LAWRENCE, Kan. — After the 2010 season, Texas coach Mack Brown said he wouldn't ever take another win for granted.
That motto was likely tested Saturday, when the Longhorns escaped an upset attempt marred by sloppy execution on both sides of the ball, pulling out a 21-17 win over previously 1-6 Kansas, thanks to a touchdown pass from backup quarterback Case McCoy to D.J. Grant with 12 seconds left.
Kansas has won just one conference game in the last three years, and the last time the Jayhawks beat a current Big 12 team was Oct. 10, 2009. That didn't stop the Jayhawks, whose lone win this season came over FCS opponent South Dakota State, from putting one heck of a scare into the Longhorns and firing up the Mack Brown detractors who have been more vocal of late.
"You all [the media] always talk about losses," Brown said, when asked if he ever thought about the implications of losing to Kansas. "I don't. What I thought about was it's so similar to 2004, and the 2004 team ended up the the Rose Bowl."
That 27-23 win over a 3-6 Kansas team propelled the Longhorns to the BCS game and a BCS National Championship a year later. Vince Young led Texas back from two scores down, hitting Tony Jeffery with a 21-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds remaining.
McCoy isn't Vince Young. But on Saturday, neither was he David Ash, who was pulled after going 8-for-16 for 63 yards and two interceptions.
"I asked Bryan [Harsin], and Bryan said 'yes sir, I'm ready to go with a change,'" Brown said. "We both agreed … and I thought Case was prepared. He gave us the little momentum that we needed to get it turned in the right direction."
Any impact McCoy made on the first drive was purely psychological. The Longhorns ran the ball on all seven plays, with McCoy's biggest play coming on a short flip to Marquise Goodwin on a jet sweep. Goodwin took the sweep 41 yards, flipping the field. Goodwin also received a handoff three plays later, taking that one 11 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
But the Longhorns needed McCoy's arm to pull out the win. After Kansas picked a field goal with 2:28 remaining, Texas started its drive at the Longhorn 30. Three downs and a near-interception throw later, Texas faced a fourth-and-six. That's when McCoy connected with best friend Jaxon Shipley for an 18-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later, Mike Davis ran a double-move and McCoy hit him for a 39-yard pass down to the three. After two runs, McCoy faked to the back and lofted a pass to a wide-open Grant for the game-winning score.
"Case came in the huddle and said 'Let's go. The game's not over. We still have a chance,'" said running back Johnathan Gray. "We found it deep down inside and came out with a win."
That pass allowed Texas to avoid an upset to a team picked to lose by 19 points. But this wasn't just a case of the Longhorns coming out flat. In fact, they couldn't have asked for a better start. Texas forced a three-and-out, then used a 31-yard Gray run to set up an eventual touchdown for Joe Bergeron.
"We came out and it was too easy," Brown said. "Three and out and all of a sudden a quick score. And [we] probably relaxed and didn't give Kansas the respect that they're due. Because this isn't the Kansas team we played last year."
The Longhorns didn't score again until the fourth quarter, while the Jayhawks quickly found their sea legs. Kansas dominated on the ground, with James Sims rushing for 139 first-half yards and Christian Matthews and Tony Pierson chipping in touchdown runs of 15 and 11 yards.
The defense rebounded in the second half, only allowing 75 yards and three points the rest of the way. That left Texas in a position to come back after making the quarterback switch.
"It just came down to if we want to be the defense that we talk about, then we had to change our mentality … and start getting some stops," said defensive end Alex Okafor, who besieged his teammates to have more accountability.
Okafor was arguably the Longhorns' star of the day, making 11 solo stops and 13 total tackles, including a stop in the backfield and a forced fumble, while fellow senior Kenny Vaccaro chipped in 10 tackles and a tackle for loss. Offensively, Gray rushed for 111 yards.
Sims finished with 176 yards for the Jayhawks, who only threw nine passes, including two desperation plays at the end.
"The objective is to win, and I'm glad we won," Brown said.
"They're going to beat somebody here," Brown said of Kansas. "I'm just glad it wasn't us."
Brown admitted that the Longhorns, now 6-2 and 3-2 in the Big 12, couldn't have that kind of effort and expect to win any more games. That includes next week's opponent, Texas Tech, which lost this weekend at Kansas State.
"I'm very excited that we won the game. It was really, really hard to win this game and it can give this team and this staff so much confidence moving forward to play poorly most of the game and win," Brown said. "That is when you get better, believe it or not, not the blowouts. The blowouts, you walk out and feel too good about yourself.
"One like this, we have a win," Brown said, "and we have their attention next week. And that's about as good as it gets."
TEXAS — Joe Bergeron 3 run (Anthony Fera kick), 10:53 1Q
Kansas — Christian Matthews 15 run (Nick Prolago kick), 12:06 2Q
Kansas — Tony Pierson 11 run (Prolago kick), 7:16 2Q
TEXAS — Marquise Goodwin 11 run (Fera kick), 9:41 4Q
Kansas — Prolago 29 FG, 2:28 4Q
TEXAS — D.J. Grant 1 pass from Case McCoy (Fera kick), 0:12 4Q