Bill Little commentary: Centering that which is off center
Sept. 28, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
The Kingston Trio, a popular folk singing group of the 1960s, once recorded a song about a guy who was trying to travel to a town called Morrow. The train, however, only went every so often. So when the fellow asked at the station about the trip, he was told that the train that went "to Morrow" left today, so you cannot go "to Morrow" today.
As confusing as it sounds, that kinda fit Saturday when the Longhorns played Arkansas in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The game that was played that day was scheduled to have been played yesterday, or rather, to be specific, two weeks before. So the game that was played this week was supposed to have been played two weeks ago, and all of the tickets, credentials and pre-game information was about home Game No. 2, when it was actually Game No. 3.
Then, there were the results of the week before. Instead of coming in 2-0 after gut fourth quarter wins, Arkansas entered the game at 2-1, after a blowout loss to Alabama. Texas had gone from 2-0 to 3-0 with a 52-10 win over Rice, but was looking at some changes in its offense after losing tight end Blaine Irby to injury.
All week, Mack Brown had been concerned. What had served him well, however, was the fact that he trusts the character and integrity of his young team. And that would be the benchmark he would have to go back to when the team bus was a bit late getting to the stadium, and the crowd was late arriving -- in fact, with the switch in weekends, several hundred of the sellout crowd of 97,833 never came in the first place. The pregame fireworks didn't fire.
Even the introduction at the coin toss of legendary coaches Frank Broyles of Arkansas and Darrell Royal of Texas drew a courteous, but not rousing, welcome. What did go off on schedule, however, were the Texas offense and a getting-better-each-week Longhorn defense.
Billed as a game about history, with perhaps the last meeting ever during the regular season of the two long-time Southwest Conference foes, this day turned into a showcase for Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley and the Texas offense, and a relentless defense that is beginning to show glimpses of what new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and assistants Duane Akina, Mike Tolleson and Oscar Giles are seeking.
It was the kind of day that famed Longhorn linebacker Tommy Nobis, who had his No. 60 jersey officially retired at halftime, could be proud of. For the game, Arkansas had just 11 yards rushing, and 180 passing. Texas was credited with seven sacks – two by Brian Orakpo and one each from Sergio Kindle, Keenan Robinson, Chykie Brown, Henry Melton and Eddie Jones. The defense also forced nine quarterback "hurries," broke up four passes, forced two fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown.
A three-and-out series from the defense had started the game, but it would be the Longhorn offense which would seal the deal early in the warm early autumn afternoon.
McCoy, the junior quarterback who now is completing 80 percent of his passes, was darn near perfect until he left the game with the score 45-3 with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter. Rushing nine times for 84 yards and completing 17-of-19 passes for 185 yards, McCoy accounted for five touchdowns – three through the air and two on the ground.
Texas brushed away any Arkansas hopes early, scoring a field goal by Hunter Lawrence on their first possession and driving 73 and 68 yards for two touchdowns and a 17-0 lead. In all, Texas would score on its first four possessions, and collect points on seven of their first eight.
McCoy's remarkable performance included some amazing efficiency. Of the eight Longhorn possessions when he was in the game, Texas scored seven times. The Longhorns faced third down only seven times, converting on five of them. That, by the way, adds up to 21 first downs on 52 plays -- 45 of which were either first or second down snaps -- a redefinition of "scoring efficiency."
The aerial assault for the day, including John Chiles' 4-for-4 for 28 yards, netted 212 yards, as the Longhorns rushed for over 200 yards (208) and passed for over 200 (213).
McCoy and Shipley, roommates and hunting and fishing buddies, connected on eight plays which Shipley turned into 83 yards and two touchdowns. Quan Cosby added five catches for 67 yards. In all, eight different players had at least a catch, including an impressive catch and sprint for 27 yards by redshirt frosh James Kirkendoll and one each by tight ends Peter Ullman and Ian Harris.
Throw in excellent kickoffs by freshman Justin Tucker, a punting average of 48.0 yards per kick from John Gold and Trevor Gerland, and perfect place kicks from Hunter Lawrence and Ryan Bailey, and it was a great afternoon to close the non-conference season.
To this point, the Longhorns have had an amazingly interesting start. They have gone from a pre-season out-of-the-spotlight ranking to pressing the top five nationally.
Now, business picks up. With the start of Big 12 Conference play at Colorado this coming Saturday, the Longhorns have been discovered. And they now will have to hold their ground as they battle a schedule that includes the resurgent
Buffaloes at Folsom Field in the foothills of the Rockies, then Oklahoma in Dallas and Missouri back in Austin. Add in unbeaten Oklahoma State, at Texas Tech, Baylor, and at Kansas, and there are seven straight weeks before the Longhorns get a brief open date before their meeting with Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night.
The qualities of this team, which have endeared it to Mack and his coaches, are of fine stuff. At a time when they could have been thrown off-center early in the year, they avoided it. They handled the shift in games, and they rose to the occasion of playing a team whose fans cared way more about beating them than they could ever know.
Colt McCoy turned 21 a couple of weeks ago, and most of his fellow teammates are even younger. As the players of the 1964 and 1969 Texas and Arkansas teams gathered in reunion this weekend, what they did – though certainly significant – was merely a distant memory in the hallways of the mind.
How good is Texas? That really isn't the question for the team and the coaches. Saturday was as much about the future as it was about the present for a young Longhorn team and a Razorback squad that is really trying to find an identity.
The theme of the team this year is about having to be "consistently good to be great." Three of the four Longhorn games, including Saturday's with Arkansas, have ended with the score of 52-10. So if you grade the first third of the season, that's consistently good.
Each week, the players will be challenged to play to a standard; to learn every bit as much from their shortcomings as they do from their successes.
Then, and only then, can you catch the train "to Morrow." Yesterday's train, and today's, have already gone on their way.