NCF Nation: Longhorns-Cowboys 103109

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- The memories of Texas’ only 2008 loss were never far away for Curtis Brown, Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas.
 
 John Rieger/US Presswire
 Texas safety Blake Gideon produced a pair of turnovers Saturday.

A nightmarish ending in that Longhorns’ loss at Texas Tech boiled down to two plays that group didn’t make. Gideon dropped a chance at a game-sealing interception with a celebrated drop on the next-to-last Tech offensive snap on a throw by Graham Harrell. And Michael Crabtree split Brown and Thomas on his game-winning touchdown grab on the next play.

The similarities to that game were striking this season as a tough trip to Oklahoma State materialized in exactly the same place on the Longhorns’ schedule. Texas was playing its most difficult road opponent before a stadium packed with the largest crowd in school history.

Except this time around, the trio of Texas defensive backs slayed those memories with a masterful defensive game. All of them produced interceptions in a convincing 41-14 victory over Oklahoma State.

“I’m so proud of Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas and Curtis Brown,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “It was very fitting for all three of them to intercept balls -- two for touchdowns -- and put that thought to rest.”

Curtis Brown recalls the bitter disappointment of that earlier loss. Those memories have helped spark the Longhorns’ quick start by a young secondary that has developed into the strength of the team after eight games.

“The game tonight was kind of like last year, in the same situation,” Brown said. “But we learned we’ve got to take care of things week by week.

“We’ve grown as a group and matured as a secondary and a whole defense. You could say we’ve just kind of grown up.”

One indication of that maturity is how little Gideon says he reflects on the drop against Texas Tech.

“We put that to rest before the season started,” Gideon said. “If we had let it stay in front of us, it would have been a long season. But we put that behind us a long time ago and tonight we just us executing our defense against a good offense.”

But other Longhorns realized the similarities they were facing against Oklahoma State like at Tech last season.

To ensure that Texas wouldn’t have a letdown against Oklahoma State on Saturday, Mack Brown said he pushed his team. Last year before the Texas Tech game, he said he could tell they were weary from the travails of the season.

In last season’s game, Texas fell into an early 19-0 hole against the Red Raiders. But this season, the new attitude helped propel the Longhorns to a quick 17-0 lead punctuated by Brown’s interception return.

“Last year was a huge learning experience for us,” Texas defensive end Sam Acho said. “We knew we were in a similar situation as we were last year against Texas Tech. And we didn’t want to finish on that. We knew what we had to do and what we had on the table. And I’m glad we came out strong and played a complete game.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The fiery orations of Will Muschamp have finally gotten through to his secondary.

Last season, there was no way to sugarcoat it. Texas struggled making big plays on defense.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Earl Thomas, left, and Curtis Brown celebrate an interception in the third quarter, one of two picks that were returned for scores.

A more mature, experienced group was a marked contrast from those growing days on Saturday. Texas' secondary went into a feeding frenzy in the Longhorns' 41-14 victory over Oklahoma State, finally producing a rare effort where they fulfilled and exceeded their coach’s seemingly impossible standards.

In Muschamp’s world, the Longhorns need to force three turnovers in every game. The developing Texas secondary fulfilled that in bunches in arguably their best performance of the season.

“I’m pretty sure he should be happy,” Texas safety Earl Thomas said, chuckling when asked about Muschamp’s demands. "Our goal is three a game. We got that. It’s just falling our way in this game.”

The Texas secondary produced four interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. Toss in a fumble recovery and the Longhorns’ secondary served as the destructive unit for the Oklahoma State defense.

Thomas set the tone with one of the interceptions for a touchdown, a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the second half. Curtis Brown added another one on a 77-yard pick early in the second quarter that changed the nature of the game.

"Curtis always has the athletic ability to finish games and you saw what he could do,” safety Blake Gideon said. “The way he can jump routes, you saw what happened. That was a big play and a huge momentum swing.”

Gideon also produced a pair of turnovers, recovering a fumble by Hubert Anyiam at the Texas 47 early in the second quarter. That turnover sparked a binge where the Longhorns scored on three straight offensive possessions and the two interception returns that blew the game open.

