Oct. 11, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
It had been a year since the teams last met in Boulder, a time that had seen Texas maintain its status as one of the nation’s top five football teams (they were ranked No. 5 on October 4 last year), and this season, Colorado had sustained hopes that seem to have been dashed in frustration.
The Buffaloes had been a mystery – a team with talent whose early schedule had been a killer to the dreams of winning 10 games this season. They had opened their 2009 campaign with a Sunday night game against in-state rival Colorado State, and then played at Toledo less than a week later in a late Friday night game. They came into Austin after playing a Thursday night game 10 days before in West Virginia. In short, for a team from the Mountain Time zone, they had spent more time playing in the Eastern Time Zone than they had at home.
At 1-3, Colorado was waiting for that moment when everything seemed to click.
And for a while Saturday night in Austin, it appeared that might be happening for the star-crossed Bison.
Colorado opened with a scoring drive on the opening kickoff, and then Texas had to settle for one field goal and an attempt that was blocked until late in the second quarter. Field position was critical, and if upsets are to occur, they usually will hinge on turnovers – particularly if they come deep in your own territory.
And when the Buffaloes stripped the ball from a scrambling Colt McCoy just three minutes before intermission and hit a scoring pass from the 11-yard line, all of a sudden Texas was looking at the wrong end of a 14-3 margin.
When the battery is drained, the common procedure is to instill new life. You do that by hooking one end of a cable to a positive pole and the other to another positive pole and reduce the negative surge. That is exactly what Texas did when buddies McCoy and Jordan Shipley connected in the closing minute before halftime Saturday night.
In a Friday meeting with the television announcers before the game, Shipley had attributed a big part of McCoy’s excellence to his diligence in the video room.
“He spends hours looking at film,” Jordan had said.
And then came the question, “What did he see?”
“They have played a lot of man-to-man coverage, and if they try to cover Jordan that way, it could get interesting,” Colt said.
So from the Buffalo 39-yard line, with only seconds remaining and Texas in need of an infusion of energy heading into the half, McCoy and offensive coordinator Greg Davis decided to see just how interesting it could get. Shipley broke down the right side, faked a cut inside that deceived his lone defender, and was 10 yards behind the Buffaloes defense when he gathered in McCoy’s pass for a touchdown that cut the lead to 14-10 at half.
The “statement” play changed the momentum of the game, but the totality of it wouldn’t be manifested until later in the third quarter.
If there were an underlying theme to the night, it was best said some years ago by former Texas baseball coach Cliff Gustafson who had watched a young Mike Adams catch passes and return kicks in another time.
“Well,” he said in assessing the situation in slang terms, “speed don’t have a bad day.”
The second half Saturday night was all about speed. Shipley may have set the tone with his burst past the Buffalo defender, but the speed on special teams and defense would carry the day for the Longhorns. First, it was the laser quickness of Marquis Goodwin who knifed through the Colorado punt protection and blocked a kick that Ben Wells picked up and carried in for a go-ahead touchdown.
Then, with the Longhorns leading, 17-14, and Colorado threatening, safety Earl Thomas jumped an out route by Colorado at the eight-yard line and outran everybody for a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown. As he blazed down the sidelines, the sophomore Thomas equaled the second longest interception return for a touchdown in Longhorn history – a mark recorded by College Football Hall of Famer Harrison Stafford in 1932.
Shipley would score on a 74-yard punt return and Fozzy Whitaker would dazzle the crowd with a reversing-the-field 12-yard touchdown run.
But while all of those individual efforts were impressive, this game was decided by the totality of the Texas team speed, particularly from its defense. Offensively, McCoy had another stellar day, completing 32-of-39 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown and Shipley caught 11 of those balls for 147 yards.
The Longhorns defense spotted Colorado a 66-yard scoring drive to open the game, but after that the speed and the quickness became overwhelming. Colorado finished the game with 42 yards rushing and 85 passing, a total of 127 yards. Take away the opening drive and the Buffs achieved 61 total yards the rest of the game.
Roddrick Muckelroy recorded 11 tackles, Sergio Kindle had six and Sam Acho, Emmanuel Acho and Ben Alexander all were credited with five apiece.
The quickness of the Texas defense triggered Colorado’s protection into numerous mistakes as the Buffaloes wound up being charged with 20 penalties, a lot of them movement violations as they tried to compensate for the heavy Texas rush from its front.
In a season where Texas has sustained significant changes offensively, the Longhorns got a complete team victory in their second Big 12 game of the season.
McCoy had four drops among his seven incompletions, including one that bounced off the sure-handed Shipley into a defender’s hands for an interception. This is a Texas passing game that continues to excel despite wholesale changes from a year ago. Not one Texas receiver is playing the same position they did a year ago. Shipley shifted to the spot occupied last year by the ever-dependable Quan Cosby. The Horns have lost Brandon Collins for the season because of an academic issue, and Dan Buckner moved to a flex tight end position that seemed destined for D.J. Grant before he was lost for the season with a knee injury in training camp.
James Kirkendoll switched places when Collins was lost. The consistency of the running backs has been affected as well, with both Vondrell McGee and Tre’ Newton leaving the game on Saturday just as Whitaker was returning from maladies which had kept him out of the Horns’ first three games.
If you are Texas, a Longhorn coach said a long time ago, “You don’t rebuild, you just reload.” Depth is the secret to great teams, and depth has been critical for a No. 2-ranked Longhorn team that has continued to pull together. It has been a season where the three facets of the game – offense, defense and special teams – have alternately picked up each other.
It has been one year since that meeting in Boulder, and the irony is, the more things change, the more they remain the same. When the gun sounded Saturday night, Texas had 38 points and Colorado had 14. Which is exactly the same score the Longhorns won by last year.
Last year, the Horns took their No. 5 ranking to Dallas and knocked off No. 1 Oklahoma, 45-35, and jumped to No. 1 for the first time during the regular season since 1984. This time, Texas will be favored against a two-loss Sooner team that got their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford back last week.
Mack Brown jokes that it is hard to coach a team the week before and the week after Oklahoma, because the media and the fans are always looking ahead, or looking back. His challenge is always to keep his team focused on the game at hand.
What Texas knows as it heads to Dallas is that it is still a work in progress, none of its three parts – offense, defense and special teams – have been perfect. But in its progression, the definition of “team” has been clarified: The whole is equal to the sum of the three parts. And that is how it should be.