"It was really emotional coming off the field after all the criticism I've received at this stadium," said senior QB Chris Simms (15-of-28 for 269 yards, two touchdowns). "The ball never bounced our way in this stadium. We were determined this week to make it bounce our way . I think our fear of going off this field a loser drove us to be a winner."
The designated drivers were clearly SE Roy Williams (Offensive MVP) and senior DE Cory Redding (Defensive MVP). The two literally turned the tide in what had been a dominant LSU first quarter, beginning with Redding forcing a Marcus Randall fumble that LB Lee Jackson returned 54 yards for the score. Williams was literally a one-man freak show with his 142 yards on four catches and two scores (the 51-yard reception in the second quarter and 39-yard rushing TD on a reverse in the third-quarter) in helping Texas erase a 10-point deficit just before halftime.
For the first time in school history, Texas has posted consecutive 11-win seasons. It will also finish in the Top 10 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1969-70.
"There aren't many things you can do that hasn't already been done at The University of Texas," head coach Mack Brown said.
Want to hear something damned exciting? This is what Williams told after reporters kept asking why he wants to return for his senior year:
"I don't feel like I'm the best," Williams said. "Seriously, I don't think I have done what I am capable of. I still think I‘ve got more things to prove. I think I can still become better and run better routes and read coverages better before I get to the next level."
Did you hear that? The Legend knows he can be better. While he has had more impressive stats in a handful of other outings, Williams turned in his most spirited performance of his career, laying out his body for balls, lunging for the goal line and generally cruising at warp speed.
"That guy is ridiculous over there," Simms said of Williams in the post-game press conference.
Even before his MVP performance, Williams was obviously on the short list of next season's leading Heisman Trophy contenders. Meanwhile, you can't help but ponder the difference a healthy Williams would have made in this same stadium last October.
"I said to our players coming in that he was the best receiver we've played against all year," LSU head coach Nick Saban said. "The guy is an outstanding player but he also has toughness and competes the whole game. He might be the best football player we have seen all year."
Redding registered eight tackles (five solo), four TFLs (23 yards), including one sack, and, of course, that one critical forced fumble as the game teetered on the verge of an upset.
"This is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life," Redding said. "This is the real deal, wining the defensive MVP. I've never won anything quite like this before. I feel overwhelmed. I couldn't believe when they announced that I was the winner."
Williams echoed Redding's sentiments.
"I don't think I'm the MVP," the junior wideout said. "I think the whole offensive unit should be MVP."
Listening to Williams all season, it's hard to tell if he really is as humble as he appears or if he is simply self-effacing in certain contexts. Either way, Texas hasn't had a playmaker like this since the other Williams (Ricky) took his human highlight reel to the NFL.
"We started slow," Roy added, "but then we put it all together in the end."
Indeed. For a team whose mantra was "Take back Dallas", Texas almost took it up the wazzo in the opening quarter.
The Tigers struck quickly with a 10 play, 71-yard drive resulting in John Corbello's 26-yard FG. WR Michael Clayton (the 6-4 sophomore also made his first start at free safety to compensate for Williams) did most of the damage in the early going. The Baton Rouge product grabbed three passes for 43 yards while TB Domanick Davis added 26 yards in reaching the Texas 9.
After Texas responded with a three-and-out, LSU reached the Texas 31 on a drive set up by Randall's 27-yard completion to Davis. But then came Redding's forced fumble and Jackson's return for touchdown (he would add another fumble recovery in the second half) that Mack Brown said was the "emotional" turning point in the game.
The Tigers, however, responded with a 10-play, 87-yard scoring drive capped by RB LaBrandon Toefield's 20-yard TD reception. LSU led 10-7 after one quarter but the stats were ghastly. LSU held the ball for 13:08 (30 plays for 187 yards) during the first 15 minutes while Texas had zero net yards on three attempts.
"I don't think I've ever seen as lopsided a first quarter," Brown said. "We had the ball three plays and they were running up and down the field."
No Tiger ran up and down the field like Randall. On LSU's next possession, the backup signalcaller raced 76 yards on a quarterback draw before CB Nathan Vasher bumped him out of bounds at the Texas 16. It was the longest play from scrimmage for LSU this season and the longest by a Tiger quarterback in the modern era. Randall has taken much of the heat for LSU's 2-3 finish after replacing injured starter Matt Muack at mid-season. In this one, Randall lead all rushers with 109 yards on 11 carries while setting a new Cotton Bowl record for pass attempts (45), completing 19 for 193 yards, one TD and one INT.
