Texas playing like No. 2 team ... for now

Get used to the idea of Bevo on Rodeo Drive. Cowboy boots will be all the rage in Pasadena. While Texas isn't in the Rose Bowl now, it's hard to imagine the Horns not being there on Jan. 4.

Updated: October 23, 2005, 12:00 AM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

AUSTIN, Texas -- They're not in Pasadena yet, but they can see it from here.

The Texas Longhorns now have an unobstructed view of the Rose Bowl, and it would take a stunning stumble or some microchip madness to change that. Might as well reserve Bevo's guest spot with Leno now, and prepare Rodeo Drive for another invasion of cowboy boots.

Selvyn Young
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesIt might be awhile -- say, come Jan. 4 -- before second-ranked Texas faces another challenge.

The Horns strengthened their hold on the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings Saturday by throttling overrated Texas Tech, 52-17. With a remaining regular-season schedule of Oklahoma State, Baylor, Kansas and Texas A&M (combined Big 12 record: 4-12), the heavy lifting has been done.

A stroll through that motley competition would then leave the Horns with just two remaining hurdles:

• The Big 12 championship game, perhaps against Colorado or Missouri, two teams they routed this month by a combined score of 93-37.

• A potential computer tussle in the BCS standings with any other remaining unbeaten Rose Bowl contenders (namely Virginia Tech, Alabama or Georgia).

But right now the computers love the Horns, and they'll love them even more Monday after crushing a Red Raiders team ranked No. 7 by the BCS.

"I thought at the beginning of the year nobody deserved to be No. 2," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I thought USC deserved to be No. 1, but nobody deserved to be No. 2. Now I think this team definitely deserves to be No. 2."

At least. While top dog Southern Cal endured a perils-of-Pauline stretch, forced to come back to beat Oregon, Arizona State and Notre Dame, Texas has been on cruise control ever since the big win at Ohio State Sept. 10.

"I would have to say that this is the best Texas team that I have been involved in playing against," said Tech coach Mike Leach, whose record is now 1-5 against the Horns.

This was the Horns' fifth straight rout since that Ohio State thriller, and fifth straight game scoring at least 42 points. But as explosive as Texas' offense is, the story Saturday was its defense.

Texas Tech came into Austin leading the nation in scoring offense at 54 points per game. Texas Tech left Austin with its lowest point total in 13 games, and its second-lowest point total since 2002.

As usual, the Red Raiders ran a ton of plays (93) and racked up a ton of yards (468). They were hollow stats. The numbers on paper don't mean nearly as much as the numbers on the scoreboard.

"It's always about points allowed," Texas co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. "The first thing I'm going to tell [the Texas defensive players] is that they averaged 54 points and they got 17. We're not perfect ... but I'll take that every day.

"For us to be a championship team we have to be a championship defense, and that's keeping teams out of the end zone."

Chizik and co-coordinator Duane Akina were confident enough in their unit that they didn't significantly alter their usual gameplan for the unconventional Red Raiders. The Horns were here to dictate terms, not react.

"It wasn't about Texas Tech," linebacker Robert Killebrew said. "It was about Texas. The coaches told us, 'Don't make it about them. As soon as you make it about them, you've lost focus.' "

That's why some of the Horns were hardly beating their chests about holding Tech 37 points below its season average. As linebacker Aaron Harris said, "Our [defensive] average is 13, so that's above average. We're not happy with that."

In the end, this game was all about Texas. But it didn't start out that way.

This might have been the biggest game in Tech history. With its highest ranking in 28 years, Leach had the opportunity to validate his unconventional philosophy by shocking the Longhorns.

Didn't happen. Didn't come close.

Leach's gimmick offense can take a program a long way, but not all the way. Some football truths remain irrefutable: You don't compete for national championships without a reliable running attack, solid special teams and a defense that can make a few stops. The Red Raiders fell far short in all three of those areas.

Tech's running game only produced as an element of surprise Saturday. Its special teams allowed a blocked punt (when punter Alex Reyes dropped the snap) and a 38-yard punt return. Its defense gave up lightning-strike touchdown drives of two plays, four plays and three plays in the middle of the game.

And surprisingly, gamblin' man Leach made a conservative decision that helped turn the game irrevocably in Texas' favor.

Trailing 17-10 in the second quarter and facing a fourth-and-5 at the Horns' 35, Leach bailed out on going for it. He tried to draw Texas offside and failed, drawing a delay-of-game penalty.

Then the man who hates to punt sent in the kicking unit. Reyes dropped the snap. The Horns smothered the punt, and scored two plays later. It was never close after that.

It was the kind of conservative call that makes you believe Leach felt the enormity of the moment -- the kind of call that Mack Brown used to make in big games.

Not these days. Brown looks looser and happier than ever, despite the ever-present expectations that come with Texas football.

You had to look no further than the wall in the football complex theater Saturday evening to feel it. Underneath big orange letters that say "Texas Football National Champions" is a list that reads, "1963, 1969, 1970,"

That expectant comma after the last one tells the story. It's been a 35-year pause -- an eternity in Longhorn years.

They have the opportunity to put something after that comma this season. Right now, the roses are in clear view, right there for the taking.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.