Nate Jones grabbed 8 catches for 91 yards and a TD
Texas' 34-13 comeback Saturday against No. 19 TCU was one of those head-knocking, helmet-flying, throwback tilts reminiscent of the old Southwest Conference. And it was during one of the most physical bouts at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in recent memory that the Longhorns may have found their hearts and souls.
"We found something deep down inside of us tonight" said QB Colt McCoy.
The halftime soul-searching stemmed from TCU's 10-0 lead, the result of a couple of late McCoy INTs. But it also had a little something to do with Texas' sluggish home-opening win against Arkansas State. Facing a double-digit deficit against one of college football's premiere defenses, the 2007 campaign was dangerously close to becoming a season on the brink.
The halftime resolve was simple and direct: "We play for Texas," McCoy continued. "This is unacceptable."
The result: Texas rolled to 27 unanswered points. But credit the defense for setting the tone early, gradually flip-flopping the field position in Texas' favor and keeping the Frogs out of the end zone. TCU ran just six offensive plays during the pivotal third quarter. Following intermission, the Frogs did not convert a third down until 9:32 remained in the final frame.
Yet, Texas' goal-line stand on TCU's final drive of the first half was the turning point in this one. That's when the Frogs threatened to build on a 7-0 lead following Torrey Stewart's 45-yard INT return for touchdown. McCoy was picked-off on consecutive series, and the Frogs were poised to get some separation when QB Andy Dalton hooked up with WR Walter Bryant on a 24-yard crossing pattern. The series of unfortunate events spotted the Frogs with 1st-and-goal at the Texas four.
"The two turnovers flipped the momentum completely," head coach Mack Brown said. "We weren't in great shape anyway."
Three runs netted three yards as the defense forced a 19-yard FG with 17 ticks remaining until intermission.
"That was big," DT Frank Okam said. "Any time you can hold a team on the one-yard line without scoring a touchdown, that says a lot about the character of our team."
It was also a night when Texas' oft-criticized linebackers enjoyed their most solid outing in recent memory. (Many assumed WLB Scott Derry would lose his starting spot to Roddrick Muckelroy, but Derry paced his unit with six stops and put the finishing touches on this one with a leaping fourth-quarter INT.)
Safeties Erick Jackson and Marcus Griffin led the Texas defense with seven stops apiece. The cornerbacks looked dazed and confused last week against Arkansas State, but Ryan Palmer and Deon Beasley set the tone early Saturday with some vicious hits. Last week, it was as if the CBs were playing centerfield. This week, they operated closer to the LOS against the Frogs. It paid dividends on TCU's second possession of the second half. Threatening to answer Texas' third-quarter TD, the Frogs went with an empty backfield on 3rd-and-2 at the 49. Palmer held WR Ryan Christian to no gain on the quick toss to the right flat, forcing a TCU punt that resulted in Texas' tying FG.
The offensive line showed signs of jelling, even after RT Adam Ulatoski left the game with an inured right elbow. Chris Hall filled-in and played every spot Saturday except LT. Meanwhile, LT Tony Hills shook-off a subpar home-opener by holding his own against future First Round NFL Draft Pick DE Tommy Blake. The senior DE was obviously winded after missing the home-opener and most of August Camp with an undisclosed medical condition.
Texas' running game is still suspect, but RB Jamaal Charles was the first ball carrier to gain 100+ yards against TCU in 22 games. The junior was bottled up until late in the third quarter then showed the kind of explosiveness missing since the first half of his freshman year. He finished the game with 134 yards on 22 totes (6.1 ypc); his 39-yard TD run with 2:42 remaining was his longest run since logging a 46-yarder against Rice one year ago.
Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said earlier this week that there would be games this season when Texas would have to throw 40 times to win. This was one of them. Well, almost. McCoy was 25-of-38 for 239 yards and one TD. WR Nate Jones' star continues to rise. For the second straight game, Jones was the leading receiver with eight grabs for 91 yards, including a very pivotal 33-yard TD reception to finally get Texas on the scoreboard early in the third quarter.
TCU's 4-2-5 base defense and Two Deep zone put the clamps on the deep ball. Texas hit its stride offensively when it feasted on a steady diet of quick slants and hitches. The Frogs mixed man and zone defense and literally blitzed every other snap.
"We had to get the ball out of Colt's hands fast," Brown said, "especially after Adam got hurt."
Overall, the Horns showed little evidence of the disjointed group that stunk up the joint against Arkansas State in the home-opener.
