Texas' rush defense shows cracks
Longhorns find a way to beat rival Aggies but look vulnerable stopping the run
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- For Texas, Thanksgiving Day wasn't about style points or making a statement -- unless you were Colt McCoy taking a major step toward winning the Heisman Trophy. The Longhorns just needed to march out of Texas A&M's Kyle Field with a victory. They did that in an entertaining 49-39 win that produced the highest point total in the history of the series.
But Texas needed a sterling performance from McCoy and a late kickoff return for a touchdown from freshman Marquise Goodwin of Rowlett, Texas, to keep its undefeated season intact.
"We had them right where we wanted them, and we let them get away," Aggies linebacker/defensive end Von Miller said.
Maybe. But, as Longhorns coach Mack Brown said after the game, good teams find a way to win no matter how they have to do it. The Longhorns came in as huge favorites in 2005 and escaped with an 11-point victory over A&M. They went on to win a national title. Texas hopes to follow a similar script this season.
The Longhorns have some things to fix, though. Their normally stingy defense had trouble containing A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson and the Aggies' running game, which totaled 190 yards against the top-ranked rush defense in the country.
"We expected this coming in," McCoy said. "We knew it would be a fight. These guys are hard to beat here. The crowd was loud. It was good for us. Now, we've got to beat Nebraska."
The reality for TCU or Cincinnati is that close wins for Texas probably are enough to put the Longhorns in the national title game. But Thursday's struggles on the defensive end may give Frogs fans hope that Nebraska could pull off an upset in the Big 12 championship. And somewhere in a hotel room near Boulder, Colo., Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and his staff probably noticed a few things they could use on Dec. 5 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
For starters: The Longhorns all of a sudden look vulnerable defending the running game. Texas A&M gave the Longhorns' defense some blocking schemes it hadn't seen, and Johnson used his feet to find holes and make tacklers miss. The 190 yards rushing -- including 97 by Johnson and another 83 from Christine Michael -- were easily the most allowed by the Longhorns all season.
Longhorns defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said he wasn't worried, taking the blame and saying he'll have his team ready to face Nebraska. Senior defensive end/linebacker Sergio Kindle, a product of Woodrow Wilson High in Dallas, said he wasn't sure what happened.
"Their offense was just clicking," Kindle said. "We could have done things better on our side of the ball, but you can't take anything away from their offense, they were doing everything they wanted to do, it seemed like."
That included Johnson's ability to find open receivers and make pinpoint passes. He finished 26-for-33 passing for 342 yards and four touchdowns. Johnson threw a big interception in the end zone early in the third quarter but kept his team in the game.
"I thought Jerrod Johnson played tremendous," McCoy said.
He did. But McCoy was even better. The senior may have won the Heisman Trophy with two solid performances in less than a week. He threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns and didn't have an interception. And McCoy had just as big an impact on the ground, rushing for a career-high 175 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown scamper. McCoy saw the blitz coming, found a hole and sprinted down the middle of the field.
He showed good speed, even pulling away from a couple of defenders once he saw the goal line.
"When somebody's chasing me, I'm real fast," McCoy joked.
The Longhorns didn't use McCoy's ground game early in the season, wanting to protect his body. But since the Oklahoma game, he's started running the ball more. The zone read was a popular play call Thursday, and it worked well.
"We thought he might run the ball 10 times," Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "But he ran it 15. Some of those were plays that he just ran it, not called runs."
That's another dimension of McCoy's game that the Huskers had better be prepared to defend. Just like the Longhorns know they'd better figure out how to plug the holes defensively against the run.
Nebraska has a good running game with Roy Helu Jr. and Plano's Rex Burkhead leading the way. Zac Lee isn't a mobile quarterback like Johnson, but Nebraska does have freshman Cody Green, who can be elusive. The Huskers might incorporate him into the game plan after seeing what the Aggies did Thursday.
But the Longhorns will get extra time to figure things out, too. And few coaches are better at making adjustments than Muschamp. Besides, Nebraska will have to work overtime to figure out a way to stop McCoy and that Texas offense, which is scoring points in clumps and gaining confidence. It also proved Thursday that it can win a shootout if needed.
"It's fun," McCoy said. "You embrace the moment and love the moment. We came together, and if we have to outscore them, we'll outscore them."
Richard Durrett covers college sports for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.