Commentary

No style points in Horns' messy win

Updated: October 19, 2009, 1:14 AM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

DALLAS -- Roughly 100 minutes after the ragged Red River Rivalry game ended, the handlers of Texas' famed mascot rousted their steer from his resting spot on the 15-yard line of the Cotton Bowl.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Colt McCoy faced his toughest test of the season in Oklahoma's defense.

Bevo plodded to the 10, then the 5 … and as he reached the Oklahoma goal line, he starched his tail stiffly behind him and left a lovely parting gift on the crimson paint of the end zone.

It was bovine poetry in motion. It was an apt metaphor for this game.

Bevo's download marked just the second time all day that a Longhorn hit the end zone against the Sooners. Fortunately for the burnt orange, one touchdown and three field goals were enough to pull out a 16-13 victory over courageous but cursed Oklahoma.

Once again, Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford went down with a shoulder injury -- this time just 12 snaps into the game. Once again, Oklahoma lost a heartbreaker. It has now lost three games by a total of five points and can only wonder what this season would have been like with the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner (and All-America tight end Jermaine Gresham) healthy.

This much seems clear: No. 20 Oklahoma would have won Saturday with Bradford playing the full 60 minutes. So Texas should feel mighty fortunate about holding off a depleted opponent that turned over the ball five times and outgained the Longhorns by 42 yards.

If this was a statement game for the nation's No. 3 team, Texas didn't state much of a case.

Heisman candidate Colt McCoy was more often bad than good. All-America candidate wide receiver Jordan Shipley was totally shut down, with four catches for just 22 yards and no impact on kick returns. The offensive line was overwhelmed in the first half and merely competent in the second -- never overpowering.

But on a day when Florida was pushed into the final seconds by unranked Arkansas and USC nearly blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead to Notre Dame and Ohio State was beaten by 1-5 Purdue, survive-and-advance worked just fine. The Horns remain front and center in the national championship picture, and are completely unapologetic about the underwhelming nature of this victory.

"We know we're 6-0," said McCoy, who endured a lot of adversity (some of it self-inflicted) on the way to his third victory over the rival Sooners in four starts. "That in itself speaks volumes. We've got so much room for improvement. It might be really scary if we start playing well."

Saturday seemed like a great time to start playing well after facing a soft schedule to date, but it didn't happen.

To be sure, Oklahoma's ferocious defense was a huge factor in Texas' struggles. This game figured to be dominated by the defenses, and that certainly went according to script.

"It's like an SEC game, it felt like," McCoy said. "The defenses were great."

Oklahoma's defense was so stout that McCoy called it the best in the country, and said the Sooners brought four or five blitzes he'd never seen before.

"They played lights out," McCoy said. "I was expecting the worst, and they brought the worst."

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Tim Heitman/US PresswireSam Bradford's injury hurt the Sooners' chances.

Which in turn spawned what might have been the worst half of McCoy's stellar career. At halftime, he was 10-of-21 for just 59 yards, had been sacked four times, had fumbled in the red zone, had nearly thrown a couple of pick-six interceptions and had led his team to just three points.

The final McCoy numbers were hardly Heisman quality: 21-of-39 for 127 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. His best play all day was the pick-six-saving tackle he made on Oklahoma defensive back Brian Jackson after a fourth-quarter interception, caused when freshman wide receiver Marquise Goodwin incorrectly ran a slant pattern behind Jackson and allowed him to get a jump on the ball.

"I was mad," McCoy said. "When I get mad, I'm going to make a play."

He should've gotten mad a few more times on offense. There were some mitigating factors behind his poor performance -- a lingering cold and a slightly injured thumb when he banged his throwing hand off Sooners defensive tackle Gerald McCoy's helmet.

But playing hurt is part of the position. And playing ugly is OK when your defense did what Texas' did Saturday.

The Longhorns' front four dominated Oklahoma's inexperienced offensive line. And after some sketchy first-half tackling, the back seven locked down in the second half and permitted just one big play -- a 35-yard touchdown pass from Landry Jones to Ryan Broyles.

For the game, Oklahoma ran for minus-16 yards, as Texas repeatedly got into the backfield to create negative plays. And an underappreciated secondary rose up to make two fourth-quarter interceptions.

"I told the defense we needed to play better than their defense," Horns defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. "We need to make plays on the back end better than their back-end guys did. That's what our guys did."

For now, at least, defense remains the calling card for this team. In fact, the Texas offense has almost refused to show up for work in the first half this season. Four times this year, the Horns have scored 13 or fewer first-half points.

"We're a second-half team," McCoy said.

To keep alive its quest for a national title, Texas will eventually have to be an all-game team.

The schedule isn't overwhelming the rest of the way. There are four road games, but only Oklahoma State is ranked -- and that might change if wide receiver Dez Bryant does not regain his eligibility. The only other ranked opponent is Kansas, which comes to Austin on Nov. 21.

So it's not hard to foresee Texas at 12-0 come December. But Bevo's boys made a mess of the Cotton Bowl on the way to this victory.

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