Texas defense bails out its offense
Texas coach Mack Brown had warned beforehand that nothing would go smoothly
Texas players and coaches will cringe when they watch the film from Saturday
Fortunately for the Longhorns, their defense held the Red Raiders to just 144 yards
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LUBBOCK, Texas -- Before he walked up the ramp that led to the visitor's locker room following Saturday night's 24-14 win against Texas Tech, Texas safety Blake Gideon bent down and planted a kiss on the turf at Jones AT&T Stadium. As goodbye smooches go, few could be more satisfying.
"It was going to be the last time I play here," Gideon said. "It's probably going to be the last time I take a trip to Lubbock. So this is my farewell. I left everything I had. All of me, for my team, I left out on the field."
Two years ago, the Texas offense brought the top-ranked Longhorns back against feisty Texas Tech. Had the defense held, Texas probably would have played for the 2008 BCS title. Texas Tech's run seemed over as Gideon tracked a ball that had bounced off Red Raiders receiver Edward Britton. But the ball slithered through Gideon's hands and onto the ground. On the next play, Graham Harrell found Michael Crabtree. Texas cornerback Curtis Brown had Crabtree in his grip, but Crabtree shook loose for the touchdown that ruined the Longhorns' season.
Saturday, the Texas defense needed to bail out the Texas offense. Once again, Gideon tracked a tipped ball -- this time in the first quarter. This time, he caught it. "That's funny how things like that work out," Gideon said. In the third quarter, Brown received his own shot at redemption. With the score tied at 14, Texas Tech had driven to the Texas 16-yard line. Quarterback Taylor Potts fired. Brown grabbed the ball and sprinted the other way. If not for an Usain Bolt impression from Texas Tech back Baron Batch to run down Brown, the senior would have wound up in the same end zone Crabtree escaped to in 2008.
"A monkey jumped on my back at the end," Brown said. "But it's all good."
Actually, the monkey jumped off.
Though Gideon and Curtis Brown didn't want to admit it publicly, Texas coach Mack Brown said the players ached to avenge that loss. After all, it's the only regular-season loss most of the players on the Texas roster have suffered. Said Mack Brown: "Curtis stood up in there and said, 'I felt so bad in '08. I felt as good tonight as I felt bad then.'... Blake didn't say anything, but I'm sure he felt the same way."
The Texas coaching staff saw plenty to criticize -- especially on offense -- but after the nightmare two years ago, simply leaving the High Plains with a win was enough. Brown had warned his team beforehand that nothing would go smoothly once the Longhorns landed in the land of Guns Up.
"Weird things happen in Lubbock," the coach told his team. Indeed they do, for better and for worse.
A gift score happened. Texas Tech's first snap sailed past Potts, and Longhorns defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat jumped on the ball at the 7-yard line to set up the first Texas touchdown.
Three non-standard interceptions happened. Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert had two passes tipped into the hands of Texas Tech defenders, and Texas receiver Malcolm Williams let a ball slip through his hands and into the hands of Red Raiders cornerback Jarvis Phillips, who had returned an earlier pick for a touchdown.
A 22-play drive -- featuring a fake punt from the Longhorns' own 29 -- happened. Texas averaged a paltry 2.2 yards a carry for the night, but the Horns only needed a yard when Mack Brown called for the fake. Before the play, Brown gave upback Ryan Roberson some words of encouragement as he embarked on his first and only carry of the night. "I told Ryan if he messed it up, head west. I wasn't going to see him again," Brown said. "I probably would have had to go with him."
The fake, which will forever be remembered as gutsy instead of stupid, allowed the Longhorns to chew up the end of the third quarter and more than a third of the fourth. OK, nothing Texas did on offense was particularly effective, but two 15-yard penalties -- including an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Texas Tech cornerback Will Ford for trash-talking Texas tight end Greg Smith after the Red Raiders had just forced a fourth down -- kept the slog alive. "We just killed ourselves," Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said of the penalties. The drive mercifully ended when Gilbert found Barrett Matthews for a 1-yard score 9:26 remaining.
Texas players and coaches will cringe when they watch the film of Saturday's win. Receivers dropped passes. The line failed to open holes. Gilbert made the kind of poor choices sophomores tend to make in their third game as a starter.
Fortunately for the Longhorns, the offense didn't need to do much. The defense held the Red Raiders to just 144 yards, the first time since 1990 that Texas Tech had been held below 150 yards. Texas Tech finished with minus-14 rushing yards and just 11 first downs.
"All we can really focus on is playing Texas defense," Gideon said. "I've said this a million times. Regardless of what happens with out our offense or special teams or whatever, when go out there to play defense, we go out there to play ball."
Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp rotated 10 different linemen to pressure Potts, but he rarely used any other rushers. For most of the second half, Texas rushed four. That usually was enough to force Potts to throw into heavy coverage. After Curtis Brown's interception early in the third quarter scuttled the Red Raiders' last chance to score, the Red Raiders didn't cross the Texas 47-yard line for the rest of the night.
It wasn't pretty, but it was a win. Texas will face UCLA next week before the annual meeting with Oklahoma in Dallas that typically charts the course of any Longhorns' season. To compete for the national title, Texas will need a serious offensive upgrade. Mack Brown knows that. He knows ESPN cameras exposed more flaws Saturday.
But, as he sat sweating Saturday night in the same interview room that was at the center of the Mike Leach-Adam James scandal last December, Brown didn't care about any of that. He had brought his team to a place where weird things tend to happen. Weird things had happened. Texas won anyway.
Brown and the Longhorns were just happy to kiss Lubbock goodbye for two more years.
"We'll worry about all that tomorrow," Brown said. "I couldn't care less about any of that tonight."