Nov. 9, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
Our old friend Webster defines "adventure" as "a risk; a bold undertaking; a chance."
Webster must have known about the 2008 Texas Longhorn football season.
When Mack Brown came to Texas in 1998, the Longhorns had won at least nine games in only two of the previous 14 seasons. After a string of at least nine wins that had covered every one of Mack's 10 years at Texas, pre-season predictors weren't sure if the 11th version of a Brown-coached Texas team would keep that record going.
This team, loaded with a lot of youngsters and almost as many questions, faced a schedule loaded with opponents who had been to bowl games in 2007. For the first time in quite awhile, Texas found itself heading into a season as a decided underdog.
They were on the outside of the nation's top ten, on the outside looking in. Saturday's win over Baylor moved the 2008 record to 9-1, and most folks simply yawned as if to say, "What else is new?" And while Alabama, returning as one of the traditional names in college football, and a red-hot phenomenon in Texas Tech ride atop the national rankings, Texas used a 45-21 victory over Baylor to move into a tie with Notre Dame as the second winningest program in the history of college football.
If consistently good translates to great as the Longhorns have held as a motto for this season, the only measure of that will come at the end of the season. What we have seen each week has been the ability to deal with adversity - Mack calls it "sudden change" - and keep on winning.
To win all the games, a team must be good and it must be fortunate. This bunch is a second away from having been able to do that. Not only was it young and inexperienced in some key areas, it has withstood injuries that would have devastated other teams. Mack has always had a policy not to use injuries as an excuse, and his team has reflected that. When outstanding tight end Blaine Irby went down with a season-ending knee injury, the coaches adjusted their attack patterns to utilize wide receivers in a different offensive scheme.
Saturday's victory over Baylor, where Quan Cosby caught eight passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns, was a reflections of how much the Horns missed his presence when he had to leave the Texas Tech game in the first quarter because of injury. More than anything, this team, particularly on offense, is about chemistry.
It is also, however, about growth. Each week, coaches see the improvement of young offensive weapons at running back and at receiver. Redshirt freshman Malcolm Williams followed his breakout game against Tech with a solid performance, Brandon Collins had a 40-yard touchdown catch and James Kirkendoll had four catches for 37 yards to become the latest addition to the stable with which Colt McCoy has worked.
Running backs Fozzy Whitaker and Vondrell McGee added to the offensive punch as well.
McCoy continues an incredible season. He completed 26-of-37 passes for 300 yards and five touchdowns before retiring early in the fourth quarter.
In the strategy of football today, most of the time when Texas wins the coin toss, Mack Brown elects to defer his choice until the second half. The time-proven theory is, it is better to come out and get the ball to start the second half and maintain the upper hand in possessions after intermission.
This time, however, Brown changed his plan.
In the delicate balance of the mental and the physical side of football, Mack decided that the psyche of his team was the most important factor as the Longhorns took the field Saturday morning.
Both sides of the football needed a boost of confidence. Despite their best efforts, a crushing last-second loss like the one at Texas Tech can have hangover effects. So it was important, Mack felt, for his offense to drive and reflect confidence, in part to give the defense a chance to take the field riding a positive as they prepared to face a potentially explosive Baylor offense led by quarterback Robert Griffin.
McCoy and the offense set the tone of the day with a 65-yard, nine play drive that put the first four minutes of the game in the Texas book. And while the Bears would eventually tie the score at 14-14, Ryan Palmer's interception for a touchdown turned the day for the Horns.
When it was over, the score hardly reflected the dominance of the Texas defense. While McCoy and the offense were rolling up 30 first downs, Baylor was managing only nine (and three of those came by penalty) against the UT defense.
With Roy Miller leading up front and solid back-up play from Roddrick Muckelroy and Rashad Bobino and the young secondary, the Bears managed just one of 11 third down tries, and were a costly two of five on fourth down. Texas held the ball for over 38 minutes of the game, Baylor had it for just 22.
When the Longhorns lost their open date in late September because of the postponement of the Arkansas game due to Hurricane Ike, Brown knew it would mean a long, hard stretch of nine straight games without a break. Now, Texas has one of those left on the schedule. The toll of playing three straight top 10 teams has reflected the tough, physical, nature of the run.
But they have fought on, this particularly likeable bunch of Longhorns. Stellar defensive end Brian Orakpo couldn't play Saturday because of a knee injury he suffered when he was wrestled to the ground in Lubbock, but he stood on the sidelines exhorting his teammates on Saturday. Quan Cosby played with an ice pack at the ready for his back. Colt McCoy took everything the Bears could throw at him, and left still standing, though likely needing an ice bath from the bruises.
It was all part of the reason Texas fans have adopted this team as one of their all-time favorites. In Lubbock, it had fought to the end. Saturday, it came out and played football again, and after a grueling four weeks, it seemed the "fun" was beginning to return to the game. Somehow, this group had engaged folks as few ever have. It has transcended the difference between "sympathy" where you feel for another, and "empathy," which is the intellectual identification of oneself with another.
Perhaps that is why folks have come to love this team so much. We appreciate the chemistry they share, celebrate the way they have conducted their business on and off the field, and recognize that they may not always play their best, but they darn sure will give you their hardest.
For whatever reason, we are drawn to the humanness of this team.
Nine wins, a second away from a 10th and still clinging to their goal and dream?
And yet, somehow with this bunch, we celebrate who they are, every bit as much as we do what they have done. That's what happens when you choose to take a chance, and go on an adventure.