Bill Little commentary: For love of the game
There was way too much conversation before Saturday's Texas-Sam Houston game about what the game wasn't, rather than celebrating what it was.
And what it was, was about guys playing a kids' game called "football."
Fact is, the teams and the coaches knew something that the critics of the game failed to realize, and that is, you play games for the fun of it.
In a lot of ways, the match up of the seventh-ranked Longhorns of NCAA Division 1-A and the Bearkats of Division 1-AA, was a throwback to football in the power years of Darrell Royal's Longhorn teams of the dynasty of the 1960s. The outcome was predetermined, but that didn't stop both teams from enjoying the competition, and in most cases, Longhorn fans reveled in getting an early glimpse of young players of the future.
Saturday, almost 70 Texas players received time against Sam Houston in the Longhorns' 56-3 win, and when you consider that a lot of the freshmen are designated for redshirting and are being held out this year, that was pretty much every able body.
That's how you construct that elusive factor of "experienced depth" in a time of limited scholarships. Team morale soars when everybody gets to play. You can be a great teammate by working in practice every day, and cheering on those who are on the field, but nothing matches getting to play. And for Sam Houston, the surge was in playing in a venue most of the players had dreamed about, in front of a huge crowd and against one of the best teams in the country.
If entertainment to you is a nail-biting grudge match, this one wasn't your deal. But just for the fun of exciting plays, a perfect fall night and a pretty neat atmosphere, the 'Horns and the 'Kats had nothing to apologize for.
Sam Houston loaded its defense to stop the Texas running game, and the Longhorns answered with three touchdown passes and 300 total yards through the air. Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles both sat out the game, which allowed Henry Melton and Chris Ogbonnaya to establish a presence as running backs.
Quarterbacks Colt McCoy (13-of-15 for 178 yards) and Jevan Snead (7-of-8 for 122), hooked up with nine different receivers. The special teams accounted for touchdowns on a blocked punt and a punt return.
In defeat, Sam Houston showed some good flashes. Running back D. D. Terry, a converted linebacker, had a combined total offense of over 100 yards, rushing for a net of 85 yards and adding 16 on three pass receptions.
If you missed the game - and some of the paid crowd of 88,913 did - you missed a superb TD reception by Limas Sweed (which would have been impressive against air), Quan Cosby's electrifying 55-yard punt return for a TD and the pass-catch connection for a 56 yard touchdown from Snead to Jordan Shipley.
You also missed Trevor Gerland's first punt - a 59-yarder downed at the one by Michael Griffin. Nate Jones was impressive with three catches, including a 25-yarder and a TD, and the tight ends Jermichael Finley and Neale Tweedie also figured in the action.
Defensively, your friends who did go will be telling you about the play of freshmen linebackers Sergio Kindle and Jared Norton, and how Aaron Lewis and Brian Orakpo filled in for defensive end Brian Robison, who joined Young and Charles on the sidelines for the game. And there was a solid performance at linebacker from Scott Derry, who missed all of last season with a leg injury.
And, you missed two more blocked punts by the Longhorns, who lead the nation with 55 in the eight-plus years under Mack Brown. In all, 16 Longhorns earned a highlight point in the postgame notes.
The victory was the 87th at Texas for Brown, making him the second winningest coach in Longhorn history after just eight years and five games. Only Darrell Royal, whose teams won 167 games in his 20 years, is ahead of Brown.
For Texas, which closed September with a 4-1 record, the game was exactly what Brown and his staff were looking for. They are aware that October will be a test, perhaps the toughest of any team in the top 10. The Longhorns play Oklahoma, a resurgent Baylor, and then travel to both Nebraska and Texas Tech on the next four Saturdays.
All of that awaits, but Saturday night in Austin, it was like returning to the days of youth when, from youth football through high school, town and schools in Texas celebrate the game because their team played.
And in that space, Saturday night in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was exactly what both coaches had urged their teams to do: "Go out, play hard, and have fun."