Bill Little commentary: Remembering how to win
Nov. 21, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
It can lead to a deep philosophical and psychological discussion, but the metamorphosis that took place Saturday in the Texas-Florida Atlantic game probably deserves that.
Here was one of the premier college football programs in history, a group that had lost only two games in the previous two years and won at least 10 games for nine straight, seeking to break out of a slump.
And as the game unfolded, in its sublime and sometimes ragged moments, one thing was obvious: Texas was remembering how to win. It was as if the Longhorns were recovering from their own amnesia. In the pressure and frustration of a losing skid, the pressure to win had overcome the joy of winning. In today's world of negativity, it is easy to do that. When you reach the point that you are more afraid of losing than you are confident about winning, then you have to dig deep inside yourself to find a way to change it. Doubt is easy; faith is hard.
And that is how an exceedingly young Texas football team which has seen more than its share of adversity with injuries and on-the-field missteps, broke through with a 51-17 victory over the Owls. What was at stake here was pride, and a chance for rewriting history as to how this 2010 team will be remembered. It didn't matter that it was a non-conference game. As Mack Brown would say in the postgame press conference, "We've lost non-conference games, too."
After the loss to Oklahoma State, Brown had challenged his team to focus on 12 days--the duration of the remainder of the regular season. The Florida Atlantic win pulled Texas' season record to 5-6, and it set the stage for the annual regular season ending game with Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night. A victory in that one would send the Longhorns to a post season bowl game for the 13th straight year.
In this one, the phases of the game fed on each other. And in this one, when things seemed to turn back to mediocrity, the team shucked that and played well. Truth is, when some folks doubted and others sought to cause rifts, this crowd hung closer together. When the offense left the ball at the Owl one-yard line, Blake Gideon intercepted a pass to give them another chance for what turned out to be an eleven-yard touchdown drive.
When Florida Atlantic tied the score at seven and then drove to a 45-yard field goal attempt to take the lead, the special teams rose up as Kheeston Randall blocked the kick and Emmanuel Acho recovered it. And then on the next play, Garrett Gilbert hit James Kirkendoll on a 63-yard post pattern for a touchdown that put Texas ahead, 14-7.
Slowly, Texas' long slumber seemed to be ending. Cody Johnson began running, Justin Tucker kicked three field goals to move to within one of the NCAA lead this season, Gilbert played his best game and Sam Acho inspired not only the defense, but the whole team with his grit and determination.
They say when you believe, good things happen, and Texas was beginning to believe again. There was no better example of that than the final play of the first half, when Malcolm Williams timed his jump perfectly and came down in the end zone with a "Hail Mary" 47-yard touchdown pass from Gilbert.
Texas held a 24-7 halftime lead, and put 21 points on the board in the fourth quarter. Emmanuel Acho returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown. The Longhorns dominated every statistical category, rushing for 259 yards while the defense held the Owls to 88. Gilbert threw for 263 yards, connecting on 15 of 21 passes, compared with 210 for FAU. That all added up to a 522-298 advantage in total yardage for Texas.
Johnson had a career-high 124 yards on 28 carries. Dustin Earnest led the defense with nine tackles, and Sam Acho added six with three sacks. Emmanuel also had six tackles to go with the pass interception.
Johnson's performance, and those of Ryan Roberson and D. J. Monroe, exemplified the on-the-go adjustments of this injury plagued season for Texas. At the start of the season, the Longhorns felt they had a solid three-back rushing attack, that included Johnson, Tre Newton and the veteran Fozzy Whitaker. Saturday, Johnson was the only one suited up. Newton was forced to give up football because of health reasons after suffering concussions, and Whitaker missed the game because of a nerve injury that hasn't responded to rehabilitation. Monroe came into the season after playing primarily as a receiver, and Roberson was a linebacker last year who had moved to fullback.
Yet at the end of the game, Roberson was rushing for 23 yards as part of a flawless 47-yard scoring drive directed by true freshman quartrback Case McCoy. There were times when both offensive coordinator Greg Davis and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp looked out to see a unit on the field that was loaded with freshmen and sophomores, even when the game was still very much a contest.
After the game, Brown was quick to say that this victory wasn't about the competition, or the streak.
"This was about us. You can talk about how good they (FAU) are, but we've played some poor teams and lost. This is about us. Us is good. Us is happy. Us is going to start preparing for A&M. This gives us some hope, because we didn't have any hope for a while."
In one of the greatest movie lines of all time, the character Andy Dufresne in the movie "The Shawshank Redeption" writes to his friend, "Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies."
The tagline of the movie is, "Fear can hold you prisoner, hope can set you free."
This team has learned many hard lessons this season, and perhaps the truest of those is that if you want something bad enough, you have to go and fight for it. And this is the most important part about what you learn when you reach that space: a game is an opportunity.
Hope gives you a chance.