But his teammates were joking about Gideon’s interception and how he failed to continue the scoring binge. Gideon had a 31-yard interception return, but was stopped short of the end zone like Brown and Thomas.

“I caught some grief,” Gideon said. “I kind of got slowed down and got tackled by a lineman. But I haven’t carried a football since high school, so I guess I kind of forgot about how to do it.”

Chykie Brown added the other interception as the Longhorns matched their season high for interceptions with four set earlier this season against UTEP.

Muschamp had the Longhorns playing in the nickel defense from the start of the game, hoping to handcuff the Zac Robinson’s intermediate and deep passing with three safeties as part of the regular defensive rotation.

The Longhorns’ secondary is playing like the strength of the defense, becoming the best group for the Longhorns since their national championship team in 2005.

“The 2005 secondary, six of them played in the NFL,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Let’s wait six games and then talk. But they are playing really well. We’re getting good pressure on the quarterback. Right now we are able to man because we are good and because we can get pressure on the passer. They can’t stand back there forever and try to throw the ball.”

Thomas, whose cover skills may be as good as any back in the nation, was particularly adept in the defense.

“I was really proud of them,” Muschamp said. “We put a lot of kids in our formation and made our adjustments and they did a nice job. And Earl can cover as well as any corner in the country. I don’t even look at him like a safety.”

It’s a big change from last season when the Longhorns ranked tied for 113th nationally and last in the conference with only six interceptions.

Those hard lessons from an immature group have helped prepare the way for the Longhorns’ turnover binge this season.

“Coach Muschamp has worked hard to work for the defense,” Texas defensive end Sergio Kindle said. “We want to force quarterbacks to throw bad balls and it seems like those guys are catching the ball. We had a bunch of drops last season and we’re really focused on doing that.”

And considering that Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown are juniors and Thomas, Gideon and Williams are sophomores, more growth will be expected for the Texas defense during the rest of the season and beyond.

“Those guys are great players and all they can do is get better,” Kindle said. “They have grown and matured. They are learning now and are getting it down to a T.”

Texas-OSU instant analysis

October, 31, 2009
10/31/09
11:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Here's a look at how Texas cruised to an easy 41-14 victory over Oklahoma State Saturday night, putting the Longhorns into prime contention for their first Big 12 title since 2005.

How the game was won: Colt McCoy played a mistake-free, efficient game and the Longhorns’ secondary turned the game into a feeding frenzy with two interceptions returned for touchdowns and four interceptions, including three in the second half.

Turning point: After Oklahoma State had pulled within 17-7 and appeared to have captured momentum, Texas marched 80 yards in 10 plays. The drive was capped by an 11-yard TD grab by Malcolm Williams from McCoy with nine seconds left that boosted Texas’ halftime lead to 24-7.

Stat of the game: Texas accounted for two non-offensive touchdowns thanks to a 77-yard interception return by Curtis Brown and a 31-yard return by Earl Thomas. It gives them nine non-offensive touchdowns this season – two kickoff returns, two punt returns, two blocked punt returns and three interception returns for touchdowns.

Player of the game: McCoy completed 16 of 21 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a team-best 34 yards on 11 carries. Additionally, he failed to throw an interception for the first time in a game this season.

Unsung hero: Texas middle linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy was all over the field, leading the team in tackles to key the Longhorns’ defensive effort.

What it means: Texas has the clearest path to the national championship of any of the top three teams in the BCS standings. All they have to do is win out and they’ll be playing for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Jan. 7. And Oklahoma State fans will wonder how much closer they could have played Texas if Kendall Hunter had been healthy and Dez Bryant hadn't been suspended.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is done for the evening after backup Garrett Gilbert replaced him with the Longhorns cruising with a 41-14 lead and 9:09 left.

McCoy completed 16 of 21 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. Additionally, he failed to throw an interception for the first time in a game this season.

