Commentary

Chemistry key in Texas' Cotton Bowl surprise

Originally Published: October 11, 2008
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

DALLAS -- Thank goodness we live in an age of DVRs and instant classics, endless replays and countless highlight shows. Only 92,182 people at the refurbished Cotton Bowl and a national television audience got to see one of the best college football games of this or any season.

If you went to see your team play Saturday, if you didn't have the good fortune of wearing burnt orange or crimson in Fair Park on a sunlit fall Saturday, if you made the mistake of watching some other game, get thee to YouTube. Buy, cheat or steal your way to a copy and watch No. 5 Texas beat No. 1 Oklahoma 45-35. (Editor's note: A replay of this game is available on ESPN360.com.)

Yes, that's right, 80 points and 873 yards spread over three hours and 26 minutes of the kind of excitement once reserved for heavyweight title fights, back when boxing mattered.

The purists will see this box score, turn their nose in the air and purr that defense still wins championships. But nobody who saw -- or with the benefit of technology, will see -- this game would write off either team. After the game, when Texas coach Mack Brown said, "That's two of the best football teams in the country," it sounded like analysis and not cliché.

"I didn't see anybody loaf," Brown said. "I didn't see anybody give up. I thought it was one of the greatest football games I've ever seen."

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Tim Heitman/US PresswireColt McCoy carried No. 5 Texas past No. 1 Oklahoma on Saturday.

The Longhorns defeated -- let's not say upset -- the Sooners because the Texas offense showed a balance that it hadn't displayed in its first five victories. Quarterback Colt McCoy gave another in a series of great performances, completing 28 of 35 passes for 277 yards and one touchdown. But for the first time this season, his teammates outshone him.

Fifth-year wide receiver Jordan Shipley caught a career-high 11 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, and also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Senior wide receiver Quan Cosby caught nine passes for 122 yards. Fifth-year tailback Chris Ogbonnaya rushed for a career-best 127 yards, including a 62-yard sweep in the fourth quarter to the Oklahoma 2 that set up the final touchdown.

None of them have NFL scouts in a dither. But in college football, experience and teamwork can often put a butt-whipping on sheer talent.

"Quan, Chris, Jordan have all played so much with Colt that they improvise," Brown said, "and it's really, really hard to get people to do that. So there were some plays today that were just made because of instincts, and chemistry, and leadership."

McCoy and Shipley had an 18-year head start on their chemistry. Their fathers, Brad McCoy and Bob Shipley, roomed together as teammates at Abilene Christian in the early 1980s. In the 1990s, when Bob Shipley coached at his alma mater, the McCoy family would come to games and the boys would run around together.

These days, Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley room together, and speak to religious groups, visit hospitals and hunt and fish together.

"It's hard to kind of turn that switch off when you get off the field," Jordan said the other day in Austin. "Sometimes we'll do some stuff and just try to relax and get away from it. Most of the stuff we end up doing ends up being some kind of competition."

[+] EnlargeJordan Shipley
Jim Cowsert/Icon SMIJordan Shipley sprinted past the Sooners on a kickoff return TD and caught 11 passes for 112 yards and another TD.

On Saturday, they looked as if they were competing for the game's most valuable player, and Shipley won it. The second-quarter kickoff return for a touchdown stunted the momentum that Oklahoma had built up by going ahead 14-3. Texas had a field goal, two punts and minus-10 yards rushing to show for its first three possessions. Shipley took the ball at the 4, found a lane to the right sideline and sped untouched down the field. He covered 96 yards in 12 seconds, and Texas tapped into its adrenaline.

By halftime, the Longhorns had closed the gap to 21-20. And in the second half, Shipley did his greatest damage to the Sooners. He did it as a would-be tight end; all 6-foot, 190 pounds of him.

Texas doesn't have a tight end, at least one who can catch. But offensive coordinator Greg Davis believed Oklahoma would be susceptible to passes in the middle of the field. So on many plays Texas lined up three receivers wide, with Shipley no more than 5 yards away from the tackle. He caught five passes for 43 yards in the first half.

Take whatever vulnerability that Davis saw in the middle of the field and triple it. Oklahoma middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds, the quarterback and emotional heart of the defense, tore his right ACL early in the third quarter. His replacement, sophomore Brandon Crow, "played really hard and competed," defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, as nicely as he could.

Shipley caught a 1-yard touchdown crossing over the middle, Crow in pursuit, to pull the Longhorns within 28-27 midway through the third quarter.

Oklahoma stalled on its ensuing possession at its own 48. Sooners coach Bob Stoops, sensing the game slipping away, called a fake punt on fourth-and-6. Mike Knall ran to his right, bumped into tight end Jermaine Gresham, and with a punter's speed gained 5½ yards.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesColt McCoy's 277 passing yards paves the way for a new No. 1 team.

Texas drove down and Hunter Lawrence kicked his third field goal of the day, from 33 yards, to give the Longhorns their first lead of the game and the Sooners their first deficit of the season.

The Sooners scored on Sam Bradford's fifth touchdown pass of the game -- his third to Manuel Johnson -- to go ahead 35-30 with 7:37 to play.

That's when Shipley took over again. On third-and-8 at the Sooners' 38, Shipley curled over the middle behind Crow. McCoy found him near the 20 and Shipley raced to the 1. On the next play, Texas took the lead for good.

On Friday night, Coppell (Texas) High, coached by Bob Shipley, ended Southlake Carroll High's 38-game, six-year winning streak in district play, winning 57-53 in two overtimes. Jordan's younger brother Jaxon caught four passes for 37 yards. Pat Wadlington, a friend of Bob, texted Jordan at the Renaissance Hotel in the Dallas suburb of Richardson with updates throughout the game.

Asked which win was bigger, Jordan broke into a big grin.

"I don't know," he said. "That was a great win. I was really proud of my dad and my brother."

On Thursday, Brown reminded his team that no matter what happened against the rival Sooners, the game next Saturday against No. 3 Missouri in Austin would be bigger. Brown is right, of course. But as the Longhorns and their fans celebrated into the night, it was hard to imagine how.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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