeks now, the Longhorn offense has been sliding steadily downward in NCAA stats to near-Texas A&M levels of ineptness as the defense and/or special teams (with but one exception) played stellar enough to carry the team toward its 7-1 record.

That all changed with Texas' 21-10 win over No. 17 Iowa State. On the strength of RB Cedric Benson's 199 yards on 30 carries, the offense registered 245 yards, controlled the clock (33:06) and moved the chains on eight-of-17 third-downs and was two-of-three on fourth down conversions.

UT's fourth quarter scoring drive that ended with RB Selvin Young's 2-yard touchdown run to seal the deal was the team's longest in terms of plays (19) and time (9:04). Texas converted five first downs and one HUGE fourth-down on the series. On the Horns' first possession of the game, the offense drove 80 yards in 12 plays, marking the first time all season Texas has recorded two or more scoring drives of 12 plays in a single game.

So, what was the difference Saturday?

Head coach Mack Brown continues to bristle at the suggestion that there might have been something chronically wrong with any particular phase of his offense (e.g., poor blocking, dropped passes, injuries) but that it has been a matter of correcting sporadic inconsistencies in the ground game (virtually undetectable and inexplicable to fans, apparently).

"We needed to get our running game back on track, but it's really hard to explain to most people why it's not working," Brown said. "We saw a lot of good things, but we didn't have the consistency that we wanted. It was always some little something. For whatever reason today, we made some long runs. Before today, we hadn't made any explosives plays out of our running game but today we did."

I like Benson's response better.

"I think it started to make some guys sick," the sophomore tailback said of the anemic ground game that has generated more criticism than yardage since Big 12 play began Oct. 5.

(Hey, Ced! We understand!)

"We were tired of playing like we weren't a top team," Benson said. "We started playing like we should have."

Defensive coordinator Carl Reese defended "my buddy (offensive coordinator) Greg Davis" during the post-game interview session. Davis has become a moving target as of late for the immobilized ground game that sprang to life Saturday. Reese was the keynote speaker at a mid-week meeting of the Austin Longhorn Club but was constantly asked questions about the running game rather than defensive schemes.

"The best defense is the offense playing," Reese said. "Today, our offense saved us."

The suddenly explosive ground game offered a nice respite for the defense, DT Marcus Tubbs admitted.

"It felt good to just sit back and watch the game, to relax and get your rest," he said.

RG Derrick Dockery, the team's most experienced and versatile blocker, recalled how Davis challenged the offensive line to rise to the occasion Saturday when the game plan called for moving the sticks, and controlling the clock by grinding it out.

"Coach Davis, the night before last, kept telling us ‘11 for 60 minutes,'" Dockery recalled. "Instead of just one person, he wanted 11 people for 60 minutes. To not have that one bad play, but 11 people for 60 minutes."

Added Dockery: "We took it upon ourselves. It was a very close game. We told ourselves at halftime that we were that close (to achieving ‘11 for 60'). We came out and established the run, and it was downhill from there. People had a tendency to talk bad about the offensive line: ‘We're not doing this' or ‘We're soft'. It was personal. We came out today and it was like, ‘Man, forget everybody else. It's just us. We're a family and an offensive line.' And we got it done."

Benson, the chief benefactor of the line's newfound resolve, echoed the sentiment.

"(The offensive line) stayed positive," Benson said. "Week in and week out, they were saying, ‘We're gonna get it. We're gonna get it. It's gonna happen.' We finally got it done, and I'm so proud of them."

Or, to put a new spin on an old Darrell Royalism: Trends are bunk. Angry linemen win football games.

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