Mack Brown declares goodbye to A&M while celebrating the win against Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station. (Jay Janner AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Let that indelible mark stand as the annual football game with A&M comes to a close.
As for the final outcome of Thursday's game: Daggers.
The last Thanksgiving Day game between the two schools for the foreseeable future (maybe ever) was not played for a trophy or a post-season reward. No, this game was played as all rivalry games should be played and that is for bragging rights. And not just your garden variety type either. The stakes for Texas were to muzzle irascible Aggie and send them packing to a new conference home with their tails dragging behind them. For A&M, exorcise Texas arrogance and drive a stake in their hearts to last the next 100 years.
How fitting the game turned on a break given that the Horns last two opponents turned theirs into wins. Just maybe the football gods saw fit to give one back to the men in white with the personal foul penalty to extend the final drive of the game. Yes, the helmet-to-helmet rule is controversial and Texas sure has had their fair share go against them. But the drive extending call did not result in the defining play of the winning possession. That play belonged to Case McCoy.
Alan Trubow served it up in his Hookem.com review: "Here's where you come out," Brown said he told him (McCoy) with 1:42 remaining. "Here's where you become the guy. Every quarterback has to have a signature moment, and this is going to be yours. I thought it would be last week. You weren't ready for that. But now you are. You're going to take it down and win the game."
Struggling for most of the game with little or no help from an incapacitated receiving group, McCoy summoned up those it factor genes that he flashed in High School, put the team on his back, and willed the Horns on a 50-yard drive with a fraction of time left on the clock into field goal range. His decision making was timely. His passing was accurate. And he took advantage of play J20 with a 25 yard truck-it scamper right down the Aggies throats in what will forever be one of the more discussed anecdotes in Longhorn lore.
Folks, you can't make this stuff up. It actually happened. Here's a guy who set in the stands at DKR and was visibly upset, possibly crying, when his older brother Colt McCoy was carted off the field due to a dirty hit. A guy who has been vilified since the first day he suited up in burnt orange. They said he didn't have the arm strength. That he's not tough enough. Not very good foot work. Throws wounded ducks. Etc, etc, etc. While maybe some or all are true, the things rarely discussed are his moxie, leadership skills, and determination.
The brass tax of the matter is we all desire a QB that can make more on-schedule plays than off. Heck, we absolutely have to have one to improve and return to championship caliber. We just have a couple of guys still growing and learning how to do that. To grade them as though they are 3 or 4 year guys is frankly not justified.
Offensively, we struggled to maintain drives but unlike in the last few games, we managed to take advantage of other teams mistakes (turnovers, penalties, etc.). And none was more evident than the flip-field interception by Kenny Vaccaro late in the 3rd quarter. Having had his clock cleaned with the ball inside the Aggie 10 yard line after the electric Diggs punt return, Bryan Harsin dialed up a series of plays that were right in the Longhorn wheelhouse. After what could have been a disastrous first down from the 29 yard line with McCoy scrambling for positive yardage, Harsin went jet sweep to Goodwin to loosen up the Aggie defense. Then it was five straight running plays with Cody Johnson in the Cardinal Set (BC's Toadvine calls it "Tractor Set"), David Ash with a couple of hard earned yards, and Malcolm Brown with his best run of the night for 10 solid yards behind a bruising Bevo Beast effort by David Snow who ended up pushing LB Steven Jenkens 15 yards the last 5 of which were in the end zone. Cody finished it off with finding a narrow running lane behind yet another Snow and Mason Walters seal for the touchdown.
For my money, this was the biggest sequence in the game given the atrocious RedZone production of late.
And what was the catalyst for this sequence? Stacy Searels. Recall the bye week after OSU when Duane Akina mentioned during the Austin Longhorn Club luncheon the team was taking on the personality of Coach Searels, that of intimidation and physicality. The defensive line began establishing a dominance and control mid-way through the 3rd period and the offensive line responded. Credit both Coach Davis and Searels in preparing their respective men for battle. There was absolutely no give up with this group who fought for every square inch of the memorialized Kyle Field grasses. Absolutely none.
Wide Receivers - Outside of a play here or there they did not really do the things a receiver group should do to help a quarterback. They all continue to drop passes. Not sure if related to the spin of McCoy's ball but Wyatt has his hands full turning this around. The bobble on our goal line early in the 4th quarter on the quick-screen to Goodwin could have been disastrous. And the missed catch highlight was Mike Davis pulling up on a perfectly thrown sideline pass by McCoy on the last drive. A D-1 receiver has got to be tough in that situation and haul that catch in.
