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November 3, 2012
1. The Texas defense stopped the run. Let me repeat that. The Texas defense stopped the run.
Teams had been running for 70 yards more than their average against Texas. That didn't happen Saturday as Tech ran 28 times for 112 yards (4.0) after averaging 149 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.
"We stopped the run this game," said senior DE Alex Okafor, who posted Texas' only sack of Tech QB Seth Doege. "It's going to help us in the future, because we finally did what we wanted to up front, and it showed."
The most central figure in stopping the run was middle linebacker Steve Edmond, who led the team in tackles and seemed to be everywhere early in the game as he posted 6 of his 8 tackles in the first half.
That set the tone for a defense that had been a turnstile against the run, thanks in large part to poor linebacker play throughout the season.
When I asked him to talk about where his confidence was early in the season and where it is now, Edmond said he finally convinced himself he could deliver the goods.
"Early in the season, I was just nervous because I came from a small town (Daingerfield, Texas)," Edmond said. "I played 2A football, so I had the mindset that everyone was just better than me.Then, I got over that fear and just started playing.
"I'm attacking the line of scrimmage now, and I didn't do that earlier in the season."
Edmond came up with a huge play at the start of the fourth quarter, when he broke up a pass on third down and forced a punt after Tech had taken all the momentum in the third quarter.
Tech had cut UT's 24-13 lead at halftime to 24-22 after the offense stalled on its first three drives of the second half.
It seemed about the time Texas would give out. But Edmond's play forced a punt, and the Texas offense finally woke up - with what else? - a TD pass from Ash to Mike Davis.
Okafor said the way the defense responded on Tech's first drive of the fourth quarter, followed by the offense answering with a scoring drive was a huge moment for this year's team.
"It builds team unity, and it builds trust," Okafor said. "You have to trust on both sides of the ball. We have to trust that we are going to take care of business on defense, and trust that the offense is going to do the same. And that's what happened today."
Mack Brown spent the week in defensive meetings and paying special attention to the defense in practice. After the game, Brown said he didn't deserve any credit for the defense's improvement and gave it all to Manny Diaz and Duane Akina.
But Steve Edmond said Brown's presence around the defense had an impact.
"Ever since OU week, he wanted us to go back to the way we were playing in two a days," Edmond said. "In two-a-days, we were stopping everything. Now, we're trying to get back to that.
"Every Tuesday and every Friday meeting, Coach Brown is in the meetings with the defense. When you've got your head coach wanting you to play better, it makes you focus that much more."
MY TAKE: With the way Edmond had been playing without confidence earlier this season, if the light switch has finally come on, then it could be the single biggest development of Saturday's game.
If the middle of the defense can hold ground instead of give ground, it gives the rest of the defense a chance to swarm and gang tackle. It's that big. And I know Tech is not some powerhouse rushing attack, but neither was West Virginia or Baylor, and those teams ran all over Texas. And those games were in Austin.
Manny Diaz needed a huge performance from his linebackers, and he got one from Edmond on Saturday. The scary thing is Kendall Thompson was carted off the field in a fog after being decleated on punt coverage in the second half. His status wasn't immediately known.
Thompson has been maybe the best linebacker on the team this season. Texas will need both Edmond and Thompson to keep taking big steps for this defense to have a chance going forward.
2. Another big-time performance on defense came from CB Carrington Byndom, who has struggled much of the season. Byndom was in a war all day with Tech's best and most physical receiver, Eric Ward, who had 8 catches for 126 yards.
Byndom lost his share of battles, but won a few, too.
None was bigger than his pass breakup against Ward on third-and-9 from the Texas 16, forcing a 33-yard field goal with 6:39 left in the third quarter.
Byndom also broke up a 2-point conversion pass by Tech, allowing Texas to hold onto a 24-22 lead with 1:35 left in the third, when Texas needed any momentum it could get. And Byndom blocked a field goal with 5:15 left in the game, with UT clinging to its 31-22 lead.
