AUSTIN — With one game remaining, Texas still has a shot to win the Big 12 championship.
And, surprisingly, the Longhorns have their defense to thank.
After fans spent weeks cussing at their televisions and months calling for their coaches’ heads, Texas put together one of its best defensive performances of the year against Texas Tech, producing a season-high nine sacks en route to a 41-16 victory on Thanksgiving night.
In what many believe could be the final home game of head coach Mack Brown’s career with Texas, the Longhorns held the Red Raiders well below their offensive averages, leaving Brown anxious to turn his focus toward the regular-season finale against Baylor.
“We’ve got to talk about the preparation instead of the rewards,” Brown said. “There is no reason to talk about the rewards at the end unless you win the game.”
Should the Bears emerge victorious against TCU on Saturday, and Oklahoma defeat Oklahoma State next week, a Longhorns’ win against Baylor would give Texas its first conference championship since 2009.
Outside circumstances aside, the Longhorns (8-3, 7-1) will need a similar defensive showing against Baylor’s high-powered offense to complete a turnaround that seemed improbable after Texas lost two of its first three games in ugly fashion to begin the season.
Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5) finished with 302 passing yards after entering the game averaging an FBS-high 400.2 yards and was held below 20 points for the first time this season.
While the showing was not perfect, Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who inherited the position after Manny Diaz was fired following BYU’s record-setting 679-yard outburst in the second week of the season, was pleased with his unit’s showing.
“It was a good game,” Robinson said. “I thought we played really well against a good offense ... I’ve coached a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever been around a nine-sack (game).”
After Texas Tech punter Ryan Erxleben turned a fake punt into a 51-yard touchdown, the Red Raiders were shutout of the end zone until Michael Brewer connected with JaceAmaro for an 11-yard score with 11:46 remaining in the fourth quarter.
However it was far too late for the Red Raiders to climb out of the 24-point hole they fell into.
Texas scored 20 unanswered points after trailing 7-0, and led 34-10 early in the fourth quarter as Longhorns quarterback Case McCoy passed for two touchdowns to Mike Davis and rushed for one as well, while Joe Bergeron added another touchdown on the ground, and kicker Anthony Fera nailed a pair of long field goals.
“The way we won, you’ve got to say that was a team effort,” said McCoy, who completed 10 of 19 passes for 139 yards.
Malcolm Brown and Bergeron each topped the 100-yard plateau, finishing with 128 and 107 rushing yards, respectively.
But the offense was a byproduct of the team’s defense.
Texas senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat led the way with a career-high three sacks, while teammate Cedric Reed added two more and former Copperas Cove standout Duke Thomas accounted for another.
“It comes in bunches,” Jeffcoat said. “(You’ve just got to) keep hunting for sacks.”
Additionally, the Longhorns forced seven punts, recovered two fumbles, intercepted a pass and denied the Red Raiders on 13 of their 18 third-down conversion attempts.
All together, it created a memorable holiday for Brown, who was on the losing side of last year’s Thanksgiving game against TCU.
“Last year, we didn’t play very well,” he said. “We told them that (winning the final home game) is just something you do. You owe your seniors. Let’s don’t talk about next week, let’s don’t talk about conference championships. Let’s talk about letting these seniors leave the right way. ... This was really important, and they are really proud of each other.”
Contact Clay Whittington at firstname.lastname@example.org