THE TIPPING POINT at this year's Red River Rivalry? The precise moment when this game got away from Oklahoma for good? ¬∂ It was right around the time Mack Brown flashed the peace sign. Actually, his team having taken a 36--35 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Texas coach was calling for a two-point conversion. Spying a wide-open Quan Cosby in the back right of the end zone, quarterback Colt McCoy rifled a Papelbonian bullet in the direction of his senior wide receiver, who did not, on this rare occasion, make a clean catch. ¬∂ Rather, the ball ricocheted off his sternum, spinning end over end into the warm autumn air, inviting yet another momentum swing in a game already stuffed with them. How long did that ball hang in the firmament?
"Uncomfortably long," judged Christopher Ainley, a senior cymbalist in the Longhorn Band, who stood, with his fellow cymbalists, roughly 10 feet from where Cosby camped out under the ball.
So long, Cosby recounted, that he fought the urge to signal for a fair catch.
Long enough for McCoy to get slightly ticked off. Don't wait for it to come down, he recalled thinking. Jump up an' GIT IT!
Chillax, Colt. Cosby had the situation under control, calmly snagging the pass before a defender could even lay a hand on him. Thus did Texas take both a 38--35 lead and whatever remained of Oklahoma's mojo.
The fifth-ranked Longhorns took down the No. 1 team in the land—the final was 45--35—because in this clash of elite quarterbacks, McCoy came up bigger than Sam Bradford, regardless of what their stat lines had to say. Against a defense that is flat-out loaded, the junior led Texas to three touchdowns and a field goal on its final four possessions.
To the delight of Burnt Orange Nation and the mild trepidation of Brown—who enjoyed hiding in tall grass at No. 11, where Texas started the season—the 6--0 Longhorns were duly elevated to the top spot in the AP poll. The Sooners dipped to fourth in the nation, and fourth in the Big 12 South.
The Longhorns' most momentous post--Vince Young victory was made possible by the extraordinary efforts of two rather ordinary looking receivers. Cosby and fellow wideout Jordan Shipley have never evoked comparisons with Lynn Swann and John Stallworth—or even Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson, Oklahoma's flyboy receivers—but on Saturday in Dallas they combined for 20 catches (nine for Cosby, 11 for Shipley), repeatedly moved the chains and delivered this message to the Sooners: We're not going away.
Befuddled for much of the first half, the Texas defense was forced to learn on the fly how to cope with the hurry-up offense run by Bradford, who threw for 387 yards and five touchdowns (compared with McCoy's 277 and one). As Texas defensive end Brian (Rak) Orakpo established dominance over Sooners left tackle Phil Loadholt, Bradford became increasingly skittish in the pocket, and understandably so. Rak and linebacker Sergio Kindle rocked Bradford's world on several occasions, and the sophomore threw two critical interceptions. (McCoy had none.) Texas took the Sooners' best shots, but when the Longhorns commenced counterpunching, it was Oklahoma's defense that could not get off the field.
Come to think of it, neither defensive coordinator had a great day. The 80 combined points set a record for the 108-year-old series. Playing in a gussied-up Cotton Bowl before a record crowd of 92,182, Texas prevailed in one of the most entertaining games in the history of this blood grudge because, well, someone had to set the tone for another insurrection-intensive Saturday, when another batch of top five teams bit the dust.
Poised to fill the vacancy at No. 1, third-ranked Missouri (5--1) face-planted at home (page 34), bowing 28--23 to No. 17 Oklahoma State (6--0). Looking loose in the clutch in Columbia, Cowboys quarterback Zac Robinson thoroughly outplayed Heisman front-runner Chase Daniel, who threw his second, third and fourth interceptions of the season. That game went final as Florida was pulling away from No. 4 LSU. In their most impressive outing of the season the 5--1 Gators established themselves as the class of the SEC East, piling up 475 yards of total offense against the defending national champs. The 51--31 romp in the Swamp jumped Florida six spots in the new AP poll, to No. 5.
No, 2008 is not shaping up to be the Year of the Upset, and not just because that title was already bestowed on 2007. The fact is, as currently constituted—with parity enforced by scholarship limitations and spread offenses successfully employed, it seems, by everyone but Auburn—college football is the sport of upsets. Best get used to it.
THE GIANT-SLAYING wasn't confined to the college game last weekend. Milling in the crowd outside the Cotton Bowl after the game, waiting for a glimpse of Jordan Shipley, was his father, Bob, who was having an excellent weekend even before his eldest son amassed 225 yards of offense and scored two touchdowns against the top-ranked team in the country.
At the Longhorns' hotel last Friday night, Jordan had received a series of increasingly implausible texts from Buddy Echols Field at Coppell (Texas) High, where Bob coaches the Cowboys. After trailing 14--0, then 35--22, Coppell upended Southlake Carroll, ranked third in the country, 57--53 in double overtime. Chipping in with four catches for 34 yards was sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Shipley, who got a hug from his big brother outside the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
Brown often marvels at the apparent on-field telepathy between McCoy and Shipley, whose friendship precedes their tenure as Longhorns. Bob Shipley and McCoy's father, Brad, were teammates at Abilene Christian in the early 1980s. Later, when Bob served as offensive coordinator at the school and Brad was the coach at San Saba High, Colt and Jordan would take on all comers in pickup games on the grass berm outside A.B. Morris Stadium.
"I was in his wedding," says Bob of Brad. Asked if Brad was in his wedding, Bob replies, "No one was. Sharon and I eloped."
Guile and elusiveness, it would seem, run in the family. Coached by his father at Burnet High, Jordan became the top receiver in Texas schoolboy history, with 264 catches for 5,424 yards and 73 touchdowns. He ran 10.41 in the 100 meters, was clocked at 4.37 in the 40 and had his pick of colleges. His old man couldn't really blame him when Jordan passed on Abilene Christian to become a Longhorn.
