Down 21-10 to the top-ranked team in the nation, the Longhorns were forced to answer some serious questions.
Did they have the heart to come back? Had they really become a physical football team? Are there any true explosive weapons on offense? Can they run the ball? Were they going to roll over and get blown out?
They are questions this team faced heading into the 2008 season, questions that persisted all the way up to Saturday's match-up in the Cotton Bowl between No. 5 Texas and No. 1 Oklahoma, questions that even the Horns' head coach has wondered about.
"Everybody's questioned this team, including me," said Texas head coach Mack Brown. "I've sat around and said, 'I don't know how good we are.'"
Brown -- and the rest of the country -- found out how good the Longhorns are in a 45-35 win over the Sooners.
Quarterback Colt McCoy has some questions of his own to face. Heading into the game, the junior signal-caller had completed nearly 80 percent of his passes on the season, but could he do it against a defense like Oklahoma's?
McCoy responded by completing exactly 80 percent of his passes (28-of-35) for 277 yards and a touchdown in the win. He was already creeping his way up many voters' Heisman ballots and he'll continue to garner attention for it and other post-season awards, but after the win McCoy was (as per usual) deflective of individual praise.
"If there are any awards at the end of the season, they are team awards. I truly feel that way," said McCoy.
Regardless of whether or not he wants it, McCoy will get that attention after the wild theatrics the 2008 Red River Rivalry provided. The game featured two high-powered offenses that fired back and fourth at each other.
"It was a a heavyweight fight that continued throughout the day. Every time one would get up, the other would come back," said Brown.
Early in the game, the team that was up was the Oklahoma Sooners. With 13:14 to go in the first half, OU took a 14-3 lead on a play that can most accurately be described as "ridiculous." With first and goal on the Texas eight, quarterback Sam Bradford attempted to pass the ball to tight end Jermaine Gresham. It was a solid decision on Bradford's part, as Gresham was an effective target all day, finishing with 90 receiving yards and a touchdown.
But as Gresham tried to get a handle on the ball, he was nailed by Texas safety Earl Thomas, causing the ball to fly into the air, landing in the hands of OU receiver Ryan Broyles, who was standing inside the end zone for the score.
With the south side of the stadium (the Crimson-colored one) rocking, all of the momentum was squarely in Oklahoma's favor. But this was where Texas first stepped up and responded.
On the ensuing kick-off, Texas receiver Jordan Shipley fielded the ball at the four, cut to his right and raced up the field for a 96-yard touchdown.
"We needed a big play and I have to give credit to the guys blocking. They opened holes and they made it happen," said Shipley. "It was a lot of fun to be able to make a big play."
It wasn't the only big play Shipley made on the day. The senior receiver finished with 225 total yards (112 receiving, 113 return) and two touchdowns. Shipley was able to find space amongst Oklahoma defenders all game running out of Texas' four-wide receiver offense. Texas' base for the game was essentially the four-wide, something the Horns haven't used with regularity in a long time.
"We hadn't done it in about eight years," said offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
Of course, while Texas lined up frequently with four wide receivers, it often seemed like there were only two. Not far behind Shipley and his 225 yards was senior receiver Quan Cosby with 174 of his own (122 receiving, 52 return). All told, Cosby and Shipley accounted for just over 84 percent of the Longhorns' receiving yards on the day.
"You can always count on Quan and Jordan to get open if I have time in the pocket," said McCoy.
For as much of an impact as the Horns' passing game had, one the biggest questions that Texas had to answer was does it have a running back the can spark the ground game? The answer to that question is, perhaps, an unexpected one: Chis Ogbonnaya.
The senior running back, who coming into the season was expected by many to just be a third-down back, went off for 127 yards on the ground while adding another 27 through the air in the win.
"Chris is a stud," said McCoy. "He's a play-maker, he runs great routes out of the backfield, he picks up blitzes. When his number is called, he's going to get you the hard-fought yards."
But even with its senior receivers working their magic and the running back position settled (for now, since redshirt freshman running back Fozzy Whittaker is still sidelined), Texas wasn't out of the woods because after Shipley's TD return it was Oklahoma's turn to answer.
On the next drive, Gresham, the aforementioned dangerous tight end, found himself standing wide open along the left sideline. Bradford hit him with a well-timed pass and the Sooner TE galloped 52 yards for the score thanks to the busted coverage.
"We were doubling him pretty much all day, but it sure didn't look like it on that one," said Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, dryly.
Texas' response? A 12-play 80-yard drive that ended in a one-yard TD run from Cody Johnson. The redshirt freshman running back actually ended up with three of Texas' four touchdowns in the game -- his final stat line: three attempts for four yards and three TDs. On his final two touchdowns, Johnson plowed in behind some great blocking ("O-line gets an A-plus," said Johnson), but his first one was a bit trickier. Instead of a plunge straight ahead, Texas opted to send Johnson out wide on a pitch. But as he neared the sideline, he saw there wasn't much room to run.
"On the first (touchdown), I was like 'Oh my God, I see red!'" Johnson told Inside Texas. "But the line did their job and once I get the ball in my hands, I've got to do something to make a difference. That's why they recruited me."
Johnson buried his head and pushed his way in for the touchdown to narrow the Sooner lead to 21-17.
Texas managed to tack on a field goal before half after a key interception from Thomas, meaning it was 21-10 at the break with the momentum in the Horns' favor. Brown was feeling very confident in his team, but that momentum unraveled quickly.
"We stunk when we came out to start the second half," said Brown. "Everything was set up perfectly and we go three-and-out, punt, give it to them at the 50 and they score in I think like four plays."
Technically it was six, but point taken. Bradford marshaled his team down the field quickly on the scoring drive, ending with a 14-yard TD pass to receiver Manuel Johnson. Though he probably won't be ahead of McCoy in the Heisman race thanks to the loss, the Oklahoma quarterback did have a very strong outing. Bradford finished with 387 yards passing, five touchdowns and two INTs.
Texas wasn't fazed by the quick turnaround from OU, scoring a touchdown from on a pass from McCoy to Shipley down by the goal line and again on another Hunter Lawrence field goal (he finished with three on the day) to take a 30-28 lead.
Oklahoma's response? An 11-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to retake the lead, 38-35, early in the fourth. It seemed that the back-and-fourth would never end, but in the fourth quarter the Longhorns took over. Yet, as astoundingly efficient as McCoy has been as a passer, Texas was able to take control so effectively because of its running game.
Both of the Horns' final two touchdowns were on one-yard plunges from Johnson and the final one, the game-sealer, came after a huge 62-yard run from Ogbonnaya.
"We felt like if we stayed patient with the run that we would pop some and Chris made a huge play in the fourth quarter on the long run," said Davis.
With the running game keeping the Oklahoma offense off the field and the Texas D shutting the Sooners down in the fourth, Texas was able to grab hold of what had been a back-and-fourth, tooth-and-nail struggle.
Defensively, the top two performers for the Horns were DE Brian Orakpo and LB Roddrick Muckelroy. Orakpo had two monstrous sacks on Bradford, six tackles, four for loss and a forced fumble. Muckelroy led the team, by a wide margin once again, with 14 tackles.
"Rod Muckelroy, I always call him the 'tackling machine,'" said Orakpo. "He's the clean-up guy. This guy is everywhere."
On Saturday, Texas was able to answer its doubters by cleaning up in the fourth quarter and securing the win.
Now, with Missouri coming to Austin next weekend, the Longhorns will once again be asked if they can play as a team and pull out a tough win against top-flight competition. But as of late, the answer to that question has been an emphatic "yes."
Brown and Co. celebrate the win (AP)