Air Raiders Bomb Texas, 42-38

Set 'em up, bartender. And keep it comin’. And what kind of wine goes well with crow?

Nope, I got no one to blame but myself for this hangover. Let myself think that the nation’s (statistically) second-best pass defense could preserve that 14-point lead. Convinced myself that all those positive trends (12-game road winning streak, 23-game winning streak against unranked teams) would remain intact after impressive wins at Kansas State and Nebraska. Instead, Texas’ hopes for both a national title shot and BCS bowl berth were shot down in Lubbock, 42-38, when that wiry gunslinger Kliff Kingsbury riddled the Longhorn defense for 473 passing yards on a 38-of-60 assault.

Now, the Horns limp home (literally, in many cases) with a 9-2 record, 5-2 in Big 12, an enviable mark at most universities. But not at the Forty Acres. Not this year. Now, Texas gets a bye-week to heal some of the walking-wounded and to watch the two teams that gave ‘em the black eyes this season (Oklahoma, Texas Tech) slug it out on TV for the Big 12 South Division Title. Yep, Texas went from No. 3 in the country to No. 3 in the Division. Can the Alamo Bowl be far behind?

It helps a little to talk it about, bartender. But where to begin?

First of all, give Kingsbury his props. He’s a tough hombre in a quirky offense, and he tossed more touchdown passes against the Texas defense in one game (six) than it had given up all year (five). And then there’s that Wes Welker kid. His 270 all-purpose yards (169 yards on a career-best 14 receptions, 40 yards on 4 carries, 38 yards in punt returns, two touchdowns) negated SE Roy Williams 117 yards on eight grabs and a career-best three touchdowns.

Kingsbury threw underneath Texas’ nickel coverage all afternoon; in fact, he nickel-and-dimed UT to death. Then after Tech ran those end-arounds, they gobbled up chunks of real estate by faking the end-around and running it up Texas’ bandaged gut.

I could go on and on and on about Texas’ injury-riddled defense (DT Marcus Tubbs and Kalen Thornton never suited up; FS Dakarai Pearson played banged-up) that literally became a walking M.A.S.H. by the end of this shootout (CB Nathan Vasher, LB Derrick Johnson). But I won’t do that, since I figure Mack Brown will do that this week, any way.

Let’s just get this out in the open, bartender. The problem isn’t the banged-up defense. The problem is Texas can’t run the ball. At least not consistently enough to be taken seriously as a national contender. For the seventh time in 10 games, RB Cedric Benson never cracked the century mark (75 yards on 21 carries). The Horns netted 92 rushing yards on 31 attempts, while even the Red Raiders (who rush every now and then just to give receivers a breather) ran for more yards (98) on fewer attempts (25).

Benson is a gutsy ball carrier, but it’s been tough sledding for him all season. His otherwise impressive yards-after-contact stats should be renamed ‘yards after first being hit in the backfield’. Yeah, I know, Tillman Holloway got injured today (and OG Beau Baker’s been hurt, and so has OT Jonathan Scott) but the run blocking is as poor as it’s been in recent memory. Texas ran on North Carolina, Houston and Iowa State this season. That’s it. (Baylor doesn’t count and, even there, Benson was bottled up).

And, bartender, here’s something nobody every talks about (not the coaches, not the players, and, inexplicably, not even the media) but did you know that Texas is the second most-penalized team in the Big 12? It’s like, Texas and then Baylor for most penalties! It’s pretty much been that way all year. Today, the Horns tallied 45 yards on seven penalties, but they were costly.

For instance, the illegal substitution penalty on the punt return team at the end of the first quarter when Tech had a 4th-and-10, followed by a defensive offsides. Texas was up 14-0, but the penalties kept the drive alive resulting in a Red Raider touchdown (Kingsbury throws it up for grabs on 3rd-and-10 at the UT 23; Welker comes down with it and races in for Tech’s first score). How important would it have been for Texas to have had the ball still up 14?

Then there was the second-half holding penalty that wiped out Benson’s 10-yard TD run. The 11-play, 42-yard drive resulted in a 35-yard Dusty Mangum FG, giving Texas a 31-28 lead with a minute gone in the fourth quarter. But with both teams trading touchdowns all afternoon, settling for a field goal was the difference between losing and sending the game into overtime.

And what’s more, bartender, Texas used its last time out on that possession! And with the entire fourth quarter to go! There were times when Simms was screaming at the sideline to get the play in, or sometimes the correct personnel weren't on the field, and the team is making the kind of mistakes you expect in the first game of the season, not the next-to-last.

Texas had zero (repeat, zero) yards on punt returns, which is a killer. Of course, Vasher re-injuring his ankle is most damaging on special teams as he otherwise gutted it out at cornerback. Of course, Tech only punted three times all afternoon since everything on their opponent’s side of the field becomes four-down territory (Tech is second in the nation in fourth down attempts).

Of course, FB Ivan Williams did a heckuva job on kickoff returns and I thought (I really, really thought) Texas had ‘em when ‘ol Ivan returns that pop-up kick 48 yards after Tech had just gone 80 yards in seven plays to take a 42-38 lead with 5:41 remaining.

So, there we are, bartender! First-and-10 at the Tech 34-yard line. By now, you know the offense that has the ball last is going to win this one. So, what do you do, bartender? Benson’s only carried 21 times. His legs oughta be fresh. Mack Brown talked earlier in the week about how Texas might have scored too quickly late in the fourth when it lost here four years ago, leaving Tech just enough time to get downfield. And he’s talked all season about needing to run the ball in the fourth quarter. You run some clock, right?

Not this time. Texas throws. It throws. Texas throws right at a diving safety Ryan Aycock, and Simms (who was an otherwise stellar 24-of-37 for 345 yards) throws his only pick of the game. Hey, 345 passing yards ought to win you any football game if you have a running game. And without the consistent threat of a running game, dare we say that Texas is (pardon my French) one-dimensional?

Texas does lead the Big 12 in time of possession, but not today (Tech held the ball for 30:24) when the Texas offense needed most to play defense against the third-ranked passing offense in the nation.

Since preseason, several members of this year’s senior class (the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation) billed themselves as the group that would put Texas back at the top of the college football world. Who knows? Maybe if half the team (literally) hadn‘t gotten hurt this year, they might have. As it turns out, it has taken the Longhorns 15 years to nearly equal the winning percentage of Fred Akers. (And I don’t think any new buildings are going to be named after him.)

I still can’t believe UT's coach lost to Mike Leach.

Hold off on calling a cab, bartender. I may be here awhile. My calendar is pretty much clear now that I don’t have to waste any more time calculating all those BCS scenarios to see how Texas can wind up in the Fiesta Bowl. So, set ‘em up, Joe. About the only thing that might make me feel a little better (not much, but a little) is finishing the season with a shellacking of the insufferable Aggies.

If not, then just have my mail forwarded to this address.


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