DALLAS — It had to start somewhere.
Texas disappointed after being ranked No. 15 in The Associated Press’ preseason poll and having the backing of numerous pundits as a potential national championship contender.
The Longhorns lost a pair of games in ugly fashion, saw their defensive coordinator fired two weeks into the season, listened as rumors of their head coach’s future with the team swirled, played home games in front of patches of uncharacteristically empty seats and became a lighting rod for harsh criticism from both media and disgusted fans.
At the annual Red River Rivalry, however, the Longhorns believe they turned their season around.
After leaving the crimson side of the Cotton Bowl stunned and the burnt orange side unexpectedly elated following their one-sided upset of then-No. 12 Oklahoma on Saturday, the Longhorns rushed to defend their legitimacy in postgame interviews.
“You can study the history of Texas, and when we win this game, our season tends to go where we want,” quarterback Case McCoy said. “When we don’t win, you can see how it has gone the last couple of years. I am excited about where this team is headed after this game.”
Texas scored on offense, defense and special teams against its bitter rival, leading the entire way in a game that was not as close as the final score of 36-20 indicates.
Playing in place of former Belton standout David Ash, who missed his third game of the season with a head injury, McCoy guided the offense to 455 total yards while successfullly converting 13 of 20 third-down situations. The Longhorns’ running backs lived up to their lofty expectations, producing Texas’ first pair of 100-yard rushers in series history, and the highly criticized rush defense limited the Sooners to 3.9 yards per carry after surrendering 822 yards on the ground in two nonconference losses.
While nobody was prepared to guarantee a Big 12 championship was coming to Austin, everybody felt the team’s expectations could be elevated greatly following the performance.
“We knew we had it in us,” sophomore running back Johnathan Gray said. “It just takes guys to finally realize what they can do, and the sky’s the limit for us.”
Along with teammate Malcolm Brown, the pair carried the ball 52 times and never fumbled after entering the day with eight as a team through the first five games of the season.
Defensively, Texas sacked Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell four times, including a pair from defensive end Jackson Jeffcoact.
“We found out what the mistakes were and we worked to correct it,” the senior said.
“We’re not the best we can be right now, but we’re going in that direction. We’re starting to get better each week.”
But it was not just the Longhorns who saw future potential after claiming a share of first place in the Big 12 standings. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops viewed improvements as well.
“(The Longhorns are) more consistent as they’ve been playing more and more here in the last few games,” Stoops said after losing to Texas for the first time in three years. “They played very sound. They played great technique defensively. I thought in coverage they were really sound in what they were doing, and their front seven played well.”
Now, it is up to the Longhorns to prove the victory was not a fluke when they travel to face TCU – a team that handed Texas a Thanksgiving night loss in Austin last year — on Oct. 26.
While the Longhorns still have a long way to go before erasing all doubts regarding their place in the spectrum of college football’s pecking order, McCoy, who very well could find himself playing as a backup against the Horned Frogs, is prepared to move forward with the momentum gained by winning the border war.
“We proved not only to everyone else, but also to ourselves that we can play with the best of them,” the senior said. “That’s where we are at right now, and we are excited to get a week to get healthy and then move on to the next one.”
Contact Clay Whittington at firstname.lastname@example.org