"We needed to have this one," Byndom said. "This defense and team came together today."
Teammates said Byndom has been banged up all year with a bum shoulder and pain in his knee.
"He's a soldier," Edmond said of Byndom. "He's played through injuries. You wouldn't know he's hurt until you go into the training room, when he's icing down. He just plays through it all."
MY TAKE: Byndom got beat plenty on Saturday, but he fought back and made some big plays when his team really needed it. This might be the performance he needed to get things going again.
3. One week after the offense tried to grind it out between the tackles without a deep passing game or much of a perimeter rushing attack until late in the game and QB change, Texas scored touchdowns on its first three possessions.
Harsin, under fire all week for not incorporating his best space players into the game plan until the fourth quarter against Kansas, used them immediately against Tech.
Johnathan Gray ran to the outside for 26 yards on UT's first play.
Even a reverse to Marquise Goodwin that resulted in a fumble (recovered by Goodwin) on Texas' second offensive play, didn't deter Harsin. D.J. Monroe had a 10-yard carry a few plays later on that opening drive.
Daje Johnson ran for 8 yards on the second possession.
"We tried to take advantage of some speed on the perimeter, because we felt like these guys (Texas Tech) were very good up front, inside from what we saw," Harsin said. "So we had to do something to help ourselves with the inside run game. So the perimeter stuff was something we went to early."
The deep passes from Ash to Mike Davis were plays the offense spent a lot of time on in practice last week.
"Offensively, you'd like to have the balance to throw and run and mix it up to and not just in obvious passing situations," Harsin said. "We did that today. Credit to the players to be able to run some of the boots and throw some of the shot plays and hit them.
"It's really important that we hit on those plays, because you get in second-and-long if you don't. And the whole week of preparation we said if we do these things, if we don't hit em, we're putting ourselves in a hole that we will have to dig out of.
"They understood that. I like the mentality that they had, the aggressiveness that they had. And I liked the way David threw the ball and protected it."
The 75-yard TD pass from Ash to Mike Davis came on first down with 13:46 left in the second quarter.
"It all started with practice," Davis said. "We repped these plays in practice, and today we made 'em work.
"We had to bounce back from a good win (against Kansas), but we could have played better. We had to start fast and finish strong like we did. We knew we had to come in here and be ready for a fight, in their house, in a hostile environment."
MY TAKE: When Harsin is aggressive from the outset, good things tend to happen. It sends a confident message to his players, and creates opportunities to grab momentum. And he's got the players to have an aggressive game plan.
The offense tried to grind it out in the third quarter, and everything bogged down. It was huge that the offense could sort of pick itself up early in the fourth quarter and deliver that knockout punch TD pass from Ash to Davis.
Harsin has to keep being aggressive, because when Texas opens a game with a grinding, conservative mindset, it has been an utter failure this season. Period.
3. David Ash said he dug deep this past week to improve because he said he didn't think he played well against Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas.
When I asked Ash what this team proved to itself in a 31-22 victory at Tech on Saturday, he opened up about it.
"Personally, I didn't think I played well against Oklahoma," said Ash, who completed 11 of 19 passes for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns without a turnover.
"I didn't think I played well against Baylor. And I for sure didn't play well against Kansas. You're either getting better or you're getting worse. And I felt like for the last three weeks, I wasn't improving.
"This week, we did improve as a team. The thing I enjoyed so much was my teammates always believing in me and encouraging me. And if we continue to believe in each other and work as hard as we can, good things are going to happen."
Teammates noticed a different Ash in practice last week.
"He came back to work focused after that Kansas game and worked his tail off," said left guard Mason Walters.
MY TAKE: Ash came out attacking every step of the way. His deep passes in this game were right on the money, especially his connections with Mike Davis (4 receptions for 165 yards and TDs of 75 and 25 yards.
