Football

Clutch performances push Horns past Raiders

The Texas team that many, including Mack Brown, expected

this season finally made a four-quarter appearance Saturday in Lubbock. Well,

three quarters really, but Brown called the 31-22 win over Texas Tech the

“first real team victory we’ve had all year.”
“This is more of what we expected to start the season,” the

Longhorn head coach said after his team moved to 7-2 on the season and still in

contention for one of the Big 12’s top bowl berths.

“I thought it was the best the offense and defense played together

and parts of the kicking game,” Brown added. “If we hadn’t played well as a

team today, Texas Tech’s much better than last year (a 52-20 UT win), we

couldn’t have won the game.”

For the offense in general and David Ash in particular, it represented a

return to form. For Manny Diaz’s defense, fortunately, and finally!, it may

have found its form.

Texas totaled 427 yards of offense with a relatively

balanced attack (163 yards rushing on 39 attempts, 264 passing on 19 attempts)

that relied both on short passes to thwart the Tech blitz and on downfield

passes off fakes, sometimes multiple fakes, plus power running set up by the

downfield threat. Other than what seemed like a play-not-to-lose third quarter

offensively, it may have been Bryan Harsin’s most well-rounded game plan, one

executed well across the offensive lineup.

After a benching in Lawrence last week, Ash looked like the

accurate, efficient quarterback we saw earlier in the season. He led the Horns

to touchdowns on three consecutive possessions to open the game, completing all

six of his pass attempts for 180 yards and two touchdown passes on the drives.

He added another critical touchdown toss with 9:14 to play in the fourth

quarter, his second of the day to Mike Davis, that gave the Horns a two-score

advantage.

Davis and Johnathan Gray joined Ash in starring roles. Davis

finished with two touchdowns on four receptions for 165 yards, while Gray

rushed 20 times for 106 yards. Sixty-five of Gray’s yards came on UT’s final

two fourth quarter possessions (a touchdown drive and the drive that ran out

the clock). It marks the second week in a row that Davis and Gray have been

instrumental in road wins. For Davis, that represents a newfound clutch factor

that seemed to be missing earlier in his career, while for Gray it shows a

talent and maturity that belies his age.

The much-maligned defense bent but did not break against the

prolific Texas Tech offense. Diaz’s guys gave up 441 yards but just 22 points,

forcing three Tech punts, stopping a Red Raider two-point attempt that would

have tied the game late in the third quarter and forcing four field goal

attempts on Tech red zone possessions, the final one resulting in a

game-sealing block by Carrington Byndom. Byndom also broke up the two-point

attempt.

Like on the offensive side of the ball, multiple defenders

played crucial roles. Complementing Byndom, linebacker Steve Edmond turned in

the best performance of his Longhorn career, totaling a team-leading eight

tackles and a third-down pass break up early in the fourth quarter after the

Raiders had cut the Texas lead to two at 24-22, energizing the record Tech home

crowd. Following the forced punt, the Horns drove 59 yards, culminating with

Ash’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Davis for the final score.

And it’s not often this season that the words “good” and

“tackle” have gone together for Diaz’s defense, but Edmond, Kenny Vaccaro,

Tevin Jackson and, yes, even Adrian Phillips (once), along with a seemingly

invigorated defensive line all turned in solid tackles and kept the Tech

running backs and receivers from getting a ton of extra yards after first

contact. Of course, the defense still gave up a boatload of yards, but as you

would expect, Diaz focused post-game on the stops.

“That’s Big 12 defense,” the embattled defensive coordinator

said. “Forcing them to kick field goals in Big 12 games is how you win football

games.”

Brown, asked about his role in the improved defensive

performance, said, “I didn’t do anything to help them. I thought Manny and

Duane did a great job this week. They had a great plan…”

Byndom, though, said Brown has made appearances in the

defensive meetings and Edmond said that having Brown in there “makes you want

to play together.”

Although Kenny Williams ran through a couple of Mack

Truck-sized holes over the course of the game, the longest run of the day for

the Raiders and Williams was 25 yards. (Hey, it’s progress!) The minimal

pre-snap movement since half time of the Kansas game, at the behest of Brown,

has certainly seemed to help, so credit Brown for that.

The larger question is, does the win over Texas Tech, by

itself, do anything for these coaches’ job security? Perhaps only DeLoss Dodds

knows, definitively, the answer to that question. I’d say the answer is no. Diaz

still seems destined to be gone barring a miraculous turnaround defensively. A

loss could have been a nail in Brown’s coaching coffin while a win was an

absolute must after what we saw in Dallas last month. But the team’s

performance in Lubbock does open the possibility that the Horns could close the

season playing well, and win the next two games to be 9-2 heading to Kansas

State on Dec. 1. If that happens, I’d say all bets are off.