Those numbers weren't flashy for the Heisman Trophy voters watching across the country. But his most impressive statistic was the Longhorns' likely margin of victory.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Curtis Brown provided some cushion for Texas with a 77-yard pass interception return for a touchdown, extending Texas' lead to 17-0 over Oklahoma State with 6:21 left in the second quarter.

Brown jumped in front of a Zac Robinson pass intended for Dameron Fooks and raced untouched for a touchdown.

On the previous play, Kendall Hunter returned to action for the first time for a 1-yard gain. But Brown's interception snuffed out what momentum the Cowboys have generated.

It's the eighth non-offensive touchdown the Longhorns have scored this season. Texas has now returned two punts, four kickoffs and two interceptions for touchdowns this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- It was understandable when Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp noticeably sighed after Oklahoma State's last possession.

Texas maintained its 3-0 lead over the Cowboys when Hubert Anyiam dropped a potential touchdown pass at the Cowboys' end zone.

The pass was delivered by Zac Robinson despite extreme pressure by blitzing Texas safety Blake Gideon, who almost made a sack on the play. Robinson just got the ball away and hit Anyiam in the hands on a fourth-and-eight play.

Texas earlier had taken a 3-0 lead on Hunter Lawrence's 25-yard field goal, accounting for all of the scoring in the first quarter of what was expected to be an offensive shootout.

But not so far.

One other tidbit. Starting Texas cornerback Aaron Williams is icing his right knee on the sidelines and likely won't return to the lineup anytime soon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- If it seems like old times for Mack Brown tonight, it’s understandable.

Tonight should be the toughest remaining challenge for the Longhorns en route to the Big 12 championship game. If they can win tonight, it should be smooth sailing to the Dallas Cowboys Stadium on Dec. 5.

It was similar in 2005, when the Longhorns similarly opened up a lead in the South after beating Oklahoma. They overcame a big deficit in Oklahoma State in what turned out to be their biggest challenge of the game en route to their first undisputed national championship since 1969.

A victory tonight puts the Longhorns in control of their BCS destiny. With Florida and Alabama bound to either lose or play each other in the SEC title game, the Longhorns are positioned to be in the top two if they can win out.

Here are some things I’m watching for tonight before what should be a record crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium.
  • Colt McCoy will have a chance to state his Heisman case in a national spotlight. The game will either be on ABC or ESPN2, so a big night will receive a wide national spotlight. McCoy threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns last week. He needs another big game tonight -- particularly after Tim Tebow’s big game against Georgia earlier this afternoon.
  • But don’t discount Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson. If the Cowboys could engineer an upset tonight, his Heisman candidacy will get a boost. The fact he’s done it most of the season without Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter makes him a good story. But a victory tonight would introduce him to the nation.
  • Oklahoma State needs to seal the deal if they get Texas behind. The Longhorns came back from a 19-point second-quarter deficit in 2005, to win a 47-28 game. In 2007, the Longhorns came back from a 21-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to escape with a 38-35 victory -- the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history. In those two games, Texas outscored the Cowboys, 100-7, in the second half.
  • While Mike Gundy claims his team isn’t snakebitten against Texas, it might be hard to believe that after losing 11 straight games. Gundy has been around as the head coach for the last four of them.
  • Whether Kendall Hunter plays in the game or not, it is critical for the Cowboys to run the ball effectively. That would give them the ability to keep Texas from being able to tee off on them with their variety of blitzes that have been so successful this season.
  • Texas’ “Goon Squad” defense has knocked out three straight rival quarterbacks in their last three games. They’ll be gunning for four tonight against Robinson.
  • The Cowboys must do a good job stuffing the Longhorns’ short passing game, particularly passes to Jordan Shipley. In order to do that, a big game from cornerback Perrish Cox will be critical. Look for Cox and Shipley to be hooked up often in one-on-one coverage.
  • Whoever wins the special teams battle will likely win this game. The Longhorns lead the conference with a 31.4 kickoff return average and have produced two touchdowns. Oklahoma State leads the conference in punt return average and Texas is third with four touchdowns.

Oklahoma State special teams coordinator Joe De Forest typically plays as many starters on his special teams than any team in the Big 12. He’ll need a big game out of his unit tonight.

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