SAN ANTONIO — Texas offensive guard Mason Walters said he didn’t see David Ash’s momentum-turning escape and touchdown throw to Johnathan Gray — “I had my hands full at the time trying to keep a couple more from getting after him” — but that didn’t stop him from sensing the play’s impact.
“I did catch it on the Jumbotron afterwards,” Walters said. “It was impressive and I don’t know how he did it.
“It was huge. I’ve said it all year: college football is really just a game of momentum. And when you have it, you have it. When you don’t, it’s tough to get back.”
That play, a 15-yard scoring pass with 8:18 left to go in the fourth quarter, cut the Oregon State lead to 27-24. But more importantly, it saturated the No. 23 Longhorns with enough momentum to close out a 31-27 Valero Alamo Bowl victory.
“We challenged all of our players to make sure that our seniors left happy and had a happy dressing room,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “And that’s happening in there tonight.”
Through three quarters, No. 13 Oregon State built a 27-17 lead by running the ball and keeping the Texas offense off balance. Texas entered the fourth quarter with 201 total yards, and Ash was just 12 of 22 for 95 yards with an interception. But in the final 15 minutes, Ash caught fire, completing 9-of-11 passes for 146 yards, and hitting on his last seven passes as Texas scored on its final two drives to pull out the comeback victory.
“You just kind of keep plugging away and you kind of wait for that play that sparks,” Ash said. “This game, we started getting them, and we got the momentum back and we started playing well.”
Texas’s Major Applewhite faced a challenge in his first game as offensive coordinator and primary play-caller. First, he had just two weeks to game plan and make any necessary adjustments. Second, he faced a stingy Oregon State defense that excels at stuffing runs between the tackles — exactly what Texas wanted to accomplish offensively. And third, Applewhite’s backup quarterback, Case McCoy, was suspended for violation of team rules on Friday prior to the game.
“I’d like to forget that,” Applewhite said of facing a difficult backup situation. “I spent about two hours with (true freshman) Jalen Overstreet in Conference Ballroom 15 trying to get ready for the game, and it was a little nerve-wracking.”
Applewhite said that because of the quarterback situation, Texas was hesitant to run Ash too early and leave him susceptible to injury. But in the third quarter, with Texas trailing 20-10, and with no running game to speak of, the Longhorns called two designed quarterback draws in three plays. The first, called on a third-and-4, picked up 5 yards and a first down. On the second, Ash rushed for an 11-yard touchdown, leaping over an Oregon State defender into the end zone and providing that first spark.
“David really gained a lot of confidence, especially on the one where he ran it in and jumped over a guy in the end zone,” said Texas wide receiver Jaxon Shipley. “You could see it. You could feel it. Everybody was fired up, especially him. From that point on, I felt like he definitely had a feeling that we were going to win the game.”
Applewhite was also helped by a monster game from Alamo Bowl Offensive MVP Marquise Goodwin. Early in the second quarter with the Longhorns stymied offensively, Goodwin took a reverse 64 yards for a touchdown. And the speedster who competed in this past summer’s London Olympics as a long-jumper burst past his defender to haul in the game-winning, 36-yard touchdown pass with 2:24 left.
“When you get those guys that have exceptional speed, they can do things outside of the design of the play so you don’t have to be perfect, there’s a little bit more margin for error,” Applewhite said.
But Goodwin’s speed wasn’t the only speed that had a major effect on the game. The Longhorn offense went up-tempo through the second half and wore down the Beavers late.
“We probably were on the field too much . . .” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “We didn’t sustain enough, didn’t get enough first downs to give our defense a chance.”
That was the result of a freshly dialed-in Texas defense, which gave up 228 yards and 20 points in the first half. Beavers running back Storm Woods — in a homecoming of sorts — rushed for 98 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown. In all, the Pflugerville native combined with fellow running back Terron Ward and receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks to gash the Longhorns for 151 yards in the first half.
“The first half, we felt like we played great sound football,” Woods said. “And the second half felt like Texas just made some adjustments and they came out and they just . . . I guess they wanted it more or something.”
Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said afterward that the Texas defense had a decision to make at halftime.
“To me, it was whether they wanted to fight their way out of it or sort of accept their fate,” Diaz said. “I’m so proud of the way that they fought, the way that they battled in the second half.”
Buoyed by the tremendous pass rush from Defensive MVP Alex Okafor, Texas rattled junior Cody Vaz and shut down the running lanes that were so easily accessible in the first half. Vaz entered the game with an 11-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but he finished 15 of 28 for 194 yards and no touchdowns to two picks. More impressively, he was sacked 10 times, with Okafor’s Alamo Bowl-record 4.5 sacks providing the primary damage. Woods ran six times for 20 yards in the second half, as the Beavers had just 69 total second-half yards.
And when it came down to the end, after the Longhorns took the lead, the defense closed things out. On third-and-8, Okafor made the last of his sacks in bullying his way to tackle Vaz. And on fourth-and-14, linebacker Kendall Thompson pulled Vaz to the turf to end any hope of a Beaver rally.
“It’s always great to end the season on a good note,” said Okafor, who ended his senior season with 12.5 sacks. “We’re going to use this game as a stepping stone, and Coach Diaz just talked about that we have to demand more from ourselves. That was kind of the mindset going into this game, and that’s what we did.”
For the second consecutive year, Texas ended with a victory, and the Longhorns finished 9-4. Oregon State, which entered the postseason with a 9-3 mark, finished with an identical record.
Walters said that momentum gained from that play, and the ensuing win, could also be applied on a more macro scale. The Longhorns won at least 10 games per season in Brown’s first 12 seasons, but have failed to hit that standard in the three seasons since. Now, Texas is looking to morph the season-ending victory into a strong offseason and, eventually, a comeback of another kind — the restoration of the Texas program as a whole.
“That’s big. We experienced it last year and obviously . . . if you look at it at the end of the year, and we judge wins and losses, we’ve improved from where we were last year.
“However, this is not where we want to end up,” Walters said. “This isn’t going to be good enough. I wouldn’t accept 9-4 next year. I wouldn’t take that deal right now. We’re just going to have to ride it. I know I’ve already talked to a lot of guys that are going to be on the team next year, we’re excited to get back to work and get back together with everybody and get back on the grind.”