SAN DIEGO -- Think the Texas Longhorns were motivated to finish the 2007 season with a statement? Even coach Mack Brown's stepson, a UT staffer, tried to get into the action and make a play for the Horns.
Unfortunately for Brown and his team, Chris Jessie's impulsive move to scoop up a loose ball bounding near the Texas sideline had Bartmanesque potential. However, the Longhorns would be too motivated, too well-prepared and too talented to allow Arizona State the opportunity to capitalize on any big momentum swing on Thursday night. Texas cruised to a 52-34 victory in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.
The Sun Devils' point total doesn't reflect how dominant the Longhorn defense was, harassing QB Rudy Carpenter all night and completely disrupting the ASU running game, holding it to 22 rushing yards.
Offensively, UT was almost as sharp. QB Colt McCoy was accurate on his passes and even more impressive carving up the aggressive ASU defense on draws and scrambles. Tailback Jamaal Charles gave himself a nice birthday present, torching ASU for a number of big runs en route to 161 rushing yards.
It was quite a statement for a program determined to purge the bitter taste of a regular-season finale loss to archrival Texas A&M. "We knew how important this game was because of how we finished [the regular season]," Brown said.
After the game, the intensity was still evident on the faces of five of UT's stars seated around their head coach. It was just the carryover from an intense month of bowl preparation that included 6 a.m. practices and placing every starting job up for grabs.
"These kids have worked as hard as any in the country," said Brown. "You go back and we had a chance to win against OU and A&M and didn't. We were lucky to have a great opponent to go up against. We were this aggressive in the A&M game and it didn't help.
"I was so proud of the guys. We had three straight penalties and it could been a momentum shift but we bounced back. From the day we started practice with these guys, from every morning, nobody had been late to practice. We didn't play great tonight, but we played well."
No group at Texas was more ready than the defensive line. Rumors had been circulating over the last month that Longhorn co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina's job was in jeopardy. Two days before the game, Texas coaches showed their players film clips of just how physical the ASU O-line, a unit that averages almost 318 pounds per man, could be. That proved to be a challenge. Instead of playing a lot of base defense, Akina instructed his front to do a lot of slanting and moving. "It wasn't reckless," said senior defensive tackle Derek Lokey, "but it was with abandon."
Some of that attitude might have spilled over to the UT sidelines. And that's where Jessie, Brown's 26-year-old stepson, made his way into the spotlight. Until that moment in the second quarter, Texas was dominating. Arizona State was down 21-0 with a third-and-11 from the Texas 15 with just under 13 minutes remaining in the half. Carpenter, as had been the case for much of the night, was flushed from the pocket by a heavy Texas pass rush.
Carpenter rolled right but was run down by linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy as he tried to unload a pass. The ball squirted toward the Longhorns' sideline with players giving chase. As the ball looked like it would tumble out of bounds, more than a half-dozen Longhorn players and coaches jumped out at least two or three yards onto the playing field. Jessie, near his stepdad, motioned towards one of the Texas linemen in chase, as if he was an overzealous father at a pee-wee game. Then, incredulously, Jessie reached out to grab the ball, as it hung in the air near his knees. Replays showed that he might have tipped the ball, although nothing seemed to change the trajectory. Jessie recoiled as defensive tackle Roy Miller swatted the ball away from the sideline and end Aaron Lewis picked it up near midfield and advanced it to the ASU 44.
The Texas offense rushed onto the field as UT coaches motioned for McCoy to get the ball snapped, but as the crowd oohed while the JumboTron showed the replay of the bizarre braincramp on the Longhorn sideline, the referees jumped in to review the play.
They ruled that there was illegal touching of the ball by Texas. The play was therefore blown dead and the Longhorns were guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct. The foul, warranting half the distance to the UT goal line, set ASU up with a fourth-and-three at Texas 7. On the next play, Carpenter threw a strike to Chris McGaha for a touchdown.
In a season full of bizarre moments, Jessie's 12th man maneuver (probably to the delight of Texas A&M fans) will be replayed for years. It sure sent Texas fans scrambling to message boards to try and figure out exactly who the mystery man was who the TV cameras kept zeroing in on as he stood crestfallen on the UT sidelines. "The new pitch man for Southwest Airlines' 'Wanna Get Away' campaign?" cracked one fan. Meanwhile, Jessie, wearing a burnt orange UT pullover, khakis and sneakers, stood for much of the rest of the half with his hands tucked in his pockets, just staring straight ahead as players and coaches moved past him on the sideline.
In the postgame celebration, Jessie was an unusual subplot. The former political science major from Colorado State, whose primary role with UT football is helping coordinate hotels and team travel, handled a chaotic scene with class as his eyes occasionally bugged as the throng around him swelled.
"I did not touch the ball," he said with a circle of cameras and microcassette recorders circling him. "I thought it was a forward pass. When I realized the ball was still in play, I jumped back."
"It just shows you had badly our family wanted to win this game," quipped Brown. "He even got involved."
Joked Cleve Bryant, Jessie's boss in football operations, "I guess it was my fault. I gotta coach him up."
In truth, it really didn't matter. Brown's team had Jessie covered.
"This win gives us a tremendous amount of momentum," Brown said. "Hopefully, we'll start next season in the top five."
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," is on sale now.