AUSTIN -- Bryan Harsin, Texas' co-offensive coordinator, initially dismissed the signature twist of his defining play call -- a behind-the-back handoff on the Statue of Liberty play -- when he saw Boise State players working on it in practice.
The move was unauthorized. But players loved the idea, despite Harsin's objection that it was too risky. In their spare time, they polished the move and lobbied their 29-year-old play-caller to use it in a game.
"They kept poking at me, saying, 'We can do this,'" said Harsin, who eventually called the play once -- against Idaho -- during the 2006 regular season. But the play became part of college football lore when Harsin called it a second time, resulting in the Broncos' game-winning, 2-point conversion that beat Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime at the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
Harsin, 34, crosses paths today with Oklahoma for the first time since that Fiesta Bowl when No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0 in Big 12) meets the third-ranked Sooners (4-0, 1-0) at 11 a.m. in the Cotton Bowl.
Texas' defensive signals will be called today by Manny Diaz, 37, another first-timer to the Red River Rivalry. Diaz's defensive system relies heavily on blitzes dialed up in unexpected moments.
"They're both risk-takers," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "They don't think they'll ever lose a game. They think every play is going to be a successful play. ...That's a good thing. That carries over to the players."
Without question, there is a fresh swagger to these Longhorns that did not exist a year ago, when Texas finished 5-7.
Players light up when talking about Harsin's creative playbook -- five Longhorns, including two receivers, have thrown touchdown passes in four games -- as well as Diaz's unorthodox alignments, many of them borrowed from NFL templates laid out by New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and his brother, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Brown recalled a spring practice when ESPN analyst Urban Meyer, who won national championships as Florida's coach in 2006 and 2008, visited. On one play, Brown said Diaz blitzed every available defender, leaving linebacker Keenan Robinson "in center field by himself."
Robinson made an interception. But Meyer raised a suspicious eyebrow.
"Urban looked at me and said, 'That's fine for spring. Are you going to let that happen in the fall?'" Brown said. "So far, I'm in."
Diaz said the Longhorns used the same defense twice in last week's 37-14 victory over Iowa State, with one of the plays resulting in a sack by safety Blake Gideon. He also added a caveat.
"Urban saw it last October," said Diaz, who served as Mississippi State's defensive coordinator in 2010, Meyer's final season at Florida.
Did it work?
"It was 10-7," Diaz said, reciting the final score from the Bulldogs' victory in Gainesville, Fla., Mississippi State's first triumph at "The Swamp" since 1965.
Although Brown called both of his new play-callers "risk takers," and meant it as a compliment, Diaz disagreed.
"The neat thing is, I don't see it as risk," Diaz said. "I think that's the whole trick. I think that's one of the neat things about Bryan and I both. I don't think Bryan calling a double-reverse pass where they throw it to the mascot is any more risky than running the ball up the middle. And we don't look at when we blitz. We don't look at that as any riskier than playing base defense. Part of that is by design and the way we coach it."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, like the rest of America, has vivid memories of Harsin's crunch-time play calls from the 2007 Fiesta Bowl -- a hook-and-ladder pass for one touchdown, a halfback pass for another, followed by the Statue of Liberty play when Ian Johnson took a behind-the-back handoff from quarterback Jared Zabransky and jogged untouched into the end zone for the winning points.
Stoops said Texas' 2011 offense features "a lot of similarities" to the one he saw in that Fiesta Bowl.
"There's a lot of shifting and moving," Stoops said. "You have to read it out, adjust with them and then get set to play."
Harsin said one lesson he learned from at Boise State, and carried to Texas, is to listen to players and use their good ideas. He pointed to the behind-the-back handoff on the Statue of Liberty play.
"The players put their spin on it, which was good. You want that from your players," Harsin said. "You never know when [a fresh idea] ...maybe ties into a funky formation that we have."
When it does, Harsin has a fresh play for his playbook. But which new play-caller is Texas' biggest risk-taker?
"Manny, by far," Harsin said. "He's a lot more calculated risk. I would say that. He's a lot smarter."
Diaz accepted the nomination.
"That's why defensive coaches are better than offensive coaches," he said, smiling. "They can just punt and say, 'Go get them, D.' If we make a mistake, someone is kicking an extra point."
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Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760