Posted August 22nd, 2017
The Texas football program dates back to 1893. Each day, we look at a little piece of Longhorn history. We’re starting by looking at each Longhorn football season.
The 2004 Texas Longhorns are one of the best teams the program has ever produced to have not won a national championship.
A preseason ranking of No. 7, Texas lost one game in 2004, won one of the best Rose Bowl games of the 2000s and had one of the most talented rosters in college football history.
The 2004 team featured six players who were eventually drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. Between the 2005 draft and the 2007 draft, 16 players overall were drafted and 13 were drafted between the first and fifth rounds.
Cedric Benson was the top running back in the nation in 2004. Derrick Johnson the top linebacker. Vince Young established himself as the unquestioned starter. The starting defensive backfield featured three players — Cedric Griffin, Michael Huff and Tarell Brown — who all had lengthy NFL careers.
The 2004 team also helped motivate the 2005 team, which as we’ve mentioned before, is probably one of the two best teams in program history.
The biggest difference between the 2004 team and previous Mack Brown teams is how many close games Texas pulled out in 2004.
For instance, Texas went to Arkansas in 2004, 1-0 after dismantling North Texas 65-0, and survived a double-pass touchdown in the first half that gave Arkansas a 17-16 lead at halftime and still won 22-20. Benson scored two touchdowns and rushed for 188 yards– 6.5 yards per carry– on 29 attempts in that game.
The loss of standout receivers B.J. Johnson, Roy Williams and Sloan Thomas were mitigated by the emergence of Tony Jeffery and Limas Sweed, but also by a two tight end attack of a healthy Bo Scaife and David Thomas.
But this offense was paced by one of the best rushing seasons in program history. Benson had 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns. Young had 1,079 yards and 14 touchdowns. Young’s rushing yards are good for the 19th-best season for a runner in program history and the most in a single season by a quarterback at Texas.
Benson’s yardage is the fourth most in program history.
Young was still learning as a passer, but he was making progress. As a redshirt freshman he split time with Chance Mock because Brown and the staff trusted the veteran quarterback in passing situations. Mock thought of transferring after his junior year but stayed on for his fifth-year senior season instead. He attempted just 21 passes in 2004.
Young threw 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions his junior year, tallying 1,849 yards and completing 59.2 percent of his passes. But he got better seemingly every week.
The only blemish on Texas’ record in 2004 was another loss to Oklahoma. With the No. 2-ranked Sooners being led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and one of the greatest freshman running backs in the history of college football, Texas native Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma led 6-0 with 8:07 to go in the game before scoring the only touchdown of the contest — a 6-yard run by Kejuan Jones — and after missing the extra point the Sooners led 12-0.
Texas never scored. Benson rushed for 92 yards and finished his career 0-4 against Oklahoma.
Young was just 8-of-23 passing for 86 yards.
Texas won its next seven games to end the season ranked No. 6 in the nation but second in the Big 12 South Standings. Oklahoma won the Big 12 and, in the infamous “Ashlee Simpson killed music Orange Bowl“, lost to USC in the national championship game.
Surprisingly, the most memorable post Oklahoma regular season game Texas played came against Kansas on the road. The Jayhawks, coached by former Oklahoma and Kansas State assistant Mark Mangino, led 23-13 with 7:41 left to play. Young scored an 18-yard touchdown with 4:12 to play to make the game 23-20 and Kansas took over.
A giant offensive pass interference on third down killed the Jayhawks drive and Texas took over. Young, moments later, hit Jeffery with a 21-yard touchdown with 11 second left to play to give Texas the win, 27-23.
After the game, Mangino was not pleased with the call.
“The whole nation watched that play,” he said. “I don’t need to get any feedback. People sat and watched the game on Fox today in their living rooms, they’ll be the judge of that call.
“It’s called ‘BCS'”
He added: “BCS. That’s was the difference in the game. That’s what made the difference in the call made in front of their bench. Dollar signs.”
Did Mangino have a point? Texas was sixth in the BCS standings at the time. USC, Oklahoma and Auburn — all of whom went undefeated in the regular season– were the top three teams in the BCS rankings. Texas was the second of the one-loss teams, at the time, behind Aaron Rodgers and California .
It didn’t matter to Texas. Young’s comeback from what would have been another regular season upset against an unranked team under Brown was welcomed with open arms.
Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls wrote: “Thanks mostly to Young’s herculean plays, the Longhorns dodged the gallant Jayhawks with a pair of touchdowns in the final four-plus minutes to avoid the most disastrous loss in Mack Brown’s seven-year era. The victory also kept intact all things blissful in what continues to be a spectacular season. Other than that, nothing was on the line.”
Statesman reporter Cedric Golden reported Mangino’s apology following his comments:
“After an emotional loss, in our seniors’ last home game, I made remarks that I regret, ” Mangino said. “Any implications that BCS standings played a role in Saturday afternoon’s game was inappropriate. I have always supported the BCS system and will continue to do so.”
The Longhorns not only avoid a let-down loss two weeks later against Texas A&M, they won easily, 26-13.
Texas was invited to its first-ever BCS bowl game and its first-ever Rose Bowl in 2004 where they played No. 13 Michigan.
Echoing Mangino’s sentiment, there may not have been a better money-making matchup than pitting two of the most historical football programs ever in one of the most famous football games ever, the Rose Bowl.
Luckily for football fans, the BCS did it. Texas had never played Michigan in a football game. The Wolverines are famously the winningest college football program in the sport’s history and just the thought of seeing maze and burnt orange in one stadium was part football history and par college-football-fan-fiction-dream-casting.
The two programs didn’t disappoint. Michigan led 31-21 with 2:35 left in the third quarter. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne was outplaying Young and Benson, already crowned the Doak Walker winner, was being bottled by the Michigan defense.
The fourth quarter of the 2005 Rose Bowl may have been the beginning of the 2005 BCS National Championship season. Young scored two touchdowns in the final frame, a 10-yard run and a 23-yard run that gave Texas a 35-34 lead.
Michigan responded with a Garrett Rivas 42-yard field goal with 3:04 left to play in the game– Michigan 37, Texas 35.
Young led Texas on the ensuing drive 47 yards and set up kicker and former walk-on Dusty Mangum with a 37-yard field.
With such Longhorn legends as James Street in attendance looking on, Texas has never faced a bigger field goal in a bowl game. With two seconds left, Mangum walked on the field with Keith Jackson doing play-by-play:
Texas won 38-37 and Vince Young wasn’t holding anything back in the post game interviews. The Rose Bowl would be the spot of the next BCS National Championship game in a little more than a year.
“We’ll be back!” Young told reporters following the game.
Brown maybe spoke a year too soon when he said “There will never be a better ballgame in the Rose Bowl. There may be some as good, but none will be better.”
Bohls wrote: “Luckily for a Texas football program that this season conjured up all sorts of mystical qualities to spirit away victories when reality suggested otherwise, its magic had no expiration date.
“But for once the school’s reputation as underachievers does.”
Benson was the Doak Walker winner. Johnson was the Butkus and Nagurski winner. Five players were named All-Americans. Johnson was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Young, just a sophomore, was back for the 2005 season. Texas would be losing its second all-time leading rusher and leader on defense, but would be adding another round of top recruits.