Coached by his dad at Jim Ned High in Tuscola, Texas, McCoy followed Shipley to Austin a year later. The QB often accompanies his friend to Burnet, some 40 miles from Austin, for a bit of home cooking and outdoor adventure. (Bob's parents still live there.) On a typical day they rise, go hunting (in fall and winter) or fishing (spring and summer), then repair to the Burnet High field with a bag of footballs.
On the Monday of Oklahoma week, in the woods outside Burnet, Jordan bagged a seven-point buck—the first deer he'd ever taken with a bow and arrow. "He was excited about that," says his mother. He was more excited the next day, when offensive coordinator Greg Davis unveiled a zone-flooding, four-receiver set (three on one side of the field, one on the other) that Texas hadn't shown this season. Lining up as the innermost receiver on the loaded side, Shipley would probe for open spaces in the middle of the field, where Davis suspected the Sooners might be vulnerable.
As Bradford & Co. nonchalantly devoured 74 yards in eight plays for Oklahoma's second touchdown, the Sooners looked every inch the best team in the country. They looked that way right up until the moment Shipley fielded the ensuing kickoff on his four-yard line, high-stepped through a phalanx of converging Crimson jerseys at the 25 and didn't slow down until the score was 14--9.
That 96-yard return established what would become a pattern for the Longhorns. Every time Oklahoma threatened to blow the game open, every time Texas fans experienced flashbacks to the 2000 and '03 editions of this rivalry (63--14 and 65--13 losses, respectively), the '08 Longhorns reminded them, That was then.
Fully aware that his team had been only lightly challenged before this game—Texas went into the Cotton Bowl having trailed all of seven minutes in its first five games—Brown admitted he had no idea how his guys would respond to adversity. "They answered that question today," the coach said.
TO HAVE any chance at victory—the college football punditocracy was adamant about this—Texas needed to "win the turnover battle." And lo, late in the first half, redshirt freshman safety Earl Thomas made a diving interception of Bradford's first bad throw of the day. After converting that takeaway into a field goal, Texas trailed 21--20 at intermission.
The Longhorns would get the ball to start the second half. Coming out of the locker room, "we were really excited," Brown recounted. "Then we stunk. We go three-and-out ... and I think they scored on four plays."
Six, actually. But McCoy promptly led a 12-play, 89-yard drive capped by a two-yard pass to Shipley, who got behind Brandon Crow, a backup linebacker who was on the field because, earlier in the quarter, the Sooners lost Ryan Reynolds, the heart and soul of the defense. The junior middle linebacker tore his right ACL, ending his season.
To counter the gathering gloom on his sideline, coach Bob Stoops called a fake punt on Oklahoma's next series. It was the sort of swashbuckling move that has become his signature in his 10 years in Norman. This time it backfired. Demonstrating a knack for open-field running best described as Plimptonesque, punter Mike Knall gained five yards when he needed six. Taking over on downs, the Longhorns drove to the Oklahoma 11. Hunter Lawrence's chip-shot field goal gave Texas its first lead, 30--28.
The Sooners promptly snatched it back with an 11-play touchdown drive. But a five-point lead could not begin to allay the anxiety on the Crimson half of this bifurcated stadium. The longer this game went on, the clearer it became: Oklahoma had no idea how to stop McCoy. With Texas facing a third-and-eight at the Oklahoma 38, Sooners defensive coordinator Brent Venables dialed up a zone blitz, which, to his chagrin, the Longhorns picked up.
Speeding through the secondary was Shipley, who found the spot vacated by the blitzer, gathered in a pass from McCoy and took it to the one-yard line. Cody Johnson's one-yard plunge put the Longhorns on top for good. Cosby's catch for the conversion—complete with that fortunate bounce—served notice that, as McCoy put it, "the ball was finally rolling our way."
With Texas sitting on a three-point lead and 7:29 left, a Christopher Walken--inspired battle cry issued forth from the Texas student section: "More cowbell!"
When the Longhorns don't have the ball, band members are required to put down their instruments. But whoever makes these rules has decreed that a cowbell is not an instrument. Which explains why Bradford spent the day raising his voice over the din of cowbells.
A cowbell-accompanied Sooners three-and-out was followed by the Longhorns' final, and most encouraging, touchdown drive of the day—encouraging in the sense that it was set up by a 62-yard ramble by Chris Ogbonnaya, who finished with 127 yards on 15 carries. Heading into the game, McCoy had been his team's leading rusher. In Ogbonnaya, a senior who made only the second start of his career on Saturday, Texas appears to have found its feature back.
Against their old rivals the Longhorns also discovered their identity as a feisty, resilient squad with no oversized egos and a penchant for team play. Those qualities will serve them well in the grind ahead: Next up is a home game against desperate and dangerous Missouri (pitting Daniel against McCoy, who replaced him this week atop the Heisman watch lists), followed by underrated Oklahoma State, also in Austin, and then an early November visit to No. 7 Texas Tech.
"If we play with less intensity," promised Brown, "we will lose."
That would be surprising, frankly. The calling cards of this Texas team, after all, are more intensity, more grit, more unity. And more cowbell.
Brown admitted he had no idea how the Longhorns would RESPOND TO ADVERSITY. "They answered that today," the coach said.
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Photograph by John Biever
IN COMMAND Completing 80% of his 35 attempts, McCoy picked apart Oklahoma's defense and never turned the ball over.
LAST LAUGH Cosby (6), who had nine catches for 122 yards, was all smiles after his grab on a two-point conversion put the Horns up 38--35.
[See caption above]
GAME-CHANGER Shipley (8) repeatedly found seams in Oklahoma's secondary, and his 96-yard return gave Texas a huge lift.