By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
DALLAS – Underdogs, especially ones that have been hearing nothing but negativity, are dangerous in rivalry games. Couple that with a legacy playing in a rivalry game, along with the total unpredictability of college football, and you get the result posted on the Cotton Bowl scoreboard Saturday.
The Red River Rivalry, after two consecutive Oklahoma land rushes, had another lopsided outcome. But Texas 36, No. 10 Oklahoma 20? It wasn’t the biggest surprise in the 108th meeting of these schools, but it probably belongs on the top 10 list.
“It’s special for two reasons. It puts us in position to go to a BCS game,” said Texas coach Mack Brown, still dripping from a celebratory Gatorade bath. “The seniors on this team hadn’t beaten Oklahoma and you don’t want to leave this school and not having a win in this game.”
Coaches know that, week to week, they rarely coach the same team. One week a team is perfectly dominant, the next week it looks like a high school junior varsity. If that’s an accepted theory, then this is on Page 1 of College Football For Dummies: “Never say, ‘That will never happen.’”
It’s the Texas State Fair, so deep-fried crow for everyone who figured Oklahoma would continue its recent dominance in this series.
“In all competitive arenas there’s a fine edge between what people are listening to and how they react to that,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said when asked about the pre-game analysis. “Texas out played us.”
Texas is now 3-0 in the Big 12 and in control of its Conference destiny. With all the stories and Tweets speculating about Brown’s future against the backdrop of a regime change at athletic director, even winning the first two games brought little positive news to the Forty Acres.
Factor in two OU beat downs the last two years (63-21 and 55-17) and the Longhorns walked down the Cotton Bowl ramp in a foul mood.
“Our coaches challenged the offense line and the running backs to dominate the game,” Texas offensive lineman Mason Walters said. “We saw things on tape this week that we thought we could take advantage of. We were confident.”
"Some people had us fried, died and laid at the side," UT offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. "Some of that stuff will filter through and you'll hear about it, but you'll realize that's just football. Those type of people are going to be those kind of people. To hell with 'em and continue to focus on the team."
That’s the Great Unknown of college football. Past performance doesn’t assure future results. The Longhorns played like the team everyone expected them to be.
While the case was made that Oklahoma’s improved defense and solid play from quarterback Blake Bell would give an edge to the Sooners while Texas was starting its backup quarterback. Texas made its case thanks to a defensive touchdown, a special teams touchdowns and two beautiful touchdown passes from senior quarterback Case McCoy.
“I came to Texas to play in this game, and so did a lot of the seniors,” said McCoy, who was making his ninth career start. “This game has gotten even bigger over the years. We haven’t played as well in this game the last couple years, so this will be one that the other seniors and I will remember for a long time.”
The younger brother of Longhorns legend Colt McCoy won his second consecutive Big 12 game. The numbers were pedestrian: 13 of 21 for 190 yards. However, in the first half McCoy was a major factor when UT converted nine of 12 third downs and five came when it faced longer than third and seven.
“They executed better than we could blitz and cover,” said Stoops, whose team had limited foes to a 27 percent conversion rate on third down in the first five games. “That was a big part of the first half, the third down plays. We had been really, really good on third down.”
Again, teams are different week to week. Last week in the first half against TCU, the Sooners limited the Frogs to zero first downs. Third downs can determine outcomes. The Longhorns converted 13 of 20 third downs, gaining 193 yards when converting. The Sooners, by contrast, converted on just two of 13 third downs.
McCoy’s two touchdown passes were well-timed. With Texas leading 10-3 thanks to Chris Whaley’s 31-yard interception return for a touchdown, McCoy found Marcus Johnson for a 59-yard TD pass on – what else? – third and 11. Johnson ran an out and up route to get behind OU’s Kass Everett and McCoy’s pass hit him in stride.
“What everyone says about this game is that you have to step up to the challenge,” said McCoy, who talked about the Red River Rivalry being a legacy game. “You can study the history of this game. When we win this game, our season usually turns out pretty well. We’re excited where this team is going.”
McCoy made sure to point out that his offensive line gave him time to throw (he wasn’t sacked) and made the running game go. “It’s easy for a quarterback when you have two guys run for 100 yards,” he said.
The Longhorns had 255 yards rushing with Johnathan Gray (123 yards on 29 carries) and Malcolm Brown (120 on 23) providing a one-two punch. They’re first two Texas runners to each gain 100-plus yards against OU in this series.
Sophomore Daje’ Johnson – in his first game returning punts – made an 85-yard house call with a punt to make it 29-13 with 7:22 in the third quarter. McCoy then capped the UT scoring with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Mike Davis. Again, the pass found Davis in stride to make it 36-13 headed into the fourth quarter.
“They really made the big plays in games,” Stoops said. “When you give up an interception for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown those are always difference makers in this game. They also had a couple of big plays in the passing game. We didn’t have hardly any.”
The Sooners were averaging 455 yards per game and 246 on the ground. UT limited OU to 263 total yards. Oklahoma’s only touchdown drive covered 27 yards thanks to a 73-yard kickoff return by Roy Finch.
“We didn’t play well as an offense,” said Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell, who threw his first two interceptions of the season during an uncomfortable day in the pocket. “It’s as simple as that. Third down conversions, we weren’t good and we didn’t move the football. “
Oklahoma was one of seven FBS teams that hadn't allowed more than 21 points in a game. But in five games, the best offense the Sooners had faced was Notre Dame (ranked No. 87 in total offense this week). The Longhorns won in complete fashion.
“The one thing the outside can’t predict is the will and determination of young people,” Brown said. “When they all decide when something is really important to them and this was really important to them today and they all decide to do whatever they can to make this team win, this is a really good football team.
“To me, I thought we would win today.”