Rose Bowl Redemption for the Horns

McCoy takes the reins

Case McCoy (6)
Case McCoy (6)
Photo courtesy of UT

Only annual BCS bowl contenders like Texas can claim a relationship with a particular stadium – and not with the team that calls it home. In the 21st century, the Longhorns bowl history at the Rose Bowl – the site of Saturday’s 49-20 redemptive win over UCLA – has produced some of college football’s best theatre.

Like soda and Pop Rocks, Texas football and the sport’s venerable, picturesque Southern California mecca are most explosive when joined together. The program’s consecutive nerve-wracking, gut-check triumphs over Michigan in the ’05 Rose Bowl and USC in the 2006 National Championship game transpired and ended with a fairy tale flourish for the charmed Longhorns.

Texas’ re-emergence in Pasadena on Saturday marked their first return visit since they got royally plucked in the 2010 National Championship game against Alabama. Colt McCoy sustained an injured shoulder on the team’s first drive and the rest makes Bevo a sad panda.

Interestingly, the Garrett Gilbert project began in relief of the fallen Colt "Wally" McCoy that night, and it likely came to a merciful close upon sophomore Case "The Beave" McCoy’s first start at quarterback for Texas on Saturday in Pasadena. The recent, one-sided history between the two schools supplemented UT’s bottomless bovine hunger to remain undefeated in 2011: the Bruins brandished a triumph-trilogy (Hollywood-speak for "three game winning streak") over the Longhorns that included 2010’s The Godfather III-like 12-34 installment in Austin. UCLA’s punishing 264 rushing yards on DKR turf launched Texas (then 3-0) into a 2-7 tailspin.

With Gilbert’s ticker holding on for dear life at 14:59, Longhorn fans and pundits speculated whether McCoy’s new leadership could engineer what Gilbert couldn’t in the early going: a fast start. With home-field advantage and all, Texas only scratched out field goals in the first quarters of the Rice and BYU contests. UT was outscored 19-16 in the first halves of those games but atoned vengefully in the second halves 35-6.

The challenge of a youthful and inexperienced squad making its first road trip of the young season meant that a productive first half was critical to victory. After a quick three-and-out on UT’s first possession, McCoy’s offense capitalized with heretofore-absent style and command on three interceptions thrown by Bruin quarterback Kevin Prince (who would later be benched for backup Richard Brehaut). The first quarter wrapped with Texas up 14-0 on 164 yards of total offense — another Prince interception on the quarter’s final play set up another Longhorn touchdown early in the second quarter.

“Today we started well and we answered well,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We looked like a good football team.”

Case McCoy not only exceeded expectations in his first career start, he was largely masterful in the process: showing both poise in the pocket and daring mobility while throwing for two touchdowns and zero interceptions while occasionally interchanging with freshman quarterback David Ash — who has performed well himself as an option-style alternative. The offense’s seven touchdowns on 11 drives saw oft-injured tight end D.J. Grant enjoy a breakout three-touchdown game, tying the school record for TDs in a game at that position.

Like McCoy, true freshman running back Malcolm Brown also supplanted an upper-classman at his position, meanwhile achieving a trio of firsts on Saturday — first career start, first 100-yard game, first touchdown – in what looks to be a bright college career. Brown’s flower power on the Rose Bowl lawn made him the first UT true freshman to rush for 100-plus yards in a game since Jamaal Charles in 2005. Overall, the Longhorns compiled 284 rushing yards on 50 carries (5.8 yards per carry).

Texas wound up with a sizable advantage in all major offensive categories: total yards (473-319), rushing yards (278-147), passing yards (195-172), and turnover ratio (2-4).

The Horns defense, while bending to the Bruins at times, never melted down á la last season’s UCLA matchup. Beyond the mere imbalance of the 49-20 final score, and the fact that the Longhorns surpassed 34 points only once in 2010, Texas’ three interceptions on defense looks otherworldly contrasted against the eight total interceptions they snatched all of last season.

At 3-0 and ranked 23rd as of this writing, Texas’s last six quarters (dating back to the second half of the BYU game) have demonstrated that the youth movement can really move it — with consistency, and at times, eye-popping athleticism. The unforeseen rescuing of UT’s previously flat offense by overnight upstarts McCoy, Brown, and Shipley means that — oddly enough – the future is now, and that’s clearly what’s best.

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