Texas won this one for Kim Gaynor.
There was no official dedication or anything, but it was fitting on this soggy day that the rapidly improving Longhorns won in ugly fashion that recalls a famous quote from the husband of Edith Royal, who was recognized at Saturday’s game on her 90th birthday.
Very few if any will remember the backup Longhorns punter whom Darrell Royal once call upon for fourth-down duty back in 1963 when star Ernie Koy was hurt. Bothered by critical letters from the Texas fan base that he couldn’t find a more efficient punter than Gaynor, Royal reminded of the boy who was once razzed for his homely date at the dance and said, “Ol’ ugly is better than ol’ nothing.” Then, even more criticism from unhappy mommas came.
Texas’ 23-9 win over Kansas State on Saturday had few earmarks of a thing of beauty. But it was bottom-line pretty for a program scrambling to emerge from mediocrity to right itself. It was better than something else.
The Longhorns got a little bit closer to leveling off at .500 as they rode an early 16-0 lead and tenacious defense to hold off the sputtering Wildcats, improving to a modest 3-4 overall and 2-2 in league play. After scoring the first three times it had the ball, Texas fell into a malaise with six consecutive punts until a Dylan Haines interception broke K-State’s spirit and chances and set up a late put-away score.
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Charlie Strong saw little wrong with the win, and he’s right. Fred Akers almost claimed two national championships with this style and the aforementioned DKR was no old-school Art Briles when it came to the forward pass. They don’t ask how you won.
“I just like those low-scoring games because I know this,” Strong said. “When we get low-scoring games, the defense is playing good. When I get those 50-48 days, we’re not playing very good.”
Basically, Strong prefers to win ugly. That’s fine so long as he does win, which he has now done twice in a row.
With his blueprint of a rugged ground game and punishing defense, the second-year head coach continues to force the square Strong peg into the round Big 12 hole. In many ways, he’s the antithesis of the Big 12. And Bill Snyder, the man Strong vanquished on Saturday, won with that unconventional, no-frills style before him.
Gary Patterson tried that approach as well at TCU, but finally conformed and is now winning big with spread principles that Briles, Bob Stoops and Kliff Kingsbury share. If Patterson couldn’t pull it off as the defensive whiz he is, will the defensive-minded Strong with a quarterback that seems to be regressing as a passer? It’s a little easier when his team doesn’t have a turnover in two straight games.
Even Strong realizes he’ll have to amp up the passing game if he intends to reach a bowl game by winning three of the last five, three of which are on the road. Jerrod Heard has thrown for less than 100 yards in two straight victories, but he and backup Tyrone Swoopes continue to be tag-team terrific. No quarterback controversy here. More quarterback complement; Heard played without a turnover and Swoopes banged in three rushing touchdowns.
“I don’t have no problem with Big Bro getting in there,” Heard said.
So long as someone does. The formula is working well to this point, but three road games at dangerous Ames, Morgantown and Waco will tell the tale and reveal how much progress Strong’s bunch is making.
Fresh off a program-defining upset of Oklahoma and a bye week, Texas came out energized despite conditions more suitable to water polo with a crowd that was only half as large as the listed attendance of 88,283. But not until after Strong said he ripped into his team during lethargic warmups.
“I didn’t like the way we warmed up,” Strong said. “We were going through the motions. I told ’em, ‘I can’t move the clouds. I can’t stop the rain.'”
Properly motivated, the defense did stop the Kansas State pass and for the most part the run, holding the Wildcats to 135 yards rushing despite a strong performance from Charles Jones. Texas set the tone from the first snap of the game when safety Jason Hall rocked quarterback Joe Hubener, sending him to the sideline briefly with a bruised neck.
“That set the tone for the defense,” said defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who is playing outstanding football. “We were going to hit hard and stop the run.”
And what grade would Ridgeway hand out to his team?
“It’s an A,” he said. “We won.”
Which is basically all that matters. That’s music to Strong’s ears after starting out a ragged 1-4 with two blowout losses.
Royal understood the premise of winning any way you can as well, which is why he always saw the big picture and referred to Gaynor thereafter as “pretty ol’ Kim.”
Strong can relate to that way of thinking as well after the prettiest ugly win of his Longhorns career.