In a community where stars abound, Texas versus UCLA became a microcosm of its surroundings.
Sept. 19, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
PASADENA, CA - At the happy-ending finish to the movie "Pretty Woman" a bystander walking through the final scene says, "Welcome to Hollywood! What's your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't; but keep on dreamin' - this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'."
And so there they were, these young dreamers that make up Texas Football, 2011. Right there on the edge of Hollywood, in the historic Rose Bowl, cradled in the shadow of the Arroyo Seco and the San Gabriel Mountains. Starting with a short practice on Friday, the trip was both a journey down memory lane, and a brave new world tour of a place they had seen, but had never been to before.
Somewhere in the midst of all of it, senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho injected reality into nostalgia. As head coach Mack Brown was reflecting on the fact that the Longhorns would be on the west sideline - the same one they had in the Rose Bowl Game during the victories over Michigan and Southern Cal during the seasons of 2004 and 2005, and what a special place the Rose Bowl was - Acho interrupted politely and respectfully said that this meeting with UCLA on Saturday was about this team, and this game, and redemption for last year's game.
By the time the 49-20 victory over the Bruins was over, this team, in this game, had affirmed that the Longhorns of 2011 have high goals and big dreams. In a community where stars abound, this game became a microcosm of its surroundings.
Psychologists say it takes three seconds to form a first impression, and as the college football world got its first real look at this Texas team, it was an impressive first impression. In arguably the Longhorns' first test of 2011, against BYU last week, the game produced a team victory where the defense kept fighting to give the offense a chance in a 17-16 victory. This time, it was the offense which not only set the pace, it maintained it in a game where both sides of the ball were outstanding in the first 20 minutes.
The Longhorns came in looking for a fast start, and they got it, turning first quarter interceptions by defensive backs Carrington Byndom, Adrian Phillips (off a tip from safety Blake Gideon) and Kenny Vaccaro into three scoring drives and a 21-0 lead. When the lead had reached 28-10 by the end of the first half, the offense - led by Case McCoy with calculated help from David Ash - had amassed 254 yards of total offense.
And for a large regional television audience and a crowd of 54,583 that filled almost two thirds of the stadium that is the cradle of college football, it wasn't about what the Longhorns did, it was about how they did it. They had an incredible amount of fun. In the first quarter alone, 55 members of the traveling squad of 76 got in the game. Twenty-three of them were on offense.
The Friday workout had introduced the young Texas players to the field and the scene, and it gave the veterans who were part of a Longhorn team which had played for the national championship there just 19 months before, a chance to reconnect. Fresh on their minds as well was a chance for some unfinished business after suffering a season altering loss to the Bruins in 2010.
It is important to note, however, that this game was not about what had happened in the disappointing loss in the national championship game in 2009, nor that game in Austin last year. You do not get "do-overs" in college football.
If this game assumes a place in Texas football history, it will be remembered as the premiere performance of what is shaping up to be a season of just plain fun for this Longhorn team and its fans.
"Not many people thought this team would be 3-0," Mack Brown said after the game, which produced the first dominant win over a quality opponent since the 2009 season.
It is important to note that, like the remodeling of the Rose Bowl Stadium itself, this team is also part of a construction zone. The "brick by brick" mantra carries over into every phase of this team and its staff. Its games are as much about discovery as they are about execution, and both are critical for the long-term success Texas is seeking.
When co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin came from Boise State, he promised an offense that would have many different looks and roles for many different players. He has delivered that. Mack Brown wanted a power running game, and the Longhorns rushed for 284 yards Saturday, with nine different players carrying the ball.
Certainly the most visible offensive move centered around the quarterback position, where two young players - sophomore Case McCoy and freshman David Ash - had scant game experience as they took the field in that grand old stadium. Texas, with four appearances and a 3-1 record in the stadium over the last eight seasons, has actually played as many games there as it has any road arena except the Cotton Bowl over that period.
And even as the stadium seemed magical for Dusty Mangum and Vince Young and for a handful of shining moments even in defeat in 2009, the spirits that dance in the foothills of the scenic San Gabriel Mountains seemed to be smiling at the varied offense of Harsin and Major Applewhite and the innovative defensive attack of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and his crew.
They were there for freshman running back Malcolm Brown, veteran Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, as Brown rushed for 110 yards on 22 carries in his first start. The speed of Marquise Goodwin, and the versatility of Jaxon Shipley were also showcased. And as part of the "feel good" come-back-from-devastating-injury story of Blaine Irby and D. J. Grant, the magic continued as Grant caught six balls for 77 yards and three touchdowns, and was named the Longhorns' offensive player of the game.
With Vaccaro and Keenan Robinson each credited with nine tackles and 16 players (including special teams) making at least one key play, the defense continued as an impressive work in progress.
It was a marvelous day for Justin Tucker, the senior kicker who excelled in punting, kicking off, and in a perfect seven-for-seven in extra points.
What can you say about a guy who sat with his friend and now roommate Jaxon Shipley in the stands in the stadium in January of 2010 as their brothers played in the BCS National Championship Game? Saturday, on a post card kind of day in the Rose Bowl, he had stepped into the sunlight, completing 12 of 15 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns and had been the primary conductor for an offensive scheme which answered every UCLA challenge with seven touchdowns. I In a postgame interview on national television Saturday, he answered a commentator's question.
"Are you now the leader of this team?" she had asked.
"I consider myself a leader," he said, "but we have a lot of leaders."
It was, for Case McCoy, not about his brother, his heritage, or anybody else. It was about the team, and as the interview ended, he ran to join them for the last strands of "The Eyes of Texas."
As the team loaded the plane to head back to Austin, McCoy had finished a final phone call and cleared security as he walked up the stairs to the front door of the jetliner. At the top, he paused and looked back over the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport, to the majestic skyline of the City of Angels in the distance. Only he knew where he was looking, or at what.
But nestled somewhere in the sunset mosaic, which included the San Gabriels and Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, was Hollywood.