I woke up at 3:45 a.m. on Saturday. I wait for this game 365 days a year because it was a remark from Coach Darrell Royal made 49 years ago in my living room in Cleburne, Texas that haunted me at night thinking about my possible choices of colleges.
“We’re trying to find boys that want to challenge Oklahoma every year and win Southwest Conference championships.”
I eventually answered Coach Royal’s call and every year, whether the Texas-OU game is at 11 a.m. or 2:30 p.m., I am wide awake early and ready to go.
This 2008 classic was the most evenly matched and best Texas-OU game I have ever seen in person. Now, because of my coaching career I did miss lots of those that some could argue were as good, but this one ranks at the top of my list.
My blood got hot with 13:14 left in the second quarter after an impressive 74-yard, 8-play Sooner drive for a touchdown that made the score OU 14, Texas 3.
Thanks to my buddy Louisiana Max, we were sitting on row five directly behind the No. 1 team in the nation’s bench, squarely on the 50-yard line.
One of the Oklahoma assistant coaches is going from one offensive player to the next yelling at the top of his voice, “They haven’t changed one bit. They’re out of shape. They can’t stand the pressure!”
Mind you, he was in the passion brought on by that skillful and powerful Sooner attack, directed by their unflappable quarterback Sam Bradford.
When that coach was pounding the shoulder pads of 6-5, 330-pound Duke Robinson and 6-8, 350-pound Phil Loadholt, you would think it was most convincing, but deep down inside me it struck a nerve.
The players across the field in white jerseys are ex-Texas high school boys. Twenty-five or so of the best every year are picked by the University of Texas while 300-plus go elsewhere.
This feeling hits me head on; nobody else but the Longhorns can challenge Oklahoma from the state of Texas in 2008. Baylor got mauled 49-17 last weekend by the Sooners, A&M is in a funk of their own making and Texas Tech has to play OU in Norman. The thing that hasn’t changed is the players in Burnt Orange are the only ones that have a chance to beat Oklahoma.
What got me hot was I knew and Max knew the Texas football team had jelled as a fighting unit last weekend in Colorado. The 38-14 victory was a real intense team effort and yet listening to that assistant, I became frustrated and angry. Oklahoma was and is a great team, but no way the Texas Longhorns of 2008 were what that coach said. They were in shape and they would respond to the competition.
It took 12 seconds to change at least 46,000 Sooner fans’ and at least one assistant coach’s assessment about the fact they aren’t playing Chattanooga anymore. Jordan Shipley – a coach’s son from Burnet, Texas – fielded the Oklahoma kickoff on his four-yard line, cut to the right, got key blocks from Eddie Jones and Chris Ogbonnaya and sprinted 96 yards to put Texas back within four points of the lead.
Make no mistake, Oklahoma is a powerhouse team and at times their three-receiver side formation gave the Texas defense fits. When the Longhorns got a hard rush, Bradford burned them with the middle screen and when Texas dropped in coverage, Bradford would hold the ball and pick out one of the open receivers. Having said that, the Texas front line and linebackers never quit making a tremendous effort to make plays. Once again, Roddrick Muckelroy was a guided missile against the Sooner running game. He filled whatever hole developed with passion. To limit Oklahoma to 48 total rushing yards is a testament to the fierce Longhorn defensive front and linebacker play.
When 6-6, 250-pound Sooner tight end Jermaine Gresham made a catch right in front of the Oklahoma bench, true freshman safety Blake Gideon from Leander made a helmet-popping run-through-tackle which was most important and was a symbol for the aggressive mindset of the young Texas secondary all day.
Coach Bob Stoops rolled the dice on a fake punt and run with the score Oklahoma 28, Texas 27 near the end of the third quarter. It was from his own 48-yard line but Texas had just marched 89 yards in 12 plays and I can tell you by looking his defense was tiring. It was a good call and only cornerback Curtis Brown from Gilmer, Texas saved a sure first down. Texas got its first lead of the game as Hunter Lawrence drilled a 24-yard field goal into the crimson end of the Cotton Bowl.
This game wasn’t one where the lead changes hands; it was where Texas played catch up, answering every Sooner score with one of its own. The Horns did it five times!
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis sold the idea of putting the offensive game in Colt McCoy’s hands from the opening kickoff with the use of multiple wide receiver. Colt and Greg were never better. And the Texas offensive line matched the Sooner offensive line in quarterback protection. McCoy’s running ability was one of the differences in the outcome of the game.
Sunday I got phone calls from as far away as friends in California that I made at the 2005 Rose Bowl game. There hasn’t been a college game this exciting all year and the odd starting time captured a true national audience.
I don’t think anyone left on the Oklahoma schedule can beat them, although Oklahoma State’s win over Missouri sent a clear and dangerous message to everyone left in the Cowboys’ way, including the Longhorns.
Texas is on thin ice against its next three opponents – Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Injuries, bad bounces of the ball, officials’ calls and an inspired, talented opponent can beat Texas. I hope they know that.
Most of all, I’m hoping for coach Mack Brown. Recognized for his recruiting ability but the perception is that he always comes in second to coach Stoops in his ability to manage his team. But without Vince Young at quarterback, two of the last three years Brown’s Longhorns have come back from a first half deficit to beat Oklahoma. Enough said!
Missouri versus Texas will be a war. The Tigers are wounded, cornered and dangerous. This will be a standup and shout game when Missouri has the ball. I’ll be there four rows behind the Tiger team. It will be real close. Texas 38, Missouri 31.
Pat Culpepper played for The University 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.