BOULDER, Colo. (AP) -- The defense dominated and Cedric Benson was his usual milestone-making self. Given all that, it hardly seemed necessary to nitpick the struggling Texas passing game.
Behind 141 yards from Benson and a defense that didn't let Colorado past the 50 until the fourth quarter, the Longhorns (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) overcame a pair of early interceptions by Vince Young for a 31-7 victory Saturday.
Benson and Young each ran for a pair of touchdowns, linebacker Aaron Harris and safety Michael Griffin combined on a pair of turnovers and the Longhorns (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) stayed in the running for a BCS bowl by winning their third straight since losing to
"It's redundant, but we told our guys keep playing," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We'll go over it tomorrow and see what it looks like."
Texas' most notable weakness this season has been the passing game, and that flaw showed up early in this game. On the Longhorns' second drive, Young threw a pass to the corner that Terrence Wheatley intercepted and returned 37 yards to give Colorado (4-4, 1-4) a 7-0 lead.
The next possession ended on another interception, picked off by Lorenzo Sims at the CU 20. But the Colorado offense was awful -- the Buffaloes managed only one first down in the first half -- and after a three-and-out, Texas took over and essentially shut down its passing game.
"We got off to a rough start," Benson said. "We knew we had to turn the game back around. We didn't want it to get out of hand. We started to get that running game going and settle in."
The results came quickly -- a 12-play, 91-yard drive for a touchdown followed by a 10-play, 68-yard drive for a 14-7 lead before halftime. Those two long marches included a total of four passes.
In fact, Young only threw eight more times total after the second interception; he finished 8-for-15 for 71 yards and has yet to surpass 200 yards this season.
That set the stage for Benson, who seems to pass a new milestone each game. Last week, the senior became the fifth Division I back to rush for 1,000 yards in four seasons. Against Colorado, he became the 10th player to surpass 5,000 career yards rushing. Texas improved to 22-0 when he goes over 100 yards.
"There were two or three times where we stuck him and he made some plays," Colorado coach Gary Barnett said. "He's just a really good player and their scheme didn't allow us to catch a breath."
Predictably, Benson kept looking better as the game wore on, as much a tribute to him as to the withering job the huge Texas offensive line did on Colorado's exhausted defense. Texas held the ball for 37:59.
"It's obvious I didn't have my team prepared," Barnett said. "We couldn't keep the defense off the field, we were not ready to play on offense, and that's on me."
Early in the third quarter, Griffin sacked and stripped the ball from Joel Klatt, and Harris recovered to set up a short drive that resulted in Young's second touchdown and a 21-7 lead. One possession later, Harris batted Klatt's pass in the air, Griffin intercepted and Benson capitalized with a 6-yard touchdown shortly after.
"We were on the sideline hyping each other up," Harris said of his one-two combo with Griffin. "He's making plays for me and I was trying to make opportunities for him."
Barring two Oklahoma losses down the stretch, the Longhorns' best chance to make the Bowl Championship Series for the first time -- they went to the Fiesta in 1996, when the Bowl Alliance was in effect -- would be as an at-large team. They came into the game
ranked 10th in the BCS standings, and the big win surely won't hurt in their quest to move up.
"If we lose today, you might as well quit talking about it," Brown said. "We understand what we have to do is keep winning and hope that somebody wants us to play at the end of the year."
Colorado came in knowing a 5-3 record in the bad Big 12 North could still win the division. Now that that can't happen, CU's quest will be for two more wins to become bowl eligible.
"This is a defining time for us," Barnett said. "There are three games left and you can do the math. That's where we are, plain and simple."
Luckily for the Buffs, there are no more games against teams like Texas. Still, they need Klatt (17-for-28, 142 yards, two interceptions) and tailback Bobby Purify to play better. Purify, who hurt his right shoulder to go with the left one that was already sprained, ran 12 times for 13 yards and didn't have a gain of longer than 9 yards.
Colorado finished with three yards rushing. Last week, Texas held Texas Tech to minus-17 yards on the ground.