Through the first half, the Texas Longhorns hung tough against the BYU Cougars, able to do just enough against junior quarterback Taysom Hill to keep the ball out of the end zone, heading into halftime down 6-0 despite two fumbles.
And then everything fell apart in the third quarter as BYU raced to a 41-7 blowout, with Hill engineering four straight touchdown drives during the third quarter with masterful efforts on offense that showed his entire skill set -- running the ball and avoiding defenders, throwing the ball, and running through defenders.
On the critical opening drive of the second half the Horns couldn't hold tough as they did in the first half, as Hill marched the Cougars down the field before escaping pressure on 2nd and 8 from the Texas 30 and finding the end zone with a hurdle over Texas sophomore safety Dylan Haines, who had no choice but to go for the legs of the 232-pound Hill.
Then, on the second drive of the second half, Hill used a little bit of his escapability to somehow escort a ball into the hands of wide receiver Jordan Leslie. A lucky play, but the Cougars were able to convert with a 16-yard run by Adam Hine to ensure it created separation.
For the coup de grace, an 18-yard punt return by BYU on a low, line-drive kick by Texas punter Will Russ set up a short field and the Cougars quickly converted. The final two-yard run by Hill looked a lot like former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, to whom Hill was compared by Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford last week.
On this particular play, the comparison fit, even if Hill was much more athletic on the day and better from the pocket than Tebow ever was for the Gators.
In the third quarter, the Texas offense completely let the defense down, going three and out on the first two possessions in losing three yards on six plays before wide receiver Marcus Johnson fumbled on the kickoff return following the third BYU touchdown.
At that point, the play-by-play commentator for FSI remarked, "And the wheels have totally fallen off for Texas."
They surely had.
Four plays later, the Horns surrendered another touchdown to Hill and the Cougars.
And so in about 10 minutes in the third quarter, BYU completely blew the game wide open, stretching the lead from 6-0 to 34-0.
The loss wasn't the fault of sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, either. He completed his first seven passes and was able to deliver the ball on underneath routes through the entire game, but received no help from an offensive line that couldn't create space in the running game.
Overall, Swoopes went 20-of-301 for 176 yards and one touchdown and an interception.
Early on, play caller Shawn Watson drew praise for a game plan that featured what Swoopes could do well, but after numerous ineffective inside zone and Power calls, the lack of a stretch running game to produce.
It didn't help that senior running back Malcolm Brown failed to show much vision and crashed into the line of scrimmage repeatedly and to little effect. Brown finished with 14 carries for 28 yards, while junior Johnathan Gray only managed 47 yards on his own 14 carries.
As a result, BYU was able to sit in coverage with two deep safeties, but Texas was never able to threaten vertically to the extent that the team could create big plays in the passing game.
Perhaps the Horns didn't have the protection or the wide receivers to produce big plays. Perhaps the inexperience of the offensive line would have killed the entire running game.
Perhaps Watson failed in attempting the same runs over and over again instead of mixing in outside zone. And is pin-and-pull in the playbook? It was the best running play for Texas in 2012, but was mostly abandoned last season and wasn't a part of the playbook on Saturday.
The moments of tempo were heartening, as was the play of Swoopes, who didn't make a mistake until into the fourth quarter when he stared down a slant route and was intercepted by BYU linebacker Michael Alisa, a former running back.
The worst-case scenario has been in effect since the opener against North Texas with the injuries to quarterback David Ash and center Dominic Espinosa, along with the suspensions to starting offensive tackles Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison.
Still, the play of Swoopes hardly fit into that category -- more concerning was the inexperienced offensive line that predictably failed to create displacement. Going back to the earlier comments about the running game, the question for Watson and offensive line coach Joe Wickline is whether Texas can create that displacement happen on inside zone and Power or if the team needs to get more horizontal in the running game.
There weren't the same breakdowns in effort and execution. The Horns knew what they wanted to do defensively and simply weren't able to execute against an extremely talented quarterback and a good offense in the second half.
And the Texas offense is still far from being a unit that can threaten defenses of BYU's quality. With an attack that clearly was going to lack in explosiveness, the group couldn't effort the turnovers that happened, especially with ball protection. Senior wide receiver John Harris had a strong night, but fumbled one. So did Brown. So did Johnson on his kickoff return.
For experienced players, that simply wasn't good enough. Neither were the special teams for another week, an area that was supposed to improve with a dedicated coach.
The defeat last season was truly program-changing, indicative of the major flaws in the Texas program.
The defeat this season? A data point indicating just how far this program has to go before it can compete with the elite teams in the country.