The last three plays of Texas’ winning touchdown drive showed clearly why Texas defeated the top-ranked Sooners 45-35 Saturday in a sun-splashed Cotton Bowl.
Play one was merely a handoff to Chris Ogbonnaya, who entered the season best known as a blocker with little speed. But crushing blocks sprung Ogbonnaya into the secondary and down the sideline; the senior whose story includes family turmoil and death was knocked out of bounds at the Oklahoma two-yard-line.
Play two was just as unexpected.
On first and goal from the two, Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller lined up at fullback, then flared into the right flat. The wide one was wide open, and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy tossed him the ball. How badly must Miller -- originally a Sooner-commit -- have wanted to catch this ball for a touchdown?
He dropped it. Just flat dropped it. Jackie Smith-dropped it. For the next 30 seconds, surely Miller must’ve thought about the chance that his name would be remembered along with Craig Curry, a player who, unfairly, might forever be remembered as the player who “lost” a huge game in the Cotton Bowl. Perhaps even a national championship.
But then came play three. Miller, again lined up at fullback, transferred his rage -- and perhaps a bit of fear -- into a punishing block as thundering Cody Johnson carried the ball forward literally south to north into the end zone. After throwing the block, Miller fell into the end zone, then looked anxiously for Johnson, his head swiveling, heart undoubtedly full of hope. And there was Johnson, celebrating yet another short-yardage score. Miller simply jogged to the sideline.
These three plays were significant for the Texas players mentioned, but also because they graphically showed why Texas managed to beat the top-ranked Sooners. Ogbonnaya’s run was pure strength of will. Of all the skill positions on the field, he was clearly the slowest, and the Sooners knew he would be running the ball. Despite those odds, he broke it for 62 yards, and that mindset was how Texas managed to twice overcome double-digit leads to ultimately gain victory.
Play two represented the adversity that always accompanies each team in this game. These are always dropped balls, missed assignments, fumbles, coaching snafus. Miller’s drop could’ve certainly been a “boy we blew that” opportunity for the Longhorns. Here was a team leader, a senior with a national championship ring in his jewelry box, and there was the ball bouncing on the Cotton Bowl grass. This could’ve been Bill Buckner-bad. And when bad things happen -- and they will happen -- the winner of this game is often the team that can positively answer this question: How will you respond?
Texas responded with play number three. Historically, the losing teams in this one often don’t respond well to adversity, to best-laid plans gone wrong. This time, Texas responded simply, confidently and perhaps most importantly, physically. McCoy handed the ball to Johnson, who pounded into the end zone behind Miller, the monkey on his back properly disposed.
Adversity came many times Saturday, and in many forms. Five times the Longhorns trailed, twice by double-digits. There were questionable calls by the officials and the Oklahoma no-huddle offense certainly had Texas’ head spinning at times. And this classic can certainly not be broken down into just three plays.
Yet those three plays -- by three of the more unheralded players on the team -- proved to be the difference against the Sooners. The Longhorns won Saturday with strength of will and fearlessness.
Now, with Missouri looming, the question becomes: Can they do it again?