Mack Brown, Texas rekindle good times in rout of Oklahoma
DALLAS -- Before a lot of divorces, the unhappy couple has one sweet day when circumstances conspire to stop the fighting, bring back the smiles and make both parties remember what made the relationship great. For those blissful hours, it feels like the good old days before the union began to rot. Occasionally, those days help rekindle the romance. Usually, they fail to stop the inevitable.
Saturday felt like such a day for Mack Brown and Texas. Beneath a shining sun, surrounded by every deep-fried perversion known to man at the Texas State Fair, the Longhorns whipped Oklahoma in every phase. The offensive line opened holes for tailbacks Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, and combined, they posted numbers reminiscent of a Ricky Williams performance. Quarterback Case McCoy looked like older brother Colt as he helped the Longhorns convert six of their first seven third downs and 13 of 20 for the day. Chris Whaley looked like the latest running back-to-defensive line success story as he rumbled 31 yards and dragged Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell into the end zone on a first-quarter pick-six. Daje Johnson resembled Aaron Ross on an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown. It added up to a 36-20 win, and it brought back memories of all those wonderful days Brown gave the Longhorns as he brought them from mediocre to a mainstay among college football's elite.
Did the win save Brown's job? Probably not. He'll need quite a few more days like Saturday to convince the people in power in Austin that the blame for Longhorns' recent slide lay in acute issues and not chronic ones. But the victory almost assuredly spared Brown the indignity of an in-season firing. He has done far too much for Texas to deserve such an abrupt dismissal, but had the Sooners thrashed the Longhorns for the third consecutive season, Brown might have joined Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds on the lame duck list.
Instead, Brown got a Gatorade bath and another spin with the Golden Hat. He got a chance to stick it to all of us who predicted that his team lacked the fight to stay with the Sooners. "The one thing that the outside can't predict is the will and the determination of young people," Brown said. "When they all decide something is really important to them -- and this was really important to them today -- and they all decide to do whatever they can to make this team win, this is a really good football team. It's hard to get everybody to do that every week."
Brown didn't get the Longhorns to do that against BYU on Sept. 7. He didn't get them to do it against Ole Miss on Sept. 14. But for the gift of a blown call near the end of the game, he didn't get them to do that against Iowa State on Oct. 3. He and his staff absolutely convinced the Longhorns to do it on Saturday. They came blazing out of the tunnel and never stopped pounding the Sooners.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma looked listless. Bob Stoops and his staff outcoached Brown and company the past three seasons, but they couldn't find answers in this one. The play-calling matchup was particularly one-sided. Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite nearly always had the Longhorns in the correct play for the correct situation. Applewhite knew Oklahoma's three-man front lent itself to inside runs, and he kept pounding the ball with Gray and Brown -- who combined for 52 carries -- until the Sooners quit. "Ricky's not here anymore," Applewhite said. "We need two guys to handle that load."
On the other sideline, Oklahoma's offensive coordinator tandem of Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell must have missed the Texas losses to BYU and Ole Miss in which running quarterbacks gouged the Longhorns. With Bell -- who was used almost exclusively as a runner early in his career -- they called zero designed runs in the first half. Apparently, they didn't consider Bell the equal of the Cougars' Taysom Hill or the Rebels' Bo Wallace. "There are just things we don't feel so comfortable with," Stoops said when asked about the lack of quarterback runs.
The Longhorns didn't look entirely comfortable in the fourth quarter when Oklahoma drove deep into Texas territory. As the defense struggled momentarily with six minutes and 16 seconds remaining, offensive players appeared nervous on the bench. Texas offensive line coach Stacy Searels noticed this and walked down the line of players, bellowing. "Hey, you're going to win this game," Searels said. "All right? Believe you're going to win this game." The Oklahoma drive stalled, and the Texas offense milked the rest of the clock.
It's easy to understand why the Longhorns might not believe. Other than the fifth-year seniors, none had borne witness to a win against Oklahoma as a Texas player. An entire class would have gone winless against the Sooners if this group hadn't taken control on Saturday. "You shouldn't leave this school without beating Oklahoma," Brown said. "You need to do that. The Golden Hat is a symbol. It's something that's really important."
Brown was also more than happy to remind critics who point to his record against Oklahoma of another fact. "I guess we've won five out of the last nine now -- for you that are counting," Brown said. If the outside noise has bothered Brown and his staff, it didn't show on Saturday. Dodds' resignation announcement on Oct. 1 seemed to portend the end for Brown at Texas, but Brown and his fellow coaches aren't giving up without a fight. "I know it's hard to believe," Applewhite said, "but as a coaching staff we really don't pay a whole hell of a lot of attention to what y'all say."
Brown's decision to bring in Greg Robinson to patch up the bleeding defense has looked wise so far. On Saturday, the Longhorns held Oklahoma to only 263 yards. "I don't really pay much attention to it, but I hear from other people around the building that it didn't sound like many people thought we had a chance," Robinson said. "Quite frankly, we all knew we had a chance. It was just a matter of us putting it together." Robinson is glad that he could come to Brown's aid. "I just wanted to come help him out, because he's that kind of guy," Robinson said. "I think our players feel the same way. I know our coaches feel the same way. He's a good guy. He's a good person. He's had tough situations that he's been having to deal with here for a while. I'm just happy for him. I really am."
Will that happiness last? It's difficult to tell. Not every day will come together as neatly as Saturday. Those random blissful days sometimes provide only a moment's peace before the storm rages again. But don't dwell on that now, Longhorns. Eat a deep-fried Twinkie, savor this win and don't worry about tomorrow until tomorrow. "It was one of those perfect storm kind of days," Applewhite said. "You can't expect this to always happen. We hope it does."