By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUSTIN, Texas – First take, snap shot version: Texas avoided its first 1-3 start in nearly 60 years by playing like the team most expected it to be.
Second take, big picture version: 75 percent of the season remains and that will define the Longhorns’ 2013 legacy.
After two losses of being run over, around and through by BYU and Ole Miss, two losses where UT was outscored 40-7 in the second half, the Longhorns went Howard Beale – mad as heck and not gonna take it anymore. Texas opened Big 12 Conference play Saturday night with a 31-21 victory over Kansas State (2-2, 0-1).
“I told ‘em to handle it how they wanted to, just beat Kansas State,” Texas coach Mack Brown said of the jibber jabber revolving around his program over the last few days. “I haven’t heard one word about all of that from any of our guys.
“We told ‘em this is the start, it’s not the end. We had to get this game tonight, we had to start 1-0, he had to beat the Big 12 champs. I don’t think this team will let up. This can be a really good team before we’re finished.”
For the diehard supporters of Burnt Orange Nation, the victory was satisfying on two levels. First, it ended a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats. Second, for the past week all news had been bad news. How bad? Burnt orange t-shirts with “Saban 2014” were being outside Darrell K. Royal Stadium.
“Yeah, we ended it,” senior quarterback Case McCoy said of the K-State losing streak and the end-of-days talk. “I don’t hear what’s being said. I listen to the coaches. All the naysayers are on the outside. We came to Texas for a reason but we know how it goes when we don’t win. We just need to put it aside and worry about what matters.”
McCoy, who was 5-of-9 for 59 yards in the second half in relief of an injured David Ash. The defense, in its second game under coordinator Greg Robinson, limited the Wildcats to 115 yards rushing – a vast improvement after allowing an average of 308 yards in the first three games.
“I don’t call ‘em by the numbers anymore. I call ‘em by their names,” said Robinson, an in-season replacement for Manny Diaz. “I can talk more in their terminology. There’s progress being made. They’re working hard. It’s effort with a purpose.”
UT paid a price for shutting down the K-State running game. Wide receiver Tyler Lockett had 13 catches for a school-record 237 yards; only six completions went to other receivers.
“That guy is the real deal,” Robinson said. “I don’t know who can cover him. But you can’t cover everything and we put our corners on an island covering guys one-on-one because we wanted to make sure we limited their running game.”
Forget the sexy bestseller; Texas needed just one shade of gray to give the offense the oomph it needed. Sophomore Johnathan Gray had career highs in carries (28) and yards (141) and scored two touchdowns. The Longhorns’ offense was nearly perfectly balanced – 227 yards rushing, 225 yards passing.
“The offensive line did a great job creating holes and our job as running backs is to hit those holes and gain some yards,” Gray said. “We weren’t desperate. You always want to start 1-0. We wanted to hit ‘em in the mouth and prove a point.”
Gray’s touchdowns came after Texas converted on fourth down. In the first half on fourth and two from the K-State 37, Ash hit Jaxon Shipley for 10 yards on a quick slant. Gray’s 21-yard TD run made it 17-0.
In the third quarter, with a 17-7 lead, the Longhorns extended their first drive when Alex DeLaTorre gained 19 on a fourth-and-two from the Wildcats’ 48. It was his first career carry.
“Last week (against Ole Miss) we were too conservative on third downs and we had some fourth downs we could have gone for,” Brown said. “You’ve got to score points in this league; what the heck, let’s go for it.”
K-State went 82 yards in four plays to make it 17-7 before halftime. The Wildcats took the opening kickoff to the second half and appeared to be gaining momentum. That disappeared when John Hubert dropped a pitch out and Texas recovered to set up the fake punt/TD drive.
"It was major, quite obviously," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said of one of his team’s three fumbles. "It had a dramatic impact on the outcome of the ball game ... We need some leadership to really step up."
Senior wide receiver Mike Davis missed the game as did Daje’ Johnson. Quarterback David Ash missed the second half after suffering a head injury late in the first half. Linebacker Jordan Hicks limped off early in the second half. Linebacker Steve Edmond was ejected in the fourth quarter for targeting.
"They could have a thousand excuses and didn't use them," Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said.
“Somebody else has to step up,” senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said of the absentees. “That’s how it’s gonna be, that’s how this team is gonna be.”
While not everything went right, fewer things went wrong and the ball bounced UT’s way. Kendal Sanders fumbled, then recovered the opening kickoff. The Longhorns then had a delay of game before their first snap, then Ash was nearly picked off on his first throw. Gray appeared to fumble before his first rushing TD but the replay booth (correctly) overturned it.
And when it appeared that the Wildcats were poised to pull within a field goal, quarterback Jake Waters bumped into his own blocker and unforced fumbled it away at the Texas 5-yard line.
Vince Young, the talisman of the 2005 national championship team, met with the Longhorns during the week. His message: “Continue to have fun. I felt like they got away from having fun."
Until Texas plays Iowa State in Ames on Oct. 3, happy days have returned.