After two weeks of terrible football and Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker calling out the toughness of the entire Texas Longhorns team prior to the season, the Longhorns had only two choices on Saturday night -- define themselves as physically and mentally weak or finally show some toughness and pride.
Consider the latter option the choice for Texas as the defense developed a game plan to stop the Kansas State rushing attack and flowed hard to the football with bad intentions and the offense made enough plays for a 31-21 victory, the first against the Wildcats since 2003.
Is Kansas State a good football team? Does this mean that everything is back on track for Texas? Neither question will have an answer for several weeks, but the bottom line is that after being out-coached, out-executed, and out-efforted by the Wildcats for the better part of a decade, the Longhorns were the more physical football team in a critical game at Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium.
They might even have been better coached. Consider that for a second.
And all of that despite losing starting quarterback David Ash to a head injury after the first half and linebacker Jordan Hicks to a left ankle injury early in the third quarter.
Perhaps no play was bigger for the momentum of the second half than a fake punt to fullback Alex De La Torre that picked up 19 yards before three runs by Johnathan Gray found the end zone from 15 yards out. Just call De La Torre the next Rashad Bobino.
In the stead of Ash, Case McCoy was able to convert multiple critical third-and-long situations as the Kansas State defensive backs inexplicably gave him the cushion to throw passes from one hash to the opposite sideline, finishing 5-of-9 for 56 big yards.
Meanwhile, the Texas running game was more effective than it has been all season as an offensive line that featured two back ups consistently moved the line of scrimmage to allow Gray to turn in a breakout performance as he was able to find seams both inside and outside the tackles and finally break some tackles for the first time since his arrival at Texas as part of the 2012 class to finish with a career-high 141 rushing yards on 28 carries.
On defense, there finally appeared to be a plan to defend the read option and Kansas State never exactly forced the issue running the same Power read plays that hurt Texas against Ole Miss and running quarterback Daniel Sams was mostly rendered ineffective because of his inability to throw the football.
Whatever happened, the Wildcat offensive game plan did not appear optimized to take advantage of the well-known Longhorn weaknesses revealed over the last several weeks.
The miscalculation before the game may have been that Kansas State could run enough of their passing offense through Sams, as Waters was effective through the air at times, especially to star receiver Tyler Lockett, who torched Texas cornerback Duke Thomas at times to the tune of 237 yards on 13 catches. Ultimately, though, those yards were essentially harmless in terms of impacting the outcome of the game.
Some long-term concerns remain -- especially for Ash and his concussion situation and the linebackers with the injury to Hicks, but overall, this performance was both unexpected and exactly what Texas needed.
After all the rhetoric from Mack Brown about getting things fixed and winning the Big 12, there was clear and quantitative improvement on the defensive side of the ball and a somewhat patchwork offensive line exerted physical dominance over an opponent in a way that has been extraordinarily rare in recent seasons. Since 2006, in fact.
Whatever else may come, for one night, the football was good again for the University of Texas.
Diminished expectations factor into the equation, but so what? As foolish as it may be, winning the Big 12 is still a possibility.
And the Longhorns broke the yoke of their Purple Overlords.