Bill Little commentary: A day at the fair
Oct. 3, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
DALLAS -- We've said this before--the State Fair of Texas on the day of the Texas-Oklahoma game is like a kaleidoscope. You twist it and turn it, and it is a myriad of the senses--smell, sight, sound, touch and taste.
The game itself, year after year, will likely be a contest of wills, buoyed by swings of momentum and emotions. And that is exactly what happened Saturday in Dallas.
After a stretch where a No. 1 national ranking and a possible path to the national championship always seemed hanging in the balance, this one was right back to being an old-fashioned football game between Texas and Oklahoma.
In the end, there were two significant senses that reflected the day--not necessarily at its best--but at its finest. For the teams and for most of the fans, this one was about pride--not about the outcome of the game, but for the way they fought to play it. The first sense you realized when it was over was one of touch--when you walked by Texas' Alex Okafor and patted him on the back and felt the sweat splash your hand.
That was what Mack Brown told his team in an emotion-filled locker room after the game. The Longhorns had left everything they had on the field. They had fought until they ran out of time.
It would be a cliché to simply say it was a "hard-fought" game. It is a truth to say the game brought back memories of some of the old-time matches between the two schools, where the two teams slugged it out like a pair of heavyweight boxers.
The game would, in the end, be decided by a series of plays determined by inches.
Three of the four Oklahoma touchdown drives were kept alive by critical penalties when it appeared the Longhorns had drives stopped. And that doesn't include a play when the Longhorns were ruled offsides after appearing to have forced a turnover deep in Oklahoma territory.
Each, of course, had their heroes. Despite once trailing by two touchdowns and having the ball for fewer than four minutes because of the extended Sooner drives in the first quarter, Texas rode a 60-yard run from D. J. Monroe to a 14-7 deficit after the first 15 minutes of the game. But a pass interference call on third down midway through the second quarter gave Oklahoma new life on their next touchdown drive, and the Sooners took a 21-7 halftime lead.
On the first possession of the second half, Texas converted a fake punt en route to Justin Tucker's first field goal of the game, and the score was narrowed to 21-10.
Eleven points separated the teams entering the third quarter, and Texas appeared to have grabbed the momentum when the Longhorn defense stopped Oklahoma on a third-and-20 incomplete pass near midfield. But a personal foul call gave the Sooners 15 yards and an automatic first down. The Sooners' DeMarco Murray tiptoed down the west sidelines for 20 yards and the touchdown that made it 28-10. In a game of inches, Murray did a marvelous job of just staying inbounds on the run.The Longhorns put together their best drive of the game on their next possession. The big plays of the nine-play, 76-yard drive were Garrett Gilbert's 33 yard pass to Cody Johnson and Johnson's five yard touchdown run. It was 28-17. The Longhorns, whose will had been questioned just a week before in the loss to UCLA, were trying to come from 18 points down in the fourth quarter, and they would darned near do it. The defense foiled a Sooner fake field goal on the next drive. Then, after an exchange of punts, Texas drove to the Sooner four-yard line, and Tucker kicked his second field goal of the game to cut the lead to 28-20.
The final one minute and 39 seconds of the game would provide a picture of how emotional and physical the game was. Tucker's kickoff sailed over the Oklahoma front line, and as the Longhorns desperately chased the free ball, it rolled into the end zone for a touchback. On the second play of the Sooners' drive from their own 20, Emmanuel Acho forced a fumble by OU quarterback Landry Jones, and in the scramble to try to get the ball, it rolled about three inches out of bounds before Texas corralled it--and Oklahoma retained possession.Still the defense held and forced a punt. Thirty-six yards away at his own 41, Aaron Williams tried to make the play of the game, and lost the football. Oklahoma recovered and ran out the clock. As the Longhorns left the field after joining in the Eyes of Texas, there was sincerity in the OU band directors who congratulated the Texas players for a tremendous game as the `Horns headed up the tunnel.
There, an emotional Mack Brown told them how proud he was to stand as their head coach. A week after he had talked about embarrassment, this week he spoke of pride.
Throughout the history of this series, it is unique in that after the game, whichever team loses leaves a State Fair grounds void of the fans who came to support them. If Texas wins, the only color you see is orange. If Oklahoma wins, it usually has been red. Therefore, the final "sense" of the day is that of sight and this time there was an exception. Hundreds of Longhorn fans, their hands up with the Hook `em Horns sign, outnumbered the Sooners' fans.
The recent history of this series tells you that the winner of this game does not have a free pass to the Big 12 South Division title. Oklahoma won the game in 2001 and didn't make the title game. Texas was victorious in 2006 and 2008 and didn't play in the championship. In the parity world of college football, particularly this season in the Big 12, absolutely nothing appears certain. When you have seven games remaining, there is a bunch of football left to play.
That is what Mack Brown saw in his disappointed team in that dressing room in Dallas. For a young team, there were things to build upon. There are challenges remaining - with a tough road schedule and a South Division that appears the most balanced, perhaps, in its history. But Saturday left the Texas Longhorns with some real positives.
And the greatest among those is that, win or lose, there is importance in fighting until the end.
Most of all, it reinforces the value of not what, but who you are.