Posted August 26th, 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.
Pasadena or bust.
Those were the expectations placed on Texas to begin the 2009 season, and there was every reason to believe the Longhorns could live up to them. Most of the important pieces returned from the year prior, when championship dreams had died in Michael Crabtree’s hands that fateful night in Lubbock.
Riding high off the Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State, Texas landed at No. 2 in the preseason Associated Press poll behind defending national champion Florida and golden boy Tim Tebow.
The Longhorns had their own folk hero, and like Tebow, Colt McCoy was hell-bent on taking his team to the promised land during his senior season. The championship’s location, the Rose Bowl, gave every burnt orange-clad fan even more reason to believe.
Beyond McCoy, Texas had star power in wide receiver Jordan Shipley and returning All-American linebacker/defensive end Sergio Kindle, plus rising stars Earl Thomas and Sam Acho. In all, six starters (Thomas, Kindle, Lamarr Houston, Shipley, McCoy and Roddrick Muckelroy) would be drafted the following spring, and 10 more players the next three years.
If there was any cause for concern, it was the schedule. Non-conference games against Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP and Central Florida left no room for error if the Longhorns slipped up during the regular season. On the bright side, they offered little resistance.
The Longhorns blew past ULM (59-20) and Wyoming (41-10 in Laramie), setting up a rematch against Texas Tech in Austin. Behind a stifling defense that only allowed three points in the first half, Texas pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 34-24 victory.
The Longhorns forced three turnovers and harassed Tech quarterback Taylor Potts with five- and six-man rushes. The most memorable play was a huge hit by Kindle in the fourth quarter that separated Potts from the ball and set up Texas’ final touchdown.
Wrote Kirk Bohls after the game:
For the first time in a long while, Texas is showing signs of developing into a complete team, one that can win with a subpar performance on either side of the ball. No longer does it appear the locals need to score 50 points – as they’ve averaged the first two games – to stay undefeated.
Three weeks later, Texas headed to Dallas to face Oklahoma. The defending Big 12 champions came in limping at 3-2, with losses to BYU and Miami coming after 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford sprained an AC join in his throwing shoulder week one. Bradford had returned the week prior as the Sooners beat Baylor, but didn’t take much contact.
Early in the first quarter, with the Longhorns trailing 3-0, cornerback Aaron Williams came flying off the left edge and sacked Bradford, slamming his right shoulder into the turf. Bradford’s day — and with it his college career — was done.
What ensued was a defensive slugfest, the complete opposite of the previous season’s 45-35 shootout. Oklahoma led 6-3 at halftime, and the game’s first touchdown didn’t come until there was 7:08 remaining in the third quarter. McCoy’s pass to Marquise Goodwin put Texas up 13-6, but the Sooners answered with a 35-yard strike from Landry Jones to Ryan Broyles.
Texas went back on top with a Hunter Lawrence field goal, and then the defense shut the door. Oklahoma’s final three drives ended in a turnover on downs and two interceptions. The Longhorns had survived the worst performance of McCoy’s career — he finished 21 of 39 passing for 127 yards, the touchdown pass to Goodwin and an interception.
But it didn’t matter, because Texas had won the most difficult game on its schedule. With six games left, it just needed to not screw up.
Following Dallas were a pair of road games, including a trip to face No. 13-ranked Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Whatever threat the Cowboys posed, it didn’t show. The Longhorns led 24-7 at halftime and cruised to a 41-14 victory. Curtis Brown and Earl Thomas both returned interceptions for touchdowns.
From there, Texas rolled past UCF, Baylor and Kansas to move to 11-0. The only problem was, the lack of quality opposition had finally caught up with Mack Brown’s squad. The initial BCS standings came out Nov. 15 with the Longhorns at No. 3 behind Florida and Alabama. Two weeks later they hadn’t budged, and a win over 6-5 Texas A&M was unlikely to help their cause. A loss could certainly hurt though, and the Aggies would love nothing more.