But on this night, it was the defense that stole the show. After a rough start yielding a touchdown on the opening drive, the Horns dug deep, adjusted, and played one of their best road games in a very long time. The Aggies entered the game with the 6th best offense in the nation with over 500 yards per game and left with 7th best at less than 500. Statistically speaking...that is strong.
In speaking about the team, Coach Manny Diaz said after the game, "We found a way tonight to not almost win."
Emmanuel Acho led the team in tackles again, his 9th this year, with 10 solo and 14 total and deserving of national award discussions for his play. Keenan Robinson had arguably his best game as a Longhorn. While the stats were not highlight reel worthy, his pursuit and quickness led to much Aggie offensive misery. The same can be said for Kheeston Randall who stuffed the interior running lanes and forced Aggie to play the edge game. And Blake Gideon flashed toughness finishing with 8 tackles. These seniors showed real leadership in a game demanding of little else.
Not sure who inspired who as the defensive backs turned in their best performance of the year limiting the potent Aggie passing attack to only 224 yards. They had three interceptions, of which one was a Pick 6, and Vaccaro shut down their leading receiver Ryan Swope who finished with 3 catches for 33 yards.
Carrington Byndom shut down Jeff Fuller. Fuller caught for over 100 yards but 2/5 of those came in the go ahead drive late in the 4th quarter against a subbing Adrian Phillips. Byndom was suffering from cramps earlier in the game. It will be interesting to hear if anyone asks about the switch and why. But give AD credit, he almost came up with an INT on the same drive and had the PBU in the end zone on the 2pt conversion play. Those were critical reps from Phillips.
As I have stated previously, are there two better football players on this Longhorn team, pound-for-pound, than Justin Tucker and Quandre Diggs? I'll argue all day the answer is no. Justin Tucker finished 2-2 on the night with the 40 yard game winner and put in man's work punting the ball 11 times. Many have critiqued his punting performance and maybe with merit given the 34.5 yard average. But all of his kicks were traditional and JT is not a traditional punter. Further, 9 of his 11 punts were into the breeze and resulted in fair catches by one of the best punt returners in the conference. For the other two, Dustin Harris returned one for 33 yards and bone-headed a sort-of muff on the other. Did the short fields put pressure on our defense? Absolutely. But our stifling defensive pressure was an equalizer.
Regarding Diggs, he finished with 180 all purpose yards (85 kick return and 95 punt return) including his electrifying 80 yard punt return that not for Kennedy tracking him and catching him at the 9 yard line would surely have gone for a TD. Additionally, he added one of the three interceptions.
All-in-all an above average performance by the Longhorn special teams.
Texas faces the most potent passing attack yet in Baylor. The Bears lead all AQ schools in explosive pass plays with 138 (Houston leads the nation with 172). Of those, 60% are 30+ yards and they lead the nation in pass completions over 50 yards with 26. They just scored the most points ever in school history against Texas Tech and have posted over 600 yards of offense in 6 of 11 games. Wide out Kendall Wright moves the chains on every one of his catches at 14.6 yards per and is the #4 ranked receiver in the nation at 127.8 yards per game. And I haven't even started talking about the breakout running back of the year in Terrance Ganaway. The Bears have done all of this playing the 8th toughest schedule.
Of course Heisman hopeful RGIII makes all of this go and is reported as probable for this week's game after suffering a concussion on a tough hit received against the Raiders.
When Baylor strikes the sting really hurts. Texas absolutely cannot afford to get behind on the scoreboard or it will be a long afternoon.
Coach Brown will spend time congratulating Art Briles and his Baylor Bears on a terrific season. He'll warn about their speed and even discuss how much they are getting better defensively. He will especially devote time to Baylor's home field advantage (the Bears are undefeated at home this season including knocking off heralded OU) and plead for Texas fans to support his club by driving up I-35 and gobbling up all available tickets.
With a chance to move the yardstick one more notch against Baylor and their Heisman candidate, look for the Horns to lay it on the line in Waco.
So give a care and get there if you can. We own Baylor at Floyd Casey Stadium and a solid Longhorn contingent raining Texas! Fight! just might wind up being the deciding intangible in the outcome.
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