Bill Little commentary: Stirring Stillwater
Mack Brown has said it many times: "You don't play college football with robots."
And that is an exceedingly good thing.
Robots don't have heart, and when the turn of events have defied logic as they did in Stillwater on Saturday night, there is some real value in just being human.
Or, in the case of Vince Young, perhaps it is super human.
Brown has always said that the pivotal part of most games comes in the last five minutes of the first half, and the first five minutes of the second.
And there was Texas, starting the second half with a sputter. Trailing 28-12, the Longhorns were facing third down at their own 20 in a game that had seen everything that could possibly go wrong occur.
Oklahoma State, a team that had struggled without a Big 12 victory, had jumped to a 19-point first half lead at 28-9. For the Longhorns to overcome it, they would have to erase a deficit equal to the second-biggest they had ever overcome. David Pino's field goal as time expired in the half cut the margin down to 16, but at best, Texas realistically needed three scores to lead.
A year before in Austin, a much more powerful Oklahoma State team had jumped to a 35-7 lead, only to have Texas erase that and win 56-35. In a halftime TV interview, Brown had seemed calm and upbeat. He believed in his kids, those non-robotic humanoids who somehow blend talent with pride and emotion just at the right times.
But none of that would matter if Texas couldn't move the ball against an inspired Cowboy defense that had frustrated the Longhorns in the first half.
All of that Vince Young knew as he brought his team to the line of scrimmage on the third play of the second half before a frenzied crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium. He dropped back, headed right, pump-faked a Cowboy defender off his feet, and took off down the sideline.
He covered the 80 yards in just 36 steps, an amazing average of six feet, eight inches per stride. That's like stepping over a prone Limas Sweed with room to spare with every stride.
The run set the tempo for the second half, which would result in a Longhorn landslide of 38 unanswered points and a 47-28 victory.
Throughout the week, Brown had warned that the Longhorns traditionally had experienced slow starts in games with Oklahoma State. Texas had trailed, 16-14, at half time in Stillwater in 2003 before rallying to a 55-16 victory.
"I told them at some point we could expect to be behind," Brown said referencing his comments to the team before Saturday's game. "We knew we had to withstand the surge. Oklahoma State has a lot of good players, and they have been in the mix for a lot of good things over the past several years."
The record for the Cowboys against ranked teams included stunners in 2001 and 2002 over archrival Oklahoma.This season, first year coach Mike Gundy rebuilt his team after key losses to graduation and a strong stance he took on some discipline issues. Then, injuries took a heavy toll. Turnovers plagued the offense. But Saturday, for one half of football, everything fell into place. Two blocked kicks, a surprise play, a freak bounce of a pass that turned into a touchdown, and a couple of Longhorn turnovers had Texas on its heels.
But in the dressing room, Brown and his staff simply went to work. Where in 2004 Brown had prophetically written a score of "42-35" on the board when UT trailed 35-14 at intermission, this time there was no such drama. The coaches made adjustments, players recognized mistakes and developed a plan. When they came out of the locker room, Oklahoma State entered from a walkway outside the OSU basketball arena, Gallagher-Iba Hall, which is located at the east end of the stadium. Texas came out of the same area. The Cowboys were surprised by what they saw.
Here was the No. 1 team in the BCS, trailing by 19 points, with only 30 minutes of football left to play.They had been outplayed by OSU, and some teams would have been uptight with the pressure of the moment.
The Texas players, instead, were singing.
"Keep them focused," Greg Davis had said to his star quarterback as he left the locker room to return to the press box.
"We're fine, baby," Vince had said.
A few minutes later, the next time Davis talked to Young, he had just finished the 36 steps that had thrust Texas back into the game.
"Nice job," said Davis.
"Thanks, Baby," replied Young.
And then, he went out and amassed over 500 total yards.
Make no mistake about it, however, this game wasn't all about Vince Young, even though his contagious attitude is reflected throughout the team.
In the locker room after the game, Mack Brown gave a game ball to assistant Coach Mike Tolleson, whose special teams had been a huge part of the night. Texas blocked four kicks and had significant return yardage.
The defense totally shut down Oklahoma State in the second half, allowing the offense time and getting them the ball to erase the deficit.The Oklahoma State game plan created space for new Texas heroes. Tight end Neale Tweedie became a target for Young when the Cowboys opted to shut down the Texas wide outs. Fullback Ahmard Hall scored for the first time this season, catching a two-point conversion after admirably filling a role as a lead blocker all season. And when injuries depleted the running back spot, Ramonce Taylor moved in and zipped for a lightning quick touchdown.
During the game, injuries claimed as many as a half-dozen starters, but the Texas depth rose to the occasion.
Going into the week, Brown had reminded his team that their season theme of "Take Dead Aim," now had an interesting twist to it.
"Right now, you've got a bulls-eye on your chest, and everybody is going to be `taking dead aim' at you," he said.
And Oklahoma State fired the first arrow.Baylor, Kansas and Texas A&M will follow during the regular season, all understanding that a victory over Texas will make their season.
"Right now, we're everybody's National Championship game," he said.
When Young and Brown were being interviewed right after the game, Oklahoma State players were coming by to congratulate the Texas quarterback. In defeat, they recognized greatness. But there was something else: They also recognized class.
"Even though we compete against him, Vince has come a long way," said Gundy. "It's not my job to evaluate him, but obviously I watch a lot of tape and just happen to have played that position myself. He plays with poise now.He's very dangerous. If you watch him during a game, he's very respectful to other players. I have a lot of respect for a guy who does that. He's not a hot dog."
The physical nature of the game was reflected in the long time it took to clear out the UT training room late in the night in Stillwater, and even though newspaper writers were talking about Halloween and Young's "Superman" costume, he would be the first to tell you he isn't a man of steel, and the hard contact of a football game is a reality.
Vince Young's calling card, one he has now left at the doorstep of 15 straight Longhorn victims, can be summed up in two words: "Talent," and "Competitiveness."
Those, and the intangible of the power of the will of the heart. He loves to play the game, cares about his teammates, and he does not accept defeat.
And that is the very human side of this non-robotic super star.