Nov. 8, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
In a way, the first 17 minutes of Saturday’s Texas-Central Florida game reminded you of the days when you were at kids’ camp trying to make a fire with sticks. The instructors kept telling you that if you kept rubbing those pieces of wood together, you’d get a fire.
It might have been frustrating at first, but sure enough, two minutes deep into the second quarter, there it came.
In the first quarter, Colt McCoy had completed 7-of-8 passes for 47 yards, and Jordan Shipley had snared three of those for 21. At that point, UCF had 46 yards of total offense to 43 for Texas. And when the Knights kicked a 39-yard field goal with exactly 13 minutes left in the second quarter, UCF took a 3-0 lead.
In the radio booth of the Longhorns’ Spanish Broadcast Network, just after the UCF kickoff went for a touchback and started Texas at its own 20, announcer Dr. Ruben Pizzaro readied his collection of nicknames for the Longhorns offensive stars. And suddenly, there was “Pistolas” (his moniker for Colt McCoy) throwing a crossing route to “La Liebre” or “the Jackrabbit” as he calls Jordan Shipley. The play covered 44 yards, and the offensive blaze for Texas was underway.
Before the game ended, “La Liebre” would gain more yards in a single game than any receiver in Longhorns history, capping his day with an 88-yard scoring pass from McCoy to give him 273 yards on 11 catches for the afternoon. McCoy would complete 33-of-42 passes for 470 yards and two touchdowns – the best regular season single-game performance ever by a Texas quarterback.
It would be impossible to tell who fed on whom – whether it was the Longhorn offense that took a cue from its defensive counterpart, or whether the defense responded to the offensive show. Whatever the case, the combined effort netted a solid shutdown of the 5-4 Knights. For the rest of the game after that first quarter, Central Florida would achieve barely 100 yards, finishing with 151 yards of total offense.
In a smothering effort, the Longhorns’ defense posted its lowest score total (three points) of the season. Seven different Longhorns were credited with sacks, and there were nine tackles for loss. Sergio Kindle and Lamarr Houston were the tackle leaders, but Roddrick Muckelroy, Emmanuel Acho and Earl Thomas were not far behind. The Longhorns limited UCF to 57 offensive plays, and including those on kicks, Texas was credited with 66 tackles.
The domination of the game from that point in the second quarter through Fozzy Whitaker’s touchdown run with 9:13 remaining in the fourth quarter – was commanding. The Longhorns used just under 33 minutes of the game to score 35 points and completely dominate the Knights defensively. Texas closed the game with a fourth-down stop of a UCF drive that carried to the UT 4 and covered 76 yards, aided by 45 yards in penalties.
As impressive as the victory was, it was significant to Mack Brown that it was couched in the midst of a hard-fought game. The Knights of coach George O’Leary came in determined to disrupt the Longhorns’ running game, so the rushing numbers were not impressive. Instead, offensive coordinator Greg Davis and the UT staff went to the passing game. McCoy responded with a record performance, throwing for more yards than any Longhorn in a regular season game and coming just four yards short of breaking Major Applewhite’s school record of 473 yards set in the 2001 Holiday Bowl.
That is what prompted the highly respected O’Leary to wait for Colt to finish his postgame interview so that he could speak with him.
“Tell me,” said O’Leary, with a twinkle in his eyes, “that you are graduating….”
Colt assured him that he was, and the two stood for a couple of moments of private conversation before heading off in different directions.
Brown said afterward that it was fitting that the game, which came on Veterans Appreciation Day, had been a hard fought contest.
“We asked our players to dedicate the game to someone they knew in the military, and one of the soldiers who spoke to the team on Thursday asked them to make sure that they followed through with their commitment,” Brown said. “He told them that if they weren’t going to ‘bring it’ for the whole game, then they shouldn’t dedicate it to someone.”
The pilots who did the impressive pre-game flyover also spoke to the team on Saturday morning about their attitude when they are approaching combat.
“Theirs is a life and death matter,” Brown noted after the game. “In their case, losing is not an option.”
As the Longhorns work to put that into perspective in their lives, there was a clear understanding of the importance of the sacrifice of those who serve in the U.S. Military every day. Football, they know, is a game.
But in the world of goals and dreams that Texas has inserted itself into in the theater of college football, the pilot is right. Each Sunday, Mack lays out for the team the remaining challenges for the rest of the season. He has often said that college football, in its own way, has become a playoff during its regular season. Each week as the number of unbeaten teams dwindles, the specter of “one and done” looms for those who aspire to play in the National Championship game, even though there is no bracket that leads to it.
With the odd late season non-conference game against UCF out of the way, Texas now has to focus its full attention on its three remaining Big 12 Conference games. To get to the league championship game, Texas must win two of the remaining three against Baylor in Waco, against Kansas in Austin, and at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Night.
As the Longhorns of 2005 kept as their “take dead aim” target, you can’t get to your dream of playing for a National Championship unless you take care of your goals, and you can only do that one game at a time.
Traditionally, Texas’ trip to Waco has brought a huge number of Longhorn fans to support the team, and Brown is hoping that holds true this season. He learned a long time ago of the power of collective energy. He also knows that one of his favorite sayings when he came to Texas was “they will remember November.”
What happens over the next three weeks will determine how.