Football

Culpepper Commentary: UT fights back

Pat Culpepper. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Pat Culpepper. (Will Gallagher/IT)

I’ve been there before.

Standing in that tunnel that leads to the Cotton Bowl field before the Texas-Oklahoma game. Minutes before it was tackle Scott Appleton throwing up in the dressing room bathroom in anticipation of what was going to ensue.

​In 1960 we were leading when the Sooners tried a halfback pass deep in our territory and Longhorn defensive tackle Eddie Padgett slammed into OU’s Jimmy Carpenter and the ball floated toward our right side. I picked it off and ran 78 yards to cap off a 24-0 Texas win.

​My seat was looking down at that spot where the interception occurred so many years ago and I was praying that this Texas team coming off an embarrassing loss to TCU had the same feeling we had in the 60’s and could generate enough team intensity to make this a ball game against an Oklahoma team that was undefeated and ranked top 10 nationally.

Well done, Horns.

​Last week I wrote in InsideTexas that the Longhorns only chance was to get physical and slow down the game – they didn’t have the experience to go fast break and it was killing their defensive efforts. Did they ever!

​With Daje Johnson sidelined with concussion symptoms after a non-called target hit at TCU, Texas OC Jay Norvell put wide receiver Marcus Johnson in Daje’s role of a quick motion man to stretch the Sooner defense before the snap and at 7:52 at the first quarter, Johnson made a brilliant TD run of 24 yards after a short pass from Jerrod Heard into the left flat. Johnson tight-roped right in front of where I was sitting 30 rows up for a stunning touchdown.

​Instead of the uninspired Texas efforts of one week ago in Fort Worth, this Texas team was burning on straight hot gasoline fire.

​For one thing, Heard being a drop back passer was gone. This cat was back at Denton Guyer executing the give to dive back Johnathan Gray or D’Onta Foreman for a keep. No blitzes would stop this action from the outside like Oklahoma State had done. The word for the Texas offense was physical.

​Those young linemen were coming off the football and I watched Patrick Vahe from Euless Trinity doing what he did so well, which was attacking Sooners – not sitting back pushing in pass protection. It’s in his DNA!

​Whether Strong brought on this change of attack or Norvell makes no difference, it set a tone, which was at the heart of this Texas victory.

​Of course all the Texas fans marched into the stadium with trepidation. Don’t kid yourself, at best we hoped to be competitive. There were lots of empty seats early in the Texas Longhorn North end zone – they don’t bring out a man to be hanged early. By game time whether by outside spirits or just for old time “heck with Oklahoma” attitude, the Longhorn fans and the Texas band get really loud. All of a sudden I was back in 1962 and it was 4th-and-2 from the Texas 18 yard line with us leading 9-6 and we had to stop the Sooner charge – we did just that, standing up Joe Don Looney and killing OU’s chances of winning. In that North Endzone with the Texas Band at it’s loudest and all of the Burnt Orange fans yelling (let’s do that in Austin), a different Texas team emerged.

​First and most importantly this was a different Texas defense. On one of the first series of the game, I caught CB Duke Thomas blitzing off the boundary. Before this game, in five games, the Longhorns had only seven sacks – on this day in the glorious Dallas sunlight they put Sooner QB Baker Mayfield down six times.

​The defensive staff did an excellent job of subbing lineman in and out of the game to keep the pressure on. Please Oklahoma had a total of 87 rushing yards – the Longhorns 313. There were four OU three-and-outs and seven Sooner punts. Hassan Ridgeway and Poona Ford both had to leave the game with collisions but came back with a vengeance and combined for 2.5 of the Texas sacks.

​At the last with Mayfield trying to find an open receiver because of a tighter Texas coverage, it was Naashon Hughes and Ford who brought Mayfield down for a 17-yard loss. It was the last time Oklahoma had the ball after its fourth down punt.

​The offensive play of the game for Texas was a sprint draw – did I say Texas played physical – to Foreman and for a brief second the Texas front cracked open a hole and the 6-0, 241-pound cannon ball from Texas City bolted for an 81-yard run that set up the 7-point margin of victory.

​I loved it when Strong was waiving at Tyrone Swoopes who couldn’t get it into the end zone from the Longhorns power stacked formation in the second quarter. They were inside the 3-yard line on third down after being stopped and Swoopes was ready to come to the bench – but Strong was not in the mood to back off and he waved Swoopes back on the field. The big man scored. In fact the last Longhorn touchdown in the fourth quarter which was set up by Foreman’s steamrolling run was a lob pass from Swoopes to Caleb Bluiett in the back of the end zone where Johnson had scored in the first quarter. It floated through the air and I was scared we would drop it. Caleb gathered it in and set off another wild celebration by all of us in section 12 and around the North end zone.

​So what happened last Saturday to give Charlie Strong the biggest win so far in his career as the Texas Longhorns head coach.

​Sooner coach Bob Stoops said it well afterward, “All in all, they kicked us. There is not much else to say about it.”

​Has this team finally started to grow up together? Has Texas found a method of football on offense that can turn QB Heard into a dangerous weapon – he rushed for 115 yards and most importantly crucial first downs. He only threw 11 times – two of them attempted bombs that kept the Sooner secondary back.

​These players LOVE Strong and that was apparent at games end and the celebrations that followed on the field. Players like Hughes at 6-foot-4, 232, a sophomore who is coming into the best football playing days is a good example. Running backs at Oklahoma like Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon went down hard from his outside to inside jarring tackles. Freshman Malik Jefferson stayed on the outside and made a crucial sack on Mayfeild.

​We, the Texas faithful, stayed in those end zone stands until the last Texas players got tot that tunnel, at the North End of the Cotton Bowl. 35 minutes by my watch, Taylor Doyle came down and told the Texas Cowboys to fire the cannon one more time!

​What about all those recruits at the game? Wouldn’t anyone of them love to play in such a game? Nobody else in the Big 12 has such a chance with the stadium divided and your parents able to drive to the majority of your games. Most have to go to Starkville, Mississippi, like our Aggie buddies who ran from the Big 12.

​There was Peter Jinkens the Texas linebacker on his knees facedown in the Texas end zone being hugged by freshman warrior Patrick Vahe as the celebrations died down.

​Where does it go from here? Your guess is as good as mine. This week a well-coached, tough Kansas State team comes to Austin. As impossible as it seems, Strong has a chance to make a difference in the Big 12. They already did to Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners.

​Since nobody in College Football has played a tougher, more demanding schedule than Texas; Notre Dame, California, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Oklahoma. The Longhorns have paid their dues as well as their coaching staff. Now it is time for the hard rocky road to pay off.

​Kansas State almost upset TCU and the only difference was Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson of the Horned Frogs.

I hope you can’t wait to salute and cheer for the Longhorns who came from nowhere to save their coach and redeem their pride as football players.

Hook’Em

Pat

Pat Culpepper played for The University of Texas from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor, and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.