Bill Little commentary: Another opening, another show
Oct. 2, 2011
Bill Little,Texas Media Relations
AMES, IA - You had the feeling that the well-dressed lady who walked from the elevator at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday night had her world in the proper perspective. She had come to the game hopeful, with anticipation. She was leaving with disappointment, and yet a sense of pride.
"There was such excitement," she had said. "Everyone believed that this was our time."
For the record, her dreams had been dashed. Texas had defeated her Iowa State Cyclones, 37-14, on a picture-perfect evening in the middle of America. For a day, nay, for several weeks, Iowa State had been living the dream. With a hard-nosed favorite son of a coach named Paul Rhoads, ISU had been the comeback kids of 2011. They had rallied from behind to beat state rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa, and they had overcome Fiesta Bowl runner-up Connecticut.
At 3-0, the Cyclones were off to their best start in years, and a 28-21 shocker of a win over Texas a year ago gave them a moment to remember. Trouble was, Texas remembered, too. As the Longhorns boarded their buses for the 45-minute drive from their hotel in West Des Moines to the stadium, the focus was evident. It was the second straight road trip for Texas, and it was a stark contrast from the cornfields here and the star power of the Rose Bowl and Los Angeles, 1,800 miles away, where UT had defeated UCLA two weeks before.
The crowd, in number, would be similar. The crowd, in enthusiasm, would be quite different. That is because all day Saturday, as the 6 p.m. national TV kickoff approached, the people of the land believed. It had been years, and only briefly then, since the Iowa State faithful were so hopeful, and that is why the lady was disappointed at the end of the game. Everything had been in place for a program turning opportunity of historic proportions. Little kids and their parents and grandparents had spent the day at tents and tailgates around the stadium. A school famous for being America's first land-grant college dedicated to agricultural pursuits and later for inventing the first digital computer, now was on the nation's radar for inclusion among the top 25 teams in the country.
Mack Brown and his Texas staff knew all of this, and they knew that teams in hostile environments on the road can be a challenge for a young team. They knew that, couched in the posture of "brick by brick" was a healthy determination to avoid the traps of last year. It wasn't about "pay back," but it was clearly a classic example of the reason to respect your opponent. There was no concentrated effort to "remember last year," but seared in the mind of all in the travel party was a promise not to forget what had happened.
So as the buses took the side roads through the tiny farming communities that make up much of the center of America's Heartland, and the ISU faithful enjoyed the remains of the day, the signature "storm warnings" sounded at Jack Trice Stadium. And for the color and pageantry of college football, all that was good. All of that, however, was about to change.
When the smoke came from the "storm shelter" announcing the arrival of the Cyclones, as thousands of fans stood on the field to celebrate their home team, Texas made its own entrance, dressed in their "Star Wars" storm-trooper white uniforms, carrying the flags of America and Texas. The scene was set. Unfortunately for ISU, it was over almost before it started.
Where it had been the offense, with the alternating effectiveness of quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash, that had captured attention in the come from behind victory over BYU in Austin and in the firepower of the win over UCLA in Pasadena, this time it would be the defense and special teams that would seal the deal.
Texas scored six times in the first half to take a 34-0 lead at intermission, and four of the scores (including a blocked punt for a touchdown) came from inside the ISU 30 yard line. Two fumble recoveries and an interception set up three of them. Before the ISU band took the field for their halftime show, Texas had been deadly efficient. Even though the Cyclones had an edge in time of possession and had gained almost as many yards (181 to 221 for Texas) and first downs were even at eleven apiece, the game decidedly belonged to Texas. The second half in the 37-14 UT victory found the Texas coaches exhorting their players to "keep playing." The second stanza provided valuable playing time for some of the younger Texas players.
Overall, the Texas defense was credited with three sacks, two fumble recoveries and a pass interception. Led by Blake Gideon, Emmanuel Acho and freshman linebacker Steve Edmond, the Longhorns had 29 players involved in at least 12 defensive snaps.
McCoy and Ash were both 7 of 12 passing, for 110 and 145 yards each. And while Texas ran only 64 plays to ISU's 89, the Longhorns notched an even 400 yards total offense. Malcolm Brown rushed for 63 yards and Fozzy Whittaker added 41, and Jaxon Shipley had six pass receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown and Mike Davis had three catches for 72 yards and a 48-yard TD.
It was the reversal of fortune in turnovers that reflected the difference in the 2010 and 2011 meetings. Where ISU took advantage of Texas mistakes in Austin a year ago, Texas pounced on the Cyclones because of early errors. The two fumbles and the pass interception all led to points.
As the Longhorns' headed back to Des Moines to catch their charter flight back to Austin late in the crisp fall night, it was important to show some respect to Iowa State, which had done exactly as their coach at urged. They played tough, and they never quit. That is to be commended.
For Texas, however, the midnight hour brought a recognition of the importance of being 4-0, and of the challenges remaining in this three game part of the 2011 season. The first quarter included the victories over Rice, BYU, and UCLA. The second began with an amazing stretch where the Longhorns will likely face three straight unbeaten teams in Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the vaudeville acts that would make their way to Broadway would get tested in lesser cities in the country. One of them, much like Ames, Iowa, was Peoria, Illinois. The expression, "Will it play in Peoria?" became the measuring stick to determine if an act was mainstream ready for showing on the big stage in New York.
In the Heartland, where the drying corn stalks and the turning leaves painted a mosaic with the lush green of the rain-blessed creek banks and rivers, the children of the Horns had again put on an exciting, successful show. At 4-0 and rising in the country's top 25, the team has passed its early tests.
Now, they have earned a chance to take their act to the big time, as the nation watches Saturday against Oklahoma in Dallas. It should be an interesting week.