Commentary

Chalk up another win for Texas QB

Updated: November 25, 2009, 10:03 AM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Colt McCoy of Texas has won more college football games than any other FBS quarterback in the history of the sport. That's 140 years, for those keeping score at home. He has completed a higher percentage of passes in one season (76.7, in 2008) than any other quarterback in the history of the sport.

McCoy has led the No. 3 Longhorns to an 11-0 record and the Big 12 South championship. He is 3-0 as a bowl starter. He is 3-1 against Oklahoma. There's one opponent in his four seasons that has given McCoy constant trouble, has pestered him like a zone blitz he can't quite decipher.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Colt McCoy struggled in his third game of the season, throwing two interceptions against Texas Tech.

That opponent is 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, hails from Tuscola, Texas, and greets McCoy in the mirror every morning.

This is the story of how Colt McCoy shook off that zone self-blitz this season, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Senior Year.

"You come back for your senior year after a good year," McCoy said. "You have the opportunity to go to the NFL. You win a bunch of awards. You almost win the Heisman. All those things you accomplish, and you come back as a senior, and you have to do this and do that and play perfect."

You have to understand that McCoy would rather wear a dress on the field than make a mistake. He still feels that way, even after hearing offensive coordinator Greg Davis preach for five seasons.

How often in McCoy's career, Davis is asked, has he given the you-don't-have-to-be-perfect talk?

"Oh," Davis said, "once a week."

Davis saw the danger signs. McCoy not only set that completion percentage record last season but also led the Longhorns to a 12-1 record and a No. 4 finish in the final poll.

"I called him in January," Davis said the other day. "I said, 'Look, you just completed 77 percent of your passes for the season. I just completed 36 years of coaching. I've never had a guy do that.

"'Now, let me go a step further. Nobody who has ever coached quarterbacks has had a guy do that. So to think you're just going to walk back out here next year and it's going to go to 80 is unrealistic.'"

For all the good it did, Davis might as well have been talking to the wall. Whatever Davis said, what McCoy heard was this: You lost one of your two favorite receivers, Quan Cosby, to graduation. You lost one of your best young receivers, Brandon Collins, to academics. And your ground game is still a train wreck.

Ultimately, the quarterback heard: McCoy, you have a lot to do.

"I think, to some degree," Davis said, "the offensive football team said, 'Hey, he'll make a play for us at some point.'

Either McCoy tried to do everything -- and on every play -- or he refused to take a chance.

The Longhorns won every week. But something wasn't right.

"I was playing good and giving my team its best chance to win," McCoy said, "but at the same time it was not fun. I was beating myself up. I kept digging myself deeper and deeper in a hole that I couldn't get out of."

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images McCoy's worst game of the season, versus Oklahoma, was also the turning point.

His words spilled out in a torrent.

"You put so much pressure on yourself and expectations on yourself to be the best, to complete all your passes and throw three or four touchdowns and throw for 300 yards," McCoy said. "When you don't, and you decided to come back for your senior year and come back and have an up-and-down year and you don't do all that, it hurts you mentally. You end up not having fun. You stress out all week. You think, 'I'll do better next week.'"

Next week didn't change much.

"It's easy to say, 'I'm going to get out of it,'" McCoy said. "But to get out of it, physically and mentally and completely, was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do."

The people around McCoy say they didn't notice a whole lot different about him. But McCoy felt it. He brooded. He didn't reach out to his young receivers. He could feel his usually open personality closing up.

"I wasn't losing it on anybody else but myself," he said. "I wasn't being myself around the facility, around my teammates. I was most pissed off at myself. When you're a quarterback, a leader, you've been here for four years, you can't do that. That's something I know. I wasn't trying to act that way. I was in a hole. I was concerned."

Texas kept winning. The Longhorns went into Dallas to play Oklahoma with a 5-0 record.

"I could have been so much better," McCoy said. "I could have been such a better leader and teammate. … I was frustrated and trying to figure out what was wrong with me instead of helping the young receivers, staying after practice, making sure they knew where I want them to be."

According to the statistics, McCoy had his worst game of the season against OU. He completed 21 of 39 passes for 127 yards. That's less than 4 yards per attempt. He lost two fumbles, one at the Oklahoma goal line. With Texas trying to extend a 16-13 lead, McCoy took the Longhorns into the red zone -- and coughed up the ball again. He threw an interception to Sooners cornerback Brian Jackson at the Oklahoma 9. McCoy chased Jackson down and made the tackle.

That might have been the play that saved McCoy's season. After Davis broke down the video of the game, he called McCoy into his office.

"I said, 'Of all the records you've broken, of all the things you've done, I'm probably more proud of you for this ballgame than I am for any ballgame,'" Davis said.

"He said, 'Why?'

"I said, 'Just because of the way you competed and the way you put the team first. You throw the interception, and a lot of guys would have been over there kicking the dirt. And you went and made the tackle. We ended up getting the ball back. You competed for 60 minutes against a quality defensive football team, and because of that, we won the game.'"

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
John Albright / Icon SMIMcCoy torched Kansas for 396 yards and four touchdowns.

Davis doesn't know how much that talk changed McCoy's outlook. It might have been the act of surviving another showdown with Texas's archrival. Whatever it was, McCoy relented.

"The week after Oklahoma, I let myself go," McCoy said. "Forget about everything. I walked up to Coach [Mack] Brown and Coach Davis and said, 'As far as I'm concerned, we're 0-0. This is going to be my first game. I'm starting over completely.'

"I've been so much better since," McCoy said. "I can feel my teammates following me, responding to me, and I'm feeling confident."

He's staying after practice and throwing with the young receivers. He's not walking through the football facility with a cloud hanging over his head.

In the first six games of the season, McCoy completed 70 percent of his passes (156-223) for 1,537 yards and 11 touchdowns and threw seven interceptions.

In the past five games, McCoy completed 77 percent of his passes for 1,487 yards and 12 touchdowns and threw only two interceptions. Against Kansas on Saturday night, McCoy threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns. He connected on 32 of 41 passes, one incompletion short of 80 percent.

"He relaxed," Davis said.

McCoy did more than that. He defeated a formidable opponent. McCoy overcame the winningest quarterback in college football history.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com