Bill Little commentary: Waco in the rear view mirror
It was, for longtime Texas fans, the unspoken menace.
Texas teams past had felt its wrath, when they had traveled to Waco, surrounded by small towns such as Bruceville and Eddy, to play Baylor, and felt inexplicably lost. It had been prevalent in football, but had spilled over into basketball as well. It had happened, even to the best of teams.
The dream of National Championship for the 1941 team had died there. Time and again, far lesser Baylor teams had stunned Texas.
But if, as the 2005 Longhorns ventured up the I-35 corridor right into the heart of the storm, the spirits and ghosts of the past were waiting, this time it made no difference.
It wasn't a "perfect storm" that struck in Waco. It was darn near a "Perfect Game."
This time, Texas sailed into potentially troubled waters like a battleship with guns blazing. And by the time Baylor was blasted into submission, the Longhorns left folks shaking their heads and wondering just how good this team really can be.
When he came to Texas, one of the first things Mack Brown learned about was the trouble the Longhorns had experienced in Waco. Dating back to 1972, Texas had won only twice in 16 years when Brown coached his first season in 1998.
It has all started with a remarkable Bear comeback in 1974, when Texas uncharacteristically surrendered a 24-7 halftime lead. Baylor won that day, 34-24, and went on to claim its first Southwest Conference title in 50 years.
Darrell Royal, Fred Akers and John Mackovic all saw their teams lose in Waco in their final season. In the 12 trips between 1974 and 1997, Baylor was 9-3 at home against Texas.
All of that Brown had learned as he researched Texas lore. So when he took his first team to Waco in 1999, he began educating his team on the woes of the past. If the point was to keep the focus, it worked.Texas won that season, 62-0. In 2001, it was 49-10. Two years ago, Texas won 56-0. Saturday, it was again, 62-0.
In Brown's eight years and four trips to Waco, Texas has outscored Baylor 229-10. There may be airplanes, ships and people lost in the Bermuda Triangle, but whatever magic or voodoo there once was in Waco, it today is a footnote in history.
Left in its place Saturday was superb football, a dominating performance from all phases of the game.
The victory was the Longhorns 16th straight, making this the second-longest winning streak in school history...trailing only the 30 game string during the Wishbone Era of 1968-70. It was also Texas' ninth win of the season, putting this team in an elite class.
Only seven teams in school history, dating back 113 years to the beginning of UT football in 1893, have gone 9-0. It happened in 1918 and 1920, when they only played nine games. The 1963 team, the 1969 team, the 1970 team, the 1977 team and the 1983 team all went 9-0 en route to perfect regular seasons.
The most impressive part about Saturday for Texas was just how impressive it actually was. This was an improved Baylor team, a squad that could still earn a bowl berth, and a squad that had posted impressive efforts against several reasonably-well regarded league teams.
Texas, however, struck quickly and powerfully. Not only did the Longhorns post 645 total yards to the Bears' 201, they amassed 35 first downs, only three shy of the school record of 38 which the 1968 team had against Baylor in Waco.
Twenty-three times this season, Texas has scored in four plays or fewer, and they added four of those on Saturday, including when Vince Young hit Ramonce Taylor on a 42-yard scoring pass on the Longhorns' first possession of the second half.
Taylor, who scored four touchdowns, was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct when he needlessly dived into the end zone. Taylor responded by immediately seeking out Mack Brown on the sideline and apologizing.
"I know you were excited about coming back home (to Central Texas)," Brown told him. "But that's not the way we do things here."
Taylor, at Brown's instruction, apologized to his teammates...particularly the defense when they had to block a field goal to preserve a shutout because of the great field position which Baylor received.
But that was only a blip on an otherwise superb afternoon in Waco. The Texas depth, both offensively and defensively, was impressive.Young played only three plays in the fourth quarter, and Texas substituted liberally on both sides of the ball.
Almost lost in the offensive and defensive showing was a great job by the UT special teams. David Pino's pooch kick pinned Baylor at the one and Aaron Ross had four returns for 67 yards, including one for 38 yards.The Longhorns' field goal block was the fifth kick (punt or placement) that Texas had blocked in the last two games.
Offensively, the show was spectacular.The Longhorns had nine plays of at least 20 yards, with Young throwing touchdowns of 42 and 55 yards. Taylor, Quan Cosby (Mart) and Billy Pittman (Cameron) all came home to Central Texas proudly. Taylor netted 102 yards rushing and the three TDs, and had three receptions for 43 yards and another score. Pittman had three catches for 60, and Cosby two for 79 yards and a touchdown.
In all, Young spread the ball to seven receivers, connecting on 16-of-27 passes for 298 yards.
In the end, however, the stars of the show would not show up in the statistics. The lines, both offense and defense, posted superlative games again, and that was the defining difference in the game. It was there, more than anywhere else, that Baylor was dominated.
The victory moved Texas to the threshold of its fifth Big 12 South Division crown in the 10 years the league has been in existence. One more victory, over either Kansas or Texas A&M, will put Texas in the Big 12 Championship game for the fourth time, equaling Oklahoma's four trips as best in the South Division.
Throughout the Thursday practice in Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Brown carried with him a poster of the bow and arrow target of the Longhorns' theme "Take Dead Aim."
It portrays a dartboard type image, with arrows piercing each ring.It began with the opening game, and the bull's-eye is Reliant Stadium in Houston, where the league championship game will be played.
After Saturday, as the target gets smaller and smaller, only two rings remain...one for Kansas, and the final one for Texas A&M.
The Baylor game, by Brown's and the team's evaluation, was the best overall performance of the year. Now, the charge is clear.Brown is big on the theory that you never stand still as a team. You either get better, or you get worse.
The commitment, and the dream, cry for the former. To this particular Longhorn team, the latter is unacceptable.