Bill Little commentary: Surveying the landscape
AMES, Iowa -- The Callahan Divide is a series of small mountains that separates the basins of the Colorado and Brazos rivers in what is fondly known - by its fiercely loyal inhabitants - as "The Big Country" of west Texas.
Near the end of that 26-mile range running southwest of Abilene lies highway 83 and for much of my young life growing up in Winters, my family and I would take a weekly trip up that highway to the "big city." Eighteen miles to the north was Tuscola, and a few miles west of there was an historic village called Buffalo Gap.
But for a kid growing up and just learning the wonders of nature, the most phenomenal phenomenon of that 38-mile trek was "the moving mountain." Traveling through mostly flat land dotted with a series of atolls that served us as "mountains," my dad would always mystify us with the fact that, even though the road never seemed to turn, the mountain was east of the highway from one place, and then west of it a few miles later.
The energy of the country came from the wind; the strength, from the roots.
And so it is with Colt McCoy.
Saturday in Ames, Iowa, an energized McCoy, who grew up near Buffalo Gap in the foothills of the Callahan Divide and attended Jim Ned High School in Tuscola, moved like the elusive image of the West Texas mountain. He was in the pocket at one time, rolling out of it in another, finding the open receivers and shredding Iowa State for 298 yards passing and a 44-yard touchdown scramble in just a little over one half of play in a 56-3 victory.
Because of the positioning of the Oklahoma game as "a bowl game at mid-season," Mack Brown has made a point that, win or lose, there is a passage following the game in Dallas to a "new season."
With Saturday's victory in Ames, Texas is now a phenomenal 48-5 in regular season contests after the Oklahoma game during Brown's tenure with the Longhorns.
"The new season" offers the opportunity for coaches and players to follow one of Brown's favorite sayings from the late philosopher Will Rogers who said, "Never let yesterday take up too much of today."
That is how McCoy and his teammates on the offensive side of the football approached Saturday's game. Through the early season, the unit had battled injuries and youth in a season that had produced what is now a 5-2 record, but it was not what they had envisioned during the days of summer workouts and August drills.
"It had not been up to our standard," is the way McCoy put it after the offense amassed 514 yards on a cool, misty day in Ames. He had just completed 23-of-29 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, and was the Longhorns' second leading rusher with 50 yards, including the 44-yard run for a fifth TD.
Brown had made two promises to his football team as the "second season" began. First, this trip to America's heartland would be taken with only those who had a purpose in the game. As he had done years ago on a trip to the Colorado mountains in similar circumstances after a loss to Oklahoma, Brown cut his travel squad to only those who were expected to see action in the game.
It was reminiscent of the speech he offered to his team as they began preparing for their National Championship game with Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl: "Each one of you figure out what you can do to help us win. That includes players, trainers, managers, and staff," Brown had said.
A strong proponent of a team playing and having fun, it hasn't taken Brown 33 years in the coaching profession and 24 as a head coach to discover that you have a lot more fun when you win.
The other part of his promise was just as important. He told his young players who comprise much of the second team offense that if they performed well in practice leading up to the game, he would play them every third series if the ball were not inside either 20-yard line.
"It was tough to do that," Brown said after the first team scored on its first play of the game and added another touchdown on their next drive as well. "We had scored so quickly it would have been nice for the first unit to keep the rhythm going. But I had promised, and I wasn't going to take it back."
And so it was that freshman John Chiles led a rookie unit onto the field on the Longhorns' first possession of the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the Texas defense was putting on a show for their old co-defensive coordinator, ISU head coach Gene Chizik. Texas had struck quickly offensively when McCoy found Jordan Shipley wide open for a 58-yard touchdown. Iowa State countered with a 78-yard drive to a missed field goal. By the end of the third quarter, however, the Cyclones had managed only 130 more total yards.
At that point, Texas had out-gained Iowa State, 434-208 and held a 49-3 lead.
Brown nurtured Chizik into a head coaching job in his two seasons as the Longhorns' co-defensive coordinator, and he reflected that respect in the closing minutes of the game.
At that point, the contest reflected some of the quirks of today's college football. Iowa State had run 57 plays to 52 for Texas, and controlled the time of possession, 25:33 to 19:27.
Finally, the turnover god reappeared for Texas. After going more than two games without a turnover, the Texas defense picked off two passes and recovered a fumble, turning one of the interceptions into a 39-yard touchdown return by Brandon Foster.
The Longhorns, who had entered the game as a 16-point favorite, easily blew away the outmanned Cyclones, and while that may have been anticipated, the precision with which they did it was impressive. The Texas receiving corps adjusted to the loss for the season of pre-season all-American Limas Sweed, and McCoy spread the ball deftly between Shipley, Quan Cosby, Nate Jones and Billy Pittman at the wide out positions.
There is a story that is told about golfing great Jack Nicklaus, right after he surprised the sports world by winning the Masters golf tournament at age 43 in 1986. Nicklaus told the story about walking out on the fairways of the historic course at twilight the day before his victorious final round.
In the quiet of the evening, he said, "I found a guy I used to know."
And then he continued, "it was me."
Saturday in Ames, a young sophomore red-shirt quarterback named Colt McCoy prepared to board an airliner back to Austin. His eyes were bright and his spirit upbeat. He had learned something in the odyssey of his second year as the Longhorns quarterback.
He had taken it all in, the advice, the healing, and the teaching. And he had gone back to playing a game, rather than over-analyzing it. Being really good, as opposed to trying to be perfect. And for the first time in a long time, football was fun again.
"I found a guy I used to know...it was me."
The kid from Buffalo Gap found out that the road to success can travel over the bumps and knolls and over the flat land. His faith has kept him strong, and in a clear voice, he has joined his older teammates in a quest to assume a leadership role.
Most of all, he learned that the mountain really never moves. It is the perception of perimeter and the vision to see the landscape that makes the difference.
And that can make all the difference.