When Mack Brown came to Texas, he asked folks to "come early, be loud, and stay late." And the Longhorn fans, in legion, have taken that to heart. So much so that the last part of "stay late" has become something of an obligation, a responsibility to duty.
Saturday night in Waco however, they stayed late for another reason. They wanted to watch a combination of a few great veterans and a lot of young stars in the making...to see what was going to happen next. It was kids having fun. Christmas morning on a chilly night in late October.
Here's what you missed on the game that wasn't on TV. Defensive end Mike Williams belly-flopped a swan dive in the end zone after scoring with a fumble recovery, linebacker Derrick Johnson picked up a fumble and after a run downfield, lateraled to corner back Nathan Vasher.. A silky-smooth Vince Young ran for 101 yards and threw effectively, and Chance Mock hit on 11-of-15 passes for 158 yards.
Roy Williams was, well, Roy Williams, B. J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas joined the receiver parade. The tight ends, all three of them, caught passes and three running backs collectively rushed for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
The kickers punted and kicked off well, Nathan Vasher had another great punt return, and basically, a good time was had by all. That is, of course, except Baylor.
For the second straight week, the Longhorns lived under the radar. Since there was no television of either the Iowa State or Baylor games, Texas is probably the best kept secret in college football right now.
In the two weeks since the Oklahoma game, Texas has made a plethora of fun and exciting plays, both offensively and defensively.
The young Texas defense--there were only six juniors and seniors who played Saturday night--pitched its first shutout of the season, and the offense scored over 40 points for the fifth time this year. As the Longhorns stretched their season record to 6-2, they won their 15th road game in their last 16 (not including games at neutral sites).
Before Mack Brown arrived at Texas, UT had posted just two winning road records in the 10 seasons prior to 1998. Texas has won 18 of its 21 road games in the Brown era.
It was a special game for junior linebacker Derrick Johnson, who was playing in his hometown of Waco for the final time. Johnson picked up a fumble at the Texas 39 on Baylor's first drive, and he helped turn the field and the game's momentum around as he and Vasher combined to take the ball to the Baylor 11.
Vasher, who had a 53-yard punt return, also intercepted the 15th pass of his career, moving him into a tie for third place on the UT all-time list. He is one behind Jerry Gray, who is in second place with 16, and he is just two back of the oldest record in the Texas books, the 17-interception mark set by the legendary Noble Doss 1939-41.
You have to go back a long way-- to the Darrell Royal days, in fact--to find quarterbacks with the rushing statistics being recorded by Young. In the window of the Winged-T attack in the early l960s, the running of guys such as Duke Carlisle became a staple for Texas. Then came the Wishbone, in which the quarterback was, in essence, a fourth running back.
Now comes the quarterback duo of Young and Mock, who have successfully served as compliments of each other to strengthen the signal calling position at Texas. Inexperience was a significant factor for both early in the season, but the last two games have given both of them a window of opportunity, and both have taken advantage of it.
Texas closed the first half of its season with the loss to Oklahoma, and the performance in that game prompted Brown to ask questions of his team, his staff, and himself. The response has been that in the Big 12 wins over Iowa State and Baylor, they have provided answers to some of the questions. Texas, at 6-2, is now two thirds of the way through its regular season, but a stout third of the year remains.
A home game with powerful Nebraska will be followed by a road trip to a strong Oklahoma State, and then come the old SWC foes Texas Tech in Austin and Texas A&M in College Station.
What Texas has done over the last two games, however, is to put the Oklahoma game behind it, and move forward. It is as though the team were traveling on a limited access Interstate highway, and it needed to get to a destination which required taking another road. At the Oklahoma game, Texas missed the exit. But you can't back up, so the only alternative is to keep going, and take advantage of the next opportunity to change roads.
To finish with a stellar season, Texas' next chance for that turn comes with the games against highly ranked opponents in the next two weeks. And in the Big 12, there is no higher profile North Division-South Division match-up than Nebraska and Texas.
That is why this week will be one of quick steps and great anticipation. The road of college football, 2003, has taken some of the strangest turns imaginable.
And the road, and the Longhorns, continue on, to a to-be-determined destination.