Bill little commentary: The last brick
Dec. 29, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
SAN DIEGO, CALIF. -- In the end, the 2011 Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl belonged to those who have been there all along, and one who almost never was.
Wednesday night's 21-10 victory over California closed the Longhorns' reconstruction year at 8-5 -- hardly what they had dreamed of earlier in the year, but a solid victory all the same. It is a redeeming quality of the collegiate football bowl season -- about three dozen games produce darned near 20 winners. Arguments will continue among the fans and the media for years about reasons for an NCAA playoff system at the sport's highest level, but in that scenario, one team is happy and everybody else is not.
This one came for Texas because a senior class never quit believing, their teammates (particularly on defense) rose to the occasion, and because Marquise Goodwin changed his mind and decided to play football in 2011 after all, rather than redshirt so he could continue preparations as a long jumper for the U.S. 2012 Olympic Team.
Goodwin, who joined the team for his junior season after the Longhorns had played their first game, made a similar impact offensively in the Holiday Bowl with a stellar second half. With the Longhorns trailing, 10-7 after Cal had taken the lead with an opening third quarter drive, Goodwin found separation behind a Cal defender and hauled in a 47-yard catch-and-run (and he does that second part very fast) pass from quarterback David Ash for a touchdown that gave the Longhorns a 14-10 lead.
Then, as the third quarter was ending, he turned what looked like a Cal defensive stop into a 37-yard run on a reverse that put the ball at the Bear seven and resulted in the game clinching touchdown on a four-yard run by Cody Johnson two plays later.
Of the Longhorns 163 total yards in the second half, Goodwin accounted for 89 all-purpose yards. Among the other standout moments for the offense, senior tight end Blaine Irby hauled in a 30-yard pass to set up the Longhorns' first touchdown, and wide receiver Jaxon Shipley made it a perfect four-for-four in pass attempts with three touchdown passes, as he netted a TD on a four-yard pass to Ash for the Longhorns' first score. Those three TD passes put Shipley tied for second for most TD passes by a true freshman (Ted Constanzo, 1975). Ironically, Ash's touchdown pass was his fourth of the season which is the new record for touchdown passes by a Longhorn true freshman.
In a game that set a Holiday Bowl record for number of punts, Texas senior all-purpose kicker Justin Tucker set a bowl record with a 64-yard punt, and three of his nine punts were inside the Cal 20.
But for this Texas team, in the beginning of the season it was the defense that shined, and it would be the defense that would dominate with its best game at the end. It was hard to pick a star on a defense that limited its opponent to only seven yards rushing, recorded six sacks and had 13 tackles for a loss and forced five turnovers.
Senior linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson led with eight total tackles, but the most impressive statistic on the chart was the fact that Texas was so solid individually, recording 42 solo tackles on the Golden Bears' 69 total plays. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat had two sacks and two-and-a-half tackles for a loss and linebacker Jordan Hicks had one and a half sacks and two and a half tackles behind the line. The highlight defensive play of the game came from Kenny Vaccaro, who leaped over a Cal blocker to record a sack and also had two other tackles for a loss. Freshman cornerback Quandre Diggs, with his NFL brother and former Longhorn Quentin Jammer watching, had an interception and the Longhorns were credited with three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
For the game, California netted only 195 total yards -- 109 of which came on their first drive of the game (40 to their field goal) and their first drive of the second half (69 to their touchdown).
Throughout the week of preparation, Mack Brown had stressed that it was important to get a victory for the seniors, and when it was over, it was to the seniors he gave the credit. It was a senior class which had lost only one game in the final second to Texas Tech in 2008 and to Alabama in the National Championship game when Colt McCoy was injured in 2009. They, more than any group, had determined to move past last year's 5-7 season, and this was their moment.
The victory also helped put the season into perspective. This was a team that took its "brick by brick" theme into a rebuilding process. By mid-season, until it was devastated by injuries to running backs Fozzy Whittaker (the heart and soul of the offense), as well as freshmen Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, this team had become an impressive power running attack that appeared destined to finish among the nation's elite. But without those players, and with the loss for more than a month of the standout freshman Shipley, Texas slipped at the end.
While the final record of 8-5 is not the usual standard of the Mack Brown era, it will be remembered for team and individual bright shining moments that will forever be remembered in Longhorn history. The bowl win ran Mack Brown's bowl record to 9-4, with a mark of 8-2 in the Horns last ten bowl games, including six wins in the last seven games. That only loss came in the BCS National Championship game in 2009.
The high point of the season, of course, was the dramatic victory over Texas A&M in the final game of the storied rivalry, when Case McCoy scrambled for 25 yards and Tucker kicked the game winner as time expired. Of all of the season's plays, those will forever be etched in Longhorn lore with the names of men like Noble Doss, Bobby Layne, James Street, Roosevelt Leaks, Earl Campbell, Major Applewhite, Colt McCoy, Ricky Williams and Vince Young.
When defensive coordinator Manny Diaz talked about "the bridge" that would symbolize the game, he wrote the story before it ever happened. The seniors leave with a win, and time will remember them as those who righted a ship that seemed in stormy seas.
For the many who return, and the young coaches who will have their first full spring to begin preparations for 2012, it is the pathway to a new set of bricks. Joined with outstanding incoming freshmen, it will be they who attempt to continue the construction job. Manny Diaz will have some rebuilding to do with the loss of seniors Acho, Robinson, Kheeston Randall and Blake Gideon, and Bryan Harsin will have a full spring to work with quarterbacks Ash and McCoy. Stacy Searels will get his first full spring with the offensive line, along with hopeful newcomers who will be joining the team in January to begin their college careers.
As for Marquise Goodwin, the 2011 Longhorns will be forever grateful that he decided to forego his training for the Olympics to join his Texas football family for what turned out to be a memorable end of his junior year. This spring, he will split time between work with the Longhorn track team, working with Bennie Wylie in the weight room and checking in with Darrell Wyatt and his spring drills. He has, quite obviously, proved he can handle that schedule.
Attitude, they say, is everything in sports. And nothing helps attitude more than a victory. It is the stuff of which dreams are made, and the Longhorns have put themselves in position to dream positively, about bricks and bridges, and where they go from here.