As Texas coach Mack Brown said on the Monday before the game, both sides "have storied programs with coaches who have won all the games." Indeed, the late Woody Hayes was honored at halftime. Hoping for at least a stalemate in the Legendary Coach Mojo Dept., the Horns brought Darrell Royal, 81, with them from Austin. "Coach, you know we won't get back till four in the morning," Brown had warned Royal.
"I don't care," Royal replied. "I'm going." While Texas entered the game as the higher-ranked team, Ohio State was a one-point favorite. Such was the home field advantage enjoyed by a team that had won 36 nonconference home games in a row and six consecutive night games. What's more, the Longhorns were losers of eight straight games against top 10 teams and had built a reputation for being a talented squad that tended to wilt under the brightest lights.
Time to bury that rep. This Texas team is nothing like the one that collapsed in the second half of a 65-13 loss to Oklahoma in 2003. These Longhorns are far tougher, far more resilient. They've learned, as Brown says, "that you can't let one bad play lead to a bunch" of them, which is what happened in that ugly loss to the Sooners. "We let a bad play become a bad series, then a bad game," Brown says. "You can't do that."
And in the Horseshoe his players didn't.
Before Young could lead his team to a come-from-behind win, he first had to put it in a hole. After the Hawk interception there was a fumble by tailback Selvin Young and then another Young pickoff. Even though the Buckeyes started those three possessions at the Texas 18, 30 and 37, they came away with only three field goals and a 19-13 lead early in the third quarter.
Suffocating defense hadn't been a hallmark of Brown's recent teams at Texas. Then he hired former NFL defensive coordinator Greg Robinson after the '03 season. Robinson made the Longhorns better right away, only to take the Syracuse head coaching job after last season. Brown replaced him with Gene Chizik, whose Auburn unit led the nation in scoring defense in '04. Chizik is a disciple of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who is known for his attacking, zone-blitz schemes, and he immediately ratcheted up the intensity of the Texas defense.
All week Chizik and co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina told their charges that the Buckeyes were bound to break big plays and not to worry when they did. Taking that advice to heart was Cedric Griffin, the cornerback toasted in the second quarter on Smith's 36-yard touchdown strike to wideout Santonio Holmes that evened the score at 10. In the third quarter Griffin got even. Zwick threw a bullet that tight end Ryan Hamby bobbled in the end zone; Hamby was about to gather the ball in when Griffin lit him up like a Roman candle. The Buckeyes settled for Josh Huston's fifth field goal and a 22-16 lead.
Midway through the fourth quarter Zwick had Ohio State on the move again, but Vince Young was working the sideline. "We've been through this," he reminded the offense. "Defense is going to get us the ball, and we'll take it play by play." Sure enough, the defense held, Huston was plenty long but a shade right on a 50-yard attempt, and Young took Texas on the decisive drive.
Trailing late in the game is not a novel sensation for these Longhorns, who engineered outrageous comeback wins last season over Kansas, Oklahoma State and, in the Rose Bowl, Michigan. While an ornery defense has made this team tougher, Young has done more than any other player to give it a backbone.
The turning point came after Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis met with Young at midseason; following a 4-0 start Young had a bad game in another ugly loss to Oklahoma, completing 8 of 23 attempts. He looked worse in a win over Missouri, going 3 of 9 with a two interceptions before leaving with a bruised sternum. Brown and Davis had tried to correct his unorthodox throwing motion and turn Young into a sprint-out, bootleg quarterback--"things," Brown says now, "that probably weren't best for him." At that meeting Young made a request. "Basically," he recalls, "I asked [ Brown] to have more trust in me." A free spirit and music lover, Young sought more latitude to joke and clown around, to play loud music in the locker room. On the field he would go back to delivering the ball the way he always had, slinging it halfway between overhand and sidearm.