Randall's long run set up Davis' 10-yard dash up the middle and Texas trailed, 17-7, just three minutes into the second quarter. That's when Williams went to work. After Simms connected with freshman TE David Thomas on a 23-yard play-action pass, The Legend gathered in a post pass and turned on the jet fuel against CB Corey Webster, taking it 51 yards to the house. LSU 17, Texas 14.
After Corbello's 36-yard FG attempt sailed wide right, Simms found Williams on a crossing pattern. The wideout criss-crossed toward the south end zone before lunging for the pylon at the LSU five. RB Cedric Benson (51 yards on 12 attempts) carried it in two plays later.
At 21-17, Texas had a lead that it would never relinquish. Texas' two scoring drives took all of 1:50 off the game clock and the Horns outgained the Tigers 240-123 in the second quarter.
"(Williams) is the best player I have played against this year," said All-SEC MLB Bradie James., who led the Tigers with six tackles. "My hats off to him. We joked around when I ran him down on the sidelines because you know he has hazel eyes and he's kind of scary when you look at him. He said, ‘Yeah, I'm back, baby'."
The Texas D wasn't fooled when James was stopped at the Tiger 42 on a fake punt with 12:52 remaining in the third quarter. It was a play that never should have been snapped, Saban said.
"We weren't supposed to run it against that particular look," Saban said. "It was a mental error and we got stopped. They were stemming two guys which was not the look we wanted. We should not have run it; we should have punted the ball. With the kind of competitor Bradie is, I'm sure he thought he could have run it 40 yards."
The Longhorn offense couldn't capitalize, though, coming away with no points to show for the excellent field position after Mangum's 35-yard FG attempt sailed wide left.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Vasher returned a 47-yard Donnie Jones punt 14 yards to the LSU 47 at the 9:46 mark in the third. Again, Texas came up empty when a Simms pass was batted down (for old times sake) as WR B.J. Johnson was streaking all-by-his-lonesome down the middle.
But Jackson's second fumble recovery of the afternoon (freshman DT Rodrique Wright forced the Davis miscue) led to Benson's longest run of the day (17 yards on a pitch back) followed by Williams' scintillating 39-yard TD run on an end around. It was Texas' second three-play drive of the contest, as the Horns built their lead, 28-17, with 54 seconds remaining in the third.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Simms and company put together the longest sustained drive of the afternoon: a two-minute affair that covered 47 yards in seven plays. A preview of things to come, Thomas made a nifty grab over the middle while freshman RB Selvin Young added 22 yards on three carries (he was Texas' leading rusher with 57 yards on 11 totes). Simms finished the scoring when he completed an eight-yard sideline pass to FB Ivan Williams for the score.
LSU would add a 39-yard Corbello FG before recovering the onside kick with 7:41 remaining in what had to have been the longest fourth quarter in Cotton Bowl history. An offsides penalty negated what would have been LB Derrick Johnson's second interception of the half ("I was kidding Cory for being offsides after the game," the sophomore LB said). But the drive ended when Randall's fourth-down pass glanced off WR Jerel Myers hands.
"It seems like my whole career has come full circle," Redding said. "We lost to Arkansas here in my freshman year and now here we are back in my senior year. This is the perfect way for me to go with this big win."
Well, almost perfect.
Prior to the game, four members of Texas' highly touted senior class (the top ranked recruiting class of 1999) actually apologized to Brown for not winning a championship during their career. The fifth-year Texas coach and his wife, Sally, met privately Tuesday night with the Class of 2003, which became the winningest four-year group of grads in school history with a 40-12 record.
"You can go back and say they didn't win a championship," Brown said. "Other than that, they've done everything else."
Including taking back Dallas. For now. And as for Roy Williams, The Legend continues.
Texas won back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1969-70. The win snapped LSU's string of five consecutive bowl victories that began when the Bayou Bengals defeated Nick Saban's Michigan State team in the 1995 Independence Bowl.
Texas made its 42nd bowl appearance (No. 3 in the NCAA, trailing only Alabama's 51 and Tennessee's 43). It was also Texas' 22nd Cotton Bowl, the most appearances by one team in the Classic's 67-year history.
Former Longhorn FB Steve ("Woo Woo") Worster was among seven Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame selections, it was announced Tuesday. The Bridge City product was the cornerstone of Texas Wishbone attack that pummeled 30 straight opponents from 1968-1970 and claimed two national championships for The University. Also slated for April induction are Joe Theisman, Kyle Rote, Charles McClendon, Kent Lawrence, Eagle Day and Robert B. Cullum.