Bill Little commentary: The power of the pendulum
It was to Ray McGuire's Clock Shop on Airport Boulevard in Austin that I took it...that box of parts that used to be the heart of the old Railroad Regulator which once hung on the wall of the Farmer's Mercantile in Winters, Texas.
Dutifully, I had taken the clock apart in an effort to fix it, and dutifully, I had carefully placed the workings in the box.
As Ray said, "Don't give up your day job," and we surveyed the innards of the 100-year old time piece, I looked into the old wooden case at the one thing I couldn't screw up.
And that was the pendulum. As the miracle of modern technology came face to face with parts that were made by hand to last a lifetime, Ray and his guys put the old clock back together.
The giant spring was wound, and the old wheels were in place. Finally, we took the long wooden stick with the brass disc at its base, and hooked it to the wire designed to hold it. And with a sweeping of the hand to the pendulum, the old clock began to tick.
Far to one side, and then the other, it went.
All week, and for much of this season, fans and detractors had puzzled about the 2006 version of the Texas Longhorns. Here they were, heading into the Oklahoma week with a 4-1 record. Their only defeat had come in a tough loss to No. 1 ranked Ohio State (when Texas was ranked No. 2), but decisive victories in the other games had still not convinced some people that the National Champions of 2005 were not a "One Hit Wonder," an anomaly perpetrated by the presence of the departed Vince Young.
A column in the Daily Oklahoman of last week was entitled "Has Texas Reverted to Its Pre-Title Form?" It posed the question, "This Texas team, teeming with talent, bristling with bravado? Maybe it's the same ol' Texas, the team Oklahoma once owned."
Or was the powerful pendulum, like the forces of nature in an environment where momentum is key and attitude is paramount, swinging hard toward Austin?
Texas had taken a 7-0 lead, but Oklahoma controlled the second quarter. The Longhorns netted only a single yard of total offense in that period, and by half, the defense had surrendered 179 yards to the Sooners as a field goal in the final seconds gave Oklahoma a 10-7 lead.
Mack Brown says that statistics will tell you that a team that takes the lead just before the half will win the game 91 percent of the time. Some of the Sooners, feeling confident after their surge, made the mistake of talking trash to the Longhorns as the two teams headed up the tunnel.
And the meanest word of all, the one that stung in the hearts of Longhorn teams past, was "You're soft."
In an old Kenny Rogers song about a young man who was taunted by a bunch of bullies, the singer recounts the tale of a mythical character named Tommy, whom the bad guys had called "yeller."
"They just laughed at him when he walked into the barroom; one of them got up and met him halfway 'cross the floor. When Tommy turned around they said 'Hey look, old yeller's leavin'...' but you could have heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped, and locked the door."
In the visitors' locker room on the east side of the tunnel at the old Cotton Bowl, the Texas players had heard the taunts. The defense had yielded grudgingly, but the Sooners' star, Adrian Peterson, had rushed for 71 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown.
The players did their own impassioned talking. Mack Brown and his coaches talked about playing too tight, about body language, about philosophy. Most of all, when Brown got back to his team, he talked about having fun.
"I'm ready," said the redshirt freshman, whom despite statistics that matched those of any freshman QB in UT history, the media had questioned his ability to bring a team from behind. As the Longhorns entered the stadium for the final 30 minutes of play, in the words of the song, they locked the door behind them.
What followed was perhaps the most remarkable half of football in recent series history. The special teams began it, corralling Peterson's kickoff return at the Sooner 19. Peterson gained five yards on the first play, but Rashad Bobino, who had been particularly stung by the "soft" taunts, slammed into Peterson for a two-yard loss on the next play. An incomplete pass and a short punt later, McCoy led the offense on the field.
He scrambled on the first play, hitting Billy Pittman for 17 yards. Two plays later, he checked out of one play, sent Limas Sweed on a flag pattern, and 33 yards later, the pair gave the Longhorns a 14-10 lead. Peterson tried to return the next kickoff, and the two shining Texas freshman linebackers, Sergio Kindle and Jared Norton, tackled him at the Oklahoma 11.
The Texas defense held, and following a Sooner punt, McCoy and company started from their own 21. Mixing passes with the running of Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young, McCoy moved the Longhorns to the Sooner 26. It was second and one, and the Longhorns decided to run a quarterback keep and get the first down.
It was, perhaps, the defining moment for the team that had been called "soft."
The offensive line, powered by Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein and Justin Blalock, moved the line of scrimmage an incredible six yards. And McCoy said it could have been more if a Sooner hadn't grabbed his ankle.
Soon, it was third and goal from the Oklahoma seven. Was it time for the momentum to swing? Sooners defensive end C. J. Ah You came free on a blitz. Ah You had greeted McCoy with a knock down of his first pass of the game. This time, McCoy knew the blitz indicated that Jordan Shipley had one-on-one coverage in the right side of the end zone.
"I knew he could beat him," said McCoy. Ah You slammed into him, but too late. McCoy never saw the catch. But he heard the crowd.
The next series featured perhaps the defining defensive play of the game. With a relatively short field and the ball at their own 43, Peterson came on a sweep to the right, and he had a bunch of real estate in front of him as he headed for the corner. But another Longhorn youngster, lineman Aaron Lewis, caught him and literally threw the 220-pound Heisman candidate to the ground.
It was, ironically, a play the Sooners call "Fling." It was the same play that OU used for Peterson two years ago when he gained over 260 yards against the Longhorns. This time, he was flung for a loss of three. That drive, and every subsequent drive of the rest of the afternoon, ended with a turnover.
In a series known for its hard-hitting, this Longhorn defense delivered as well as any defense has in the history of the series.
And when the coaches put their confidence in McCoy, all he did was win. He didn't riddle the Sooners, he just did what a quarterback should do, he beat them. Effectively, decisively. When it was over, Young and Charles had outrushed Peterson, 125 yards to 109, as the Sooner star was held to only 38 yards in the second half.
Aaron Ross was the defensive star of a game that featured many Longhorn stars, intercepting two passes and picking up an errant lateral and running it in for a touchdown.
As the Longhorns boarded their buses to head to a flight home, most of the red-clad Sooners had departed the Texas State Fairgrounds. The kaleidoscope of sights and sounds and smells were left to the people in Burnt Orange.
The Longhorns had come out in the second half and hit the neighborhood tough guys squarely in the mouth.
At a Monday press conference, writers had asked Gene Chizik just how good his Longhorn defense really was. "Ask me Saturday," he had replied.
What we know is, games are not won by streaks or the like. They are won by people. People end streaks, and people start streaks. And right now, the Longhorns own the old clock in the Cotton Bowl. And they are now the people of the pendulum.