Ash even made plays with his legs, something he had gotten away from. It's the first time he's looked really confident since before the OU game. He looked like he did against Oklahoma State. That's of huge importance to this team going forward.
4. Texas being able to grind out the final 5:15 of the game by pounding the ball on the ground, almost all of it with Johnathan Gray, was huge.
For Texas to just suck the life out of the rest of the game after Byndom's field goal block can't be overstated. Gray ran 20 times for 106 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry on the day.
Six of those carries came on the final drive for 36 yards, an average of 6 yards per carry.
"Johnathan showed everyone a lot of toughness, especially right there at the end," said Mason Walters. "We told him, 'Milk every play for every inch you can get.'
"To run the clock down from the 5-minute mark is a great feeling. When you see Johnathan after a play, he's always jumping right back up, ready for another one."
Gray admitted he was emotional about facing Texas Tech, where his father, James, is still the No. 2 all-time leading rusher.
"Knowing my dad played here and the history here, I wanted to prove myself that I can be better than my dad or just like him," Gray said. "The offensive line got a great push, the guys played hard, and we came out with a win."
MY TAKE: It's clear a star is being born in Gray. That was a huge effort against the nation's 12th-ranked defense on the road.
5. The Texas coaches and players sounded after the game like they'd had a breakthrough moment in the season. And they sounded determined to keep the momentum going into next week's game against Iowa State.
"There's no quit in us," said Alex Okafor. "We are going to fight down to the end. We're not a bad, we're a good football team. And this game just builds confidence for us and will help us down the road."
Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro said the team has felt the heat and hopes Saturday's victory can be a springboard.
"I think it brings a lot of confidence to the team. It's a good team win, obviously," Vaccaro said. "I think guys just fought hard the whole game. There was no letup the whole game."
Vaccaro said the defense stepping up and shutting out Tech in the fourth quarter was an important step.
"A lot of guys just made key plays in the game and made open-field tackles, which is what you have to do against a team like this," Vaccaro said. "We feed off each other. We never gave up. We knew had to stop them, and we knew the offense would get going eventually and bring home the win."
When I asked Vaccaro what kind of message the victory sent after Texas had struggled in every game, win or lose, since a 66-31 victory at Ole Miss on Sept. 15.
"Everyone's been against us," Vaccaro said. "We're 7-2 and I've felt like we lost every game this whole year. So it was a big win for us, and we'll keep moving forward.
"I knew we could play this way, for a long time, since two a days. I'm still not satisfied. We've still got things to correct, and we'll keep it moving."
A jubilant Mack Brown said after the game it was the most "complete" performance Texas had put on the field in 2012.
"This is more of what we expected to start the season," Brown said.
MY TAKE: Players and coaches said there were no special meetings, no new mission statements after the win against Kansas. Just a continued focus on getting better that finally paid off in a big way.
The team rallied together throughout the game, overcoming adversity, especially when Tech seemed to grab the momentum in the third quarter. Tech quarterback Seth Doege's comments after the game showed how much the Red Raiders wanted this one.
"It's out last chance at UT," said Doege, a senior, who came into the game leading the nation in TD passes with 30 and finished 26 of 44 passing for 329 yards and 1 TD. "It's our last chance to really try to do something special here that nobody has done before. It hurts. But we should let it hurt."
This was an explosive Tech offense averaging 40.5 points per game and 506.9 yards per game that the Texas defense held to 22 points and 441 yards - well below its averages.
There's no doubt this kind of complete performance should have arrived well before now and that the defense should have been able to stop the run well before now.
The question now is if Texas can handle the success of its first win over an Associated Press-ranked team since 2010 (UT had been 0-9 since beating Nebraska in 2010) and handle Iowa State next week.
But if the Longhorns can build on this win and keep improving the way most everyone expected to happen each week from the start of this season, a team in search of leadership and playmakers may be finding itself. But if we've learned anything about Texas this season, it is a week to week proposition.