McCoy sets single-season Texas TD passing mark
Only 10 games into his college career, Texas QB Colt McCoy is dazzling his coaches and teammates -- and possibly guiding the Horns back into national title contention, writes Mark Schlabach.
AUSTIN, Texas -- After leading No. 4 Texas to its eighth straight victory, 36-10 over Oklahoma State at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday night, and breaking the school single-season record with 27 touchdown passes in the process, freshman quarterback Colt McCoy was asked how the fans back in his hometown of Tuscola, Texas, were celebrating.
"I hope they're celebrating hard," McCoy said. "All 700 of them."
"Blizzards for everyone at the Dairy Queen?" the reporter asked.
"Naah, we don't have a Dairy Queen," McCoy answered with a grin.
More than anything, though, McCoy has kept a level head, despite the growing attention and admiration he's receiving as he guides the Longhorns (9-1, 6-0 Big 12) possibly back into contention to defend their national championship.
It's a long way from Tuscola, the West Texas town where McCoy starred for Jim Ned High School.
"There's been so much positive talk about him since the Oklahoma game," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I haven't seen his personality change at all. He got a standing ovation in class after the Oklahoma game. If you can handle that, you've done pretty good."
It was during the Longhorns' 28-10 win over the No. 14 Sooners in the Red River Rivalry in Dallas when the light probably went off in McCoy's head. He had struggled earlier in the season, throwing for only 154 yards and an interception in a 24-7 loss to No. 1 Ohio State. It was too much, too soon for McCoy, who wasn't named Vince Young's replacement until late in preseason camp.
After the deflating loss to the Buckeyes, McCoy's confidence had to be rebuilt. He threw only eight passes in a win at Rice the following week, 23 against Iowa State and 15 against Division I-AA Sam Houston State.
And he wasn't all that productive against Oklahoma, throwing for only 108 yards, but he managed the offense and put the rest of the Longhorns in position to make big plays.
"You could just see his confidence building and building as he had more and more success," guard Justin Blalock said.
"He's playing with great poise," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "He understands what we are trying to do and he understands where problems in protections are."
Davis said McCoy has done a better job of recognizing blitzes and defensive fronts. Late in the third quarter against Oklahoma State, after Cowboys safety Grant Jones returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown to cut Texas' lead to 23-10, McCoy drove his team right back down the field. He completed a third-and-9 conversion with a 16-yard pass to Jordan Shipley, and then the Cowboys twice committed penalties on third-down plays to give the Longhorns first downs.
On first-and-10 from the State 27, McCoy saw one of the Cowboys safeties blitzing from the weak side. Instead of panicking, he released his pass to Jermichael Finley a little earlier than expected, still allowing the tight end to run under it for a touchdown, which gave Texas a 30-10 lead.
"They brought a blitz in from the weak side that was going to come free and he knew that and stood in there and threw the ball," Davis said. "He knew exactly where [Finley] was and actually had to throw the ball early. Jermichael did a great job of picking the ball up in the air. But I think the biggest thing is [McCoy's] poise and confidence and he is real tough guy. He's playing a pretty high level and there are still things that we can do better."
McCoy knows he can get better. So does Brown, who doesn't want the freshman included among speculation about Heisman Trophy candidates.
"People have asked me whether he should be up for the Heisman Trophy," Brown said. "To me, freshmen just shouldn't be up for the Heisman Trophy. [Ohio State quarterback] Troy Smith and [Notre Dame quarterback] Brady Quinn have been around for a long time. Those kids should be rewarded."
As long as the Longhorns keep winning, the individual awards can wait, as far as McCoy is concerned.
"The most important thing is they know who the Texas Longhorns are," McCoy said. "It's all for my teammates. We're going to come together, we're going to fight hard and we're never going to give up. And hopefully we'll keep moving up in the polls."
Getting back to the Bowl Championship Series title game is first and foremost in McCoy's mind.
A year ago, when Young led the Longhorns to their first consensus national title since 1969, McCoy was redshirted and watched from the sideline.
"All these guys won a national championship last year and I watched," McCoy said. "I just wanted to give them another good year."
When Young bolted for the NFL after his junior season, McCoy battled freshman Jevan Snead for the starting job during spring practice. Brown didn't make his decision until late August. Without Young, Texas figured to rely heavily on its tailbacks and defense this season.
"We just didn't think he had the confidence yet to lead the team," Brown said.
But as McCoy has blossomed, the Longhorns have become one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Texas had 510 yards offense against Oklahoma State, the third time in four games the Longhorns have had more than 400.
And if the Texas defense plays like it did Saturday night, limiting the Cowboys to 203 yards of offense and forcing three turnovers, the Longhorns might prove to be the best one-loss team in the country.
A week ago, the Longhorns surrendered 519 passing yards to Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, and there were legitimate concerns about Texas' secondary and pass rush. But Oklahoma State's Bobby Reid never found his rhythm. He completed 11-of-28 passes for 123 yards with two interceptions. Reid was sacked twice and was so frustrated he twice threw away passes into the stands.
"I think we just knew it was due and it was time," defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. "It's that part of the year. It's time to get after it."
The Longhorns have two games left -- at Kansas State next week and against rival Texas A&M in Austin on Nov. 24. Texas can clinch the Big 12 South Division with a victory over the Wildcats next week, and would probably get a rematch against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game in Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on Dec. 2.
Beyond that, there's not much the Longhorns can do about the BCS.
"We try not to worry about it," receiver Quan Cosby said. "The BCS is out of our hands and all we can do is win football games. In the end, it will work itself out."
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.