Bill Little commentary: A perfect ten
Jan. 1, 2013
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
SAN ANTONIO -- They came out of nowhere; and soon they seemed to be coming from everywhere.
For three quarters in the Valero Alamo Bowl game against Oregon State, the Texas Longhorns struggled close to mediocrity. They trailed, 27-17, and had been down by ten points for much of the game. Every time Texas seemed prepared to close the gap, the Beavers stretched away. The Longhorns had eight first downs. Oregon State had 20. Texas had 201 total yards (including only 153 in the first half.) Texas had 42 offensive snaps, OSU had 301 yard on 59 plays.
In a city whose history included a wipeout of the Texicans by Santa Anna back in history, the Longhorns were both unimpressive and ineffective. The coaches tried desperately to find something - anything - to ignite their team. And when the `Horns drove out to their own 44, facing fourth down with just less than twelve and a half minutes left in the game and trailing by those ten points, they tried a fake punt - which failed.
One of the marvels of college sports is that you always have to stay around to see what happens next. And "next" would produce one of the most exhilarating turnarounds in this bowl - or any bowl's history.
The defense, which had been burned for 126 yards rushing and 175 passing through the first three quarters, went into complete lockdown.
And the offense rose from the ashes (pardon the pun) like the legendary Phoenix from ancient mythology. On the first series after the fake punt failed, Oregon State ran three plays and netted minus two yards before punting. Trailing, 27-17 with just under eleven and a half minutes left in the game,Texas had the ball, 83 yards away from a score. Keep in mind, to this point, Texas had only two drives of more than 36 yards.
In the movie, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," one of the greatest lines comes when the two heroes find themselves surrounded by an entire army, which they never expected. One says to the other in amazement as the bullets fly in the final battle, "Who are those guys?"
Which is absolutely what Oregon State, everybody in the Alamodome, troops watching on ESPN in the Middle East, and Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea had to be saying. Here are the numbers: in the final quarter, Texas ran 23 plays for a net of 157 yards. Oregon State ran 12 plays for a net of minus four yards. Texas had the ball for almost nine and a half minutes, the Beavers had it for five and a half.
Throughout the game, the Texas fans who overwhelmed the Oregon State fans in numbers, never gave up. Oregon State came in as the nation's No. 13 ranked team, and wanted desperately to get their tenth win - making the 2012 Beavers only the third team in school history to do that.
But in one glorious moment, Texas decided to pull off a miracle. It was David Ash to wide receiver Mike Davis for 19 yards and then to wide receiver Jaxon Shipley for 14. Then Davis for eight, and running back Malcolm Brown for seven. Shipley seized an incredible one-handed grab for 14, and then Ash ran for seven. And on a third-and-four play from the Beaver 15, he scrambled, then hit running back Johnathan Gray for a touchdown. The "up tempo" offense had worked for Texas. Eight minutes and eighteen seconds remained and when Nick Jordan kicked the extra point out of the hold of Cade McCrary from a snap from Nate Boyer, the Longhorns were amazingly down by just three points.
On the ensuing drive, the defense produced two key sacks and OSU netted five yards on five plays. When the Beavers punted to Quandre Diggs at the UT 40, he was able to squirt the return for 12 yards, partly because of a block thrown by Matthew Zapata, a senior playing in his final - and only - game as a Longhorn. Four minutes and thirty-five seconds remained, and the ball was at the Beaver 48. Texas drove to the Oregon State 36. It was first down, with just under two and a half minutes left.
As the Longhorns had prepared for this game, Texas had practiced for a week in Austin, and at the end of every practice, the team gathered at the goal line with football strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie. There, they would line up, stretching the width of the field, in three separate lines. At Bennie's command, they would run ten very hard yards. The old-timers would call these "gassers", a version of something akin to "wind sprints." But with Bennie, it took on a different format. One hundred and twenty players had to line up perfectly, break on order perfectly, not jump off sides and go all-out to his satisfaction. From the goal to the ten and a bit beyond, and then back again. And they did this ten times. There were some times when they reached eight, and failed. And they had to start all over again.
It was about conditioning, mentally and physically. It was about concentration and stamina. There were times when Bennie would shout, "You are winning the game in the fourth quarter right now. Keep going." Ten runs, ten perfect runs.
Bennie called it "the perfect ten."
That is why, when the media and the television commentators were stunned and the Texas crowd was delirious in the wild finish, the Texas team always believed. They knew, they knew, that their "hurry up" offense and their punishing defense would eventually wear down the Beavers. And when Ash hit senior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin for 36 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with only 2:24 left, and star defensive end Alex Okafor completed what long-time football coach Spike Dykes called "the finest game I have seen a defensive player play in a long, long time," by harassing OSU into two final sacks, it was done.
The dreams of the season they had hoped would be, weren't quite achieved. The nine wins in the 9-4 season marked a solid step in their quest for a return to national significance. As the `Horns closed their season with the 31-27 victory over Oregon State, it was an impressive reminder that there is nothing in sport that equals a come-from-behind win. And there are few things in life that match that moment, when those around seem to doubt you, and you suddenly stand taller, reach higher, hit harder and run faster.
That, my friends, they call the Perfect Ten.