DALLAS, Texas -- The question of the day, believe it or not, isn’t "Did Texas just do that?" The real question is, are these the real Longhorns?
Shake off the shock of seeing Texas roll No. 12 Oklahoma 36-20 in a game that was basically over by the end of the third quarter. Shed the surprise that, after being knocked and mocked for a month, these Longhorns went out and found a way to dominate Oklahoma in all phases. Once we move past the disbelief, are we left with ... belief?
All Texas needed was something silly and unpredictable -- a defensive tackle snagging an interception and rumbling 31 yards into the end zone -- and it was all downhill from there, the Longhorns riding a medley of surprises and a sudden wave of confidence.
Maybe these Longhorns should play the underdog role more often. It certainly suits their embattled coach, their irrationally cocky quarterback and his underestimated teammates.
“I thought we would win today,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “I knew we would play really hard and I knew we would play really well. I don’t know that that would be good enough, but I knew this was going to be a different mindset coming in.”
What seemed to set everything in motion for Texas, though, was a momentum swing from an unlikely source. Chris Whaley, a senior defensive tackle who was once a touted running back recruit, pulled off the first surprise of the day when he dropped into coverage on a heavy third-down blitz.
Even he was surprised when Blake Bell's pass ended up in his arms, so Whaley stormed down the sideline and tried to run over Bell just as he ran out of gas at the goal line.
Texas had a lot more left in the tank, and much of it was simply hard to fathom:
Oh, and Brown entered with 23 carries for 63 yards this season and finished the game with 23 carries for 120 yards. And Oklahoma had the undisputed No. 1 defense in the Big 12 -- at least until Saturday.
The always-fiery McCoy was as prideful as ever after the game. He knows nobody expected him to pull this off, and he and his teammates finally got fed up with all the negativity.
“I grew up an underdog. I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” McCoy said. “I came to Texas and all the sudden I wasn’t an underdog. I’m back in my environment and I’m an underdog. I hope y’all keep putting us at a disadvantage, keep putting the heat on us. I love it. I love to play, I love this game, I love my teammates and we’re going to keep fighting.”
And then that Texas defense, the one that lost both its confidence and its coach one month ago, suddenly has its swagger back.
Oklahoma went 2-for-13 on third downs. The Sooners put up 263 total yards. Their best play of the day was a kick return.
“We came out and we set the tone early,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “Once we set the tone and everybody knows we’re here to play, we intimidate a lot of people. We did exactly what we wanted to do.”
Again, it bears mentioning that this just doesn’t make sense. The Longhorns hadn’t given anyone reason to believe this kind of a performance was coming. The past few weeks had made it harder and harder to remember how good this team could be.
That’s why there were pockets of crimson amid the orange half of the Cotton Bowl crowd on Saturday, why many sold their tickets for pennies on the dollar because they couldn’t bear to witness another beatdown.
Well, a beatdown was delivered in the Cotton Bowl. Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, who came in with a masterfully simply plan and stuck with it when the early results were clicking, loved every minute of it.
When asked what identity Texas can hang its hat on going forward, he didn’t hold back.
“Playing your ass off. Bottom line. That’s our identity,” he said. “It has nothing to do with plays, it has to do with believing in yourself and playing your ass off.”
So, again, we’re now left to wonder if in fact this Texas team, one that’s supremely experienced and has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, this Texas team that was supposed to be a Big 12 title and BCS bowl challenger, is starting to figure out how good it can be. Is this, in fact, the real Texas?
The goal of a conference championship became a little more possible. Oklahoma isn’t what we expected. Baylor is still struggling on the road. So why can’t Texas contend?
“We realize we can play like this every Saturday,” Whaley said, “and when we play like this every Saturday, there’s no limit to what we can do.”