By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
Where has this team been all year? Watching the Texas Longhorns take apart Arizona State Thursday night in the Holiday Bowl as if they were beating on Baylor, one felt a little cheated.
Texas isn’t paying Mack Brown $2.91 million per year to win the Holiday Bowl. The Longhorns needed to come shot from a cannon every week. No team is so talented that it can get away with any less.
The Longhorns put up a 52-34 win against Arizona State, improving to 10-3 and reaching ten wins for the seventh straight year. The official literature coming from The 40 Acres will mark a ten-win season and a fourth straight bowl win as successes, but we all know the standard at Texas is much higher.
Tiring of a football team that generally came to game day this season as if victory were inevitable, Brown became progressively tougher as the year went along, to the point of instituting 6 a.m. practices leading up to the Holiday Bowl, declaring all positions open and making changes among the offensive line and the linebacking corps.
The Longhorns went back to basics, which indicates that Brown knew it needed to happen. When the Longhorns went off to a 21-0 lead, it was as if the game came from some vision of a distant past.
Offensively, the Longhorns banged the ball on the ground behind Jamaal Charles, who rushed 27 times for 161 yards. Colt McCoy threw 31 passes, completing 21 for 174 yards. But he also gave Texas the rushing dimension it needs from a quarterback, carrying for 84 yards in 16 attempts.
Defensively, coordinator Duane Akina came with an interesting game plan, mixing blitzes to take advantage of Arizona State’s slow offensive line. The Longhorns sacked Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter four times and otherwise tortured Carpenter with pressure.
The Longhorns didn’t entirely shut down Arizona State, allowing four touchdowns. But they dominated along the line of scrimmage, giving up only 22 rushing yards, and forced Arizona State into numerous negative plays in the passing game.
The Horns weren’t even sidetracked by that odd episode in which Brown’s stepson, Chris Jessie, reached for a ball in play from the sidelines. The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty negated a turnover for the Horns and Arizona State scored a touchdown on the next snap. But that only brought the Sun Devils within 21-7 in the second quarter. The Longhorns responded with the next touchdown.
When all else was lost, the Longhorns went to bread-and-butter football, setting their superior talent loose on a physical game plan. It could be that the lesson will hold. When you have the better talent, as Texas often does, put pressure on the opposing defensive line with the running game and on the opposing offensive line with multiple blitzes.
It would have been a nice blueprint for the last year. It could be the blueprint for the future.