For the first time all season, the Texas defense looked vulnerable. Behind quarterback Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M piled up 532 yards of total offense and trailed 42-39 with 7:10 left. On the other side, McCoy put together one of the gutsiest performances of his career with 304 passing yards, 175 rushing yards, five total touchdowns and no turnovers.
After the Aggies cut the lead to three, Goodwin returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Then Randy Bullock missed an all-important field goal, allowing Texas to run out the clock on a nail-biting victory.
“It was tough – but that’s fun,” McCoy told Austin American-Statesman reporter Suzanne Halliburton. “You live for this moment. Hey, if it came down to it, if we have to outscore them, then we’ll outscore them.”
For the first time in program history, Texas had won 12 regular-season games. Up next was a meeting with Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship, which the Longhorns hadn’t played in since 2005. The Cornhuskers were 9-3, ranked No. 22 in the BCS and featured perhaps the most dominant player in college football — defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
What ensued was one of the ugliest, most dramatic games in Texas — if not college football — history. Both defenses were incredible, with Texas holding the Huskers to 106 yards of total offense and Nebraska limiting the high-powered Longhorns to 206. McCoy threw three interceptions, including one late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Huskers to take a 12-10 lead on a field goal.
Texas rallied to get into field goal range, and then things got weird. Rather than waste his final timeout, Brown let the clock wind down as McCoy snapped the ball with about eight seconds left and rolled right. As he threw the ball away, the stadium clock showed “0:00.” Had the Longhorns’ championship dreams really died on a clock management error?
No. After review, the officials put a second back on the clock and Hunter Lawrence drilled a 46-yard field goal at the buzzer for a 13-12 victory. Meanwhile in Atlanta, Alabama defeated defending champion Florida in the SEC Championship. Texas was heading to Pasadena to take on the Crimson Tide.
Of course, there still remained the not-so-small matter of handing out the Heisman Trophy. McCoy and Tebow, front-runners all season, had underperformed in their biggest games. Suh shined in the Huskers’ near upset of Texas, and Alabama running back Mark Ingram scored three touchdowns against the Gators. Stanford running back Toby Gerhart had also emerged as a candidate.
American-Statesman voters Kirk Bohls, Randy Riggs and Mark Rosner all sided with Suh, placing Ingram second and McCoy third. Suzanne Halliburton voted McCoy first, Gerhart second and Suh third.
Ingram won the trophy, while McCoy finished third behind Gerhart. College football’s all-time winningest quarterback had come up short of the game’s greatest honor. However, like Vince Young four years before, he had an opportunity to go out a champion.
Except, as all Texas fans know, McCoy didn’t get to finish his career on his own terms. Four minutes into the championship, after a Blake Gideon interception set the Longhorns up in Alabama territory, McCoy took a hit from Marcell Dareus that pinched a nerve in his throwing shoulder.
Just like that, Texas’ championship hopes were dashed. Backup Garrett Gilbert performed admirably the first meaningful action of his career, throwing a pair of touchdowns in the second half to pull the Longhorns within a field goal. But the Crimson Tide were too good to be beaten by a green true freshman — no matter how talented.
Alabama forced five turnovers — four interceptions and a fumble — on the way to a 37-21 win.
McCoy had rewritten the record book, and left a legacy at Texas that few before him and none since have been able to match. His injury in the national championship remains the greatest “what if” in program history.
On the flip side, between interceptions Gilbert had shown off his tantalizing talent.
Here’s what Kirk Bohls wrote in the aftermath of the championship:
Thrust into an incredibly difficult situation with no time to gather himself mentally, Gilbert showed every sign of developing into the next McCoy, a two-time Heisman finalist who succeeded the one-of-a-kind Vince Young, who followed NFL reserve quarterback Chris Simms and the ever-popular Major Applewhite, who followed the magical James.
A whole host of stars were moving on, opening the door to a new era for the program. There was plenty of optimism to go around, but how long would it last?