Defense comes to Longhorns' rescue
Will Muschamp was plenty busy Saturday night as he walked around the field at Jones AT&T Stadium after beating Texas Tech.
He had good reason, because on a night that sixth-ranked Texas had four turnovers and was dreadful offensively, it was saved by its defense, which actually turned out to be its best offense. It limited Texas Tech’s high-powered attack to just 144 yards (including minus-14 rushing), allowed only one touchdown and caused turnovers that led to an easy 10 points.
“They looked really good,” Texas coach Mack Brown said of his defense. “We were pretty dominating.”
But Brown knows that his team was fortunate against Texas Tech and first-year coach Tommy Tuberville, who entered Saturday with a 15-13 career record against top-10 teams. Texas sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw three deflected interceptions — one of which was returned for a touchdown — in his first Big 12 start, the rushing attack was again sluggish with just 93 yards on 43 carries, and the Longhorns committed 11 penalties for 95 yards.
Even after Texas streaked to a 14-0 lead in the game’s first seven minutes, Brown was just happy to escape with a victory. He praised his team for its perseverance in a hostile environment where far better Texas teams than this one have been defeated.
“With the mistakes that we made, we would have lost the game,” Brown said. “I was really, really proud.”
And while it’s still unknown just how good this Texas team is heading into a daunting three-game stretch of UCLA, No. 7 Oklahoma and at No. 8 Nebraska, there are no questions about its defense. On Texas Tech’s first offensive play of the game, the snap sailed over quarterback Taylor Potts and was recovered by Longhorns freshman defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat at the Red Raiders’ 7-yard line. On the next play, Texas tailback Foswhitt Whittaker found the end zone.
In the third quarter, with Texas Tech driving and the score tied at 14, Longhorns cornerback Curtis Brown snagged an interception and returned it 74 yards to set up Justin Tucker’s 27-yard field goal.
“We had a great plan and great execution with what we wanted to do,” Muschamp said.
“Anytime you got a great defense like that, you can pretty much put the game in their hands,” said Longhorns wide receiver James Kirkendoll, who had 6 catches for 122 yards. “It’s not that much pressure on the offense.”
Never satisfied, Muschamp, who is in his third season as defensive coordinator at Texas, talked after the game about his defense becoming even better. He was still bothered by a 25-yard run that it surrendered in the first half.
“We need to continue to improve,” Muschamp said. “There’s things we need to improve on.”
Texas’ stellar defensive effort was sweet revenge after its national championship hopes were dashed here two years ago in a heartbreaking 39-33 loss on Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s 28-yard touchdown reception with a second left. On the final drive, Longhorns safety Blake Gideon dropped what would have been a game-ending interception.
But in this game, Gideon held on to an interception in the first quarter. As he left the field afterwards, he kneeled down and kissed the turf.
“That’s ironic,” Gideon said of his interception. “It’s a blessing, I guess. That’s funny how things like that work out.”
On Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown reception in 2008, he slipped through the grasp of Texas’ Curtis Brown. After Saturday night’s game, Brown stood up and, according to Mack Brown, told his teammates, “I felt so bad in ’08. I feel as good tonight as I felt bad then. I feel like I really played and have done well to come back.”
As the game’s final minutes ticked away Saturday night, a group of Texas fans chanted, “Defense! Defense! Defense!” Nearby, Curtis Brown held his index finger to his mouth to tell Red Raiders fans to be silent and then made the throat-slash gesture.
Texas had avoided being killed on this night, but only by self-defense.