"Very honestly, we did not work very hard on Arkansas State the week before the game," Brown admitted. "We worked on other games that we thought were going to be key to us. That was me more than anything else."
Brown's confessions included the fact that coaches are still uncertain of this team's offensive identity. Texas based some out of the I-formation, but also went with five-wides. It will likely remain in a three-wide, one back, shotgun set but the so-called "featured play" remains an elusive commodity.
"We're happy to be 2-0 while we continue to look for it (identity)," Brown said.
It appeared that Texas would draw first blood Saturday. DE Lamarr Houston 23-yard sack of Dalton forced a fumble that WLB Roddrick Muckelroy recovered at the TCU 48. Texas drove to the TCU 13, but back-to-back offensive pass interferences (SE Limas Sweed, TE Jermichael Finley) killed the drive. Ryan Bailey's 42-yard FG attempt hit the left upright.
Texas operated from its own four-yard line following Derek Wash's 43-yard punt. Charles stepped-off a quick five out of the 'I' before McCoy hooked up with Finley. The TE moved the chains again with a 17-yard reception, despite the fact Finley was held on the play. This one had the makings of Texas' best sustained drive of the contest. But on 3rd-and-five from the 46, and points coming at an absolute premium, TCU got on the board with CB Torrey Stewart's 45-yard INT return for TD. It was the first pick-six of McCoy's career and the Frogs led 7-0 with 3:33 left until halftime.
"The interception was a great (defensive) play," McCoy said. "That's exactly where I was supposed to go with the ball. They blitzed from the weak side. Instead of blitzing all the way, the guy jumped up and grabbed my ball."
Finley's second offensive pass interference negated a reception over the middle and set up a 2nd-and-19 from the 10. Then, on 2nd-and-10 from the 30, safety David Roach's 19-yard return of a tip drill INT put the Frogs in prime real estate at the Texas 28. Dalton found Walter Bryant for 24 yards on the crossing pattern. The defense stiffened, forcing a a 19-yard FG. The Horns trailed 10-0 at intermission despite holding TCU to 111 total yards.
"Our defense did a great job of hanging in there while we (offense) were hunting and pecking," Davis said. "We felt like if we found a rhythm that we would be okay."
The offense would find that rhythm on its opening possession of the second half, but credit Quan Cosby for jumpstarting the drive. He followed his 31-yard KO return to the 35 with an 18-yard reception on 2nd-and-nine. Chris Ogbonnaya opened at RB on this series, rushing over right guard for four yards before collecting a seven-yard toss from McCoy. The Horns called for time (and would use all three time-outs before the end of the quarter) when faced with 3rd-and-11 at the TCU 33.
McCoy avoided a heavy blitz by scrambling to his right. Nate Jones made great adjustment on the flag route and Texas was finally on the board, 10-7, following the 60-yard, seven-play drive. It came at a price as RT Adam Ulatoski left the game with his right elbow injury.
Texas caught a break when an official review reversed a call that said McCoy had fumbled at the TCU 11 (replays showed his left knee was down). The reversal of fortune made it fourth-and-six for the Horns, the tenth play of a drive that covered 81 yards. Bailey's 28-yard FG knotted the affair at 10-10 with 42 ticks left in the quarter.
The wheels started to come off for the visitors. RS-freshman James Henry recovered when TCU fumbled Hunter Lawrence's short KO at the 26. Texas lost three on a reverse just as the quarter expired. Facing 3rd-and-8 from the TCU 24, McCoy sidestepped a heavy outside blitz by scrambling 23 yards up the middle. Now, Texas faced one of those daunting 1st-and-goal series from the one. RS-freshman Vondrell McGee first career carry met for no gain. Then, with Derek Lokey at FB, McGee's second career carry hit paydirt, giving Texas its first lead of the night, 17-10, 51 seconds into the fourth quarter.
And Texas never looked back. The comeback did more than stave off an upset, some Horns said; it also may have jumpstarted a season. There was swagger on the Longhorn sideline that had not been there since the Oklahoma State game last November. The team we saw in the second half, some said, is the team we are most likely to see the remainder of the season.
"It was definitely a starting point for future games," Cosby said. "Hopefully, we can keep rolling like we did in the second half and maybe start a little earlier."
The win snapped TCU's nine-game winning streak, the fourth-longest in college football. The Horned Frogs had also won five straight over Big 12 Conference opponents. Texas' win was also a prop for the Big 12. The last time a league team beat a nationally-ranked, non-conference foe was when Texas upended USC in the BCS National Championship Game.