Friday, November 29, 2013
Longhorns bounce back to set up big game
By Max Olson
AUSTIN, Texas -- There's no better cure for a 25-point loss than responding with a 25-point victory.
That's not some old Darrell Royal saying or an axiom that coaches have been known to share. It's just a fact. And just when we thought we had Texas and its troubles figured out, this team fought to live another week.
The Longhorns who won six conference games in a row showed up again, keeping their Big 12 championship hopes alive with a 41-16 victory over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night.
Joe Bergeron, wearing No. 32 in honor of injured Johnathan Gray, had 102 yards and a touchdown.
"Proud of our team. Proud of the way they fought," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said. "A lot of guys are banged up. End of the year. At least they've given themselves an opportunity to go to Waco and play for a championship."
There was plenty of talk in the past two weeks that Oklahoma State finally exposed Texas and its various flaws, that the six Big 12 wins that came before it were somehow less meaningful or some kind of mirage.
If the meltdown against the Cowboys revealed Texas' thin margin for error, Thursday's victory reminded how good Texas can be when it achieves everything it sets out to do.
Brown wanted a slowed-paced game, not a shootout. Texas had to control the tempo. Check.
He hoped Texas' defense could force erratic play by the Red Raiders' young quarterbacks. The Longhorns netted nine sacks, including three each from Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Check.
"It's not a pretty brand of ball. It's not very stylish," Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. "But it's what we had to do."
Thursday's performance was about as close to a defensive masterpiece as Texas could have hoped for. The Red Raiders' No. 1 ranked pass offense finished with 5.8 yards per attempt. They went 5-for-18 on third downs. Tech's leading rusher on the night? Punter Ryan Erxleben, who dashed 51 yards for the first score of the night. Texas' special teams gave up that score. Its defense allowed one touchdown the rest of the night.
"It was a good game. I don't know if it was better or not. I guess you guys make those decisions," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. "We played real well here against a good offense."
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But since so many will discount the result, pointing out that Texas Tech lost five in a row after starting 7-0, let's cut to the chase: If this is Texas, if these are the real Longhorns going forward, can they do enough to beat No. 9 Baylor?
Ask Brown whether his team played up to its formula for victory against Tech and he'll rattle off the things his team didn't do. Texas turned the ball over twice. Other than placekicker Anthony Fera, a Groza Award finalist who's now 19-for-20 this season, the Longhorns are still a mess in several areas of special teams.
His players were no different. They see a need for improvement. They won't celebrate this win much this weekend. They know what they're up against next.
Preparing for Baylor will require that kind of perfectionist attention to detail. Like Texas, the Bears showed their vulnerabilities against Oklahoma State. They're not at all unbeatable. But they have the respect of their next opponent.
"We fully assume Baylor will win [against TCU] and be right there," quarterback Case McCoy said. "It'll be a game that, as a senior class, we want to go out with a chance to put numbers on these walls and have a Big 12 championship."
The Longhorns made their senior night count. They made the next game matter. They're not done yet.
"We're still in the race," Jeffcoat said. "We had to win this one. This was a must-win. And we have to win the next one."