Case McCoy never planned to be in this situation when he returned to the Texas campus in August, fresh off a 10-week summer mission trip to Peru.
But there he sat Monday, holding the fate of the Longhorns’ season, and possibly his coach’s future, in his hands as the starting quarterback for Saturday’s season-defining game against No. 12 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl (11 a.m., WFAA/Ch. 8).
Slated to be the backup to David Ash this season, McCoy instead has been elevated into the lineup for the third time in four weeks because of Ash’s ongoing battle with concussion-related symptoms. And the younger brother of Longhorns legend Colt McCoy fully grasps the gravity of the task he faces when Texas (3-2, 2-0 in Big 12) meets Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0).
The series is marked by one-game wonders from both sides who played pivotal roles in memorable victories, as well as a long list of All-Americans — such as McCoy’s older brother — who contributed heroic moments over multiple seasons. Either route can lead a player to a permanent spot in the lore of the Red River Rivalry.
Case McCoy hopes to barge through Door No. 1, the one marked for one-game wonders and backup quarterbacks, in what could be the final start of his college career.
“I’m prepping and playing and getting ready as if it is a game that I’ll be remembered for forever,” McCoy said. “I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t thinking about that.
“We don’t know the situation with David. When he’s healthy, he’ll be back. And who’s to say that’s not next week? So, this could be the game that I’m remembered as for the rest of my life. Ultimately, I’m excited. I think I bring a lot to the team.”
McCoy cannot match Ash’s arm strength or running ability. That is why he will be headed back to the bench when Ash returns to the lineup, perhaps for Texas’ next game, Oct. 26 at TCU. Or McCoy may finish the year as Texas’ starter if Ash’s concussion-related symptoms persist. There is no way to calculate the downtime needed to heal head injuries.
Likewise, there is no way to overstate how badly embattled Texas coach Mack Brown needs a victory Saturday.
Fans, alumni and boosters are howling about the team’s 25-19 record in its past 44 games under Brown. Texas has lost its past three matchups in the Red River Rivalry and a search is ongoing to replace athletic director DeLoss Dodds, the man who hired Brown in 1997 and announced his retirement last week.
With all of that swirling, McCoy will make his 10th career start in hope of helping Texas, and Brown, rescue a season on the brink. The younger McCoy is best remembered for a 25-yard scramble that set up the Longhorns’ game-winning, 40-yard field goal as time expired in a 26-24 victory over Texas A&M in 2011.
McCoy has a 5-4 record as a Texas starter but has lost two of his past three, dating to the 2012 season. The victory came in last week’s 31-30 escape from Iowa State. McCoy scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard sneak with 51 seconds remaining to cap a 12-play, 75-yard march.
“When he gets on the field, he’s got some moxie about him,” offensive guard Mason Walters said. “I couldn’t help but notice, when we went out on the field for our last drive and we’re down six points, Case has this little grin on his face. That’s a situation he loves and people feed off that. Case has some fire in him and I enjoy playing with him.”
Tailback Johnathan Gray, the Longhorns’ leading rusher (439 yards, 4 TDs, 5.4 yards per carry), considers McCoy a stellar motivator.
“Case gets guys going. He’s one of those high-motor guys,” Gray said. “Case brings more to the table than your average backup quarterback and we rally around him.”
But McCoy, like most of his teammates, has been overwhelmed by the guys from Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry matchup. He started the 2011 game, which Texas lost 55-17, and relieved Ash in last year’s 63-21 setback. Brown said McCoy’s experience, coupled with his 2,330 career passing yards, should help him in the Cotton Bowl.
“He will not be intimidated by the atmosphere,” Brown said. “He knows this is a legacy game and that guys who play well are celebrated forever as heroes.”
McCoy’s older brother, who posted a 3-1 career mark as a starter against OU, already has carved out his niche in the Red River Rivalry. The younger McCoy, by an unexpected twist of fate, now gets one more chance to join Colt on Texas’ legacy list while Ash recuperates.
Without question, this is far from what Case McCoy had in mind for mid-October when he was tossing footballs to fellow missionaries in Peru while Ash led their Texas teammates through voluntary summer workouts in Austin. But it’s a chance he relishes. And he’s brash enough to believe he can pull it off.
“If you’re not confident in yourself, there’s no way anyone else can be confident in you, either,” McCoy said.
We’ll find out Saturday if that’s enough to add another McCoy legacy to the Longhorns’ list in the Red River Rivalry.