The anticipated coaching wake turned into a revival Saturday in the Cotton Bowl, complete with sideline hugs, high-fives and a huge sigh of relief for Texas coach Mack Brown.
The Longhorns’ 36-20 victory as two-touchdown underdogs over No. 12 Oklahoma proved every bit as decisive as it was stunning in the latest renewal of the Red River Rivalry. After falling by an average margin of 40 points in the teams’ past two meetings, Texas never trailed while racking up a 445-263 edge in total yards and ending a three-game losing streak to the Sooners.
Texas (4-2, 3-0 in Big 12) received a clutch passing performance from quarterback Case McCoy, unleashed a pair of 100-yard rushers in an OU game for the first time in school history and added two touchdowns via returns while the offense was sitting on the sideline.
All of it added up to a startling loss for the Sooners (5-1, 2-1) that ended Oklahoma’s 10-game winning streak against Big 12 opponents.
For Texas, which suffered lopsided losses in September to Brigham Young and Ole Miss that raised questions about Brown’s job security, the 180-degree reversal of recent trends in this series breathed fresh life into conference title talk for a team that remains tied for first place in the Big 12 standings.
“We’re not in the grave. We’re crawling out,” Brown said. “We’re actually alive and have a chance … to win the Big 12 and go to the BCS.”
Texas got there by flipping the script on the Sooners, who have been the more physical team — and more successful team — in this game in recent seasons. But a year after rushing for four touchdowns in last year’s 63-21 rout, OU quarterback Blake Bell was sacked four times Saturday and threw a pick-six. A Sooners defense that entered the game allowing just 113.2 rushing yards per contest watched two Texas tailbacks top that total in the Cotton Bowl.
Johnathan Gray, a sophomore from Aledo, rolled for 123 yards on 29 carries. Malcolm Brown added 120 yards on 23 carries to pace a 255-yard rushing attack. McCoy, the replacement for injured starter David Ash, threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns. Texas also scored touchdowns on an interception return and a punt return while beating its highest-ranked opponent since a 20-13 upset of No. 5 Nebraska on Oct. 16, 2010.
“In each part of the game, I thought they outplayed us,” Okahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You can’t have big turnovers and you can’t give up big plays on special teams.”
Oklahoma did both. Texas took advantage. And the Longhorns wasted no time in getting started, moving 61 yards in 15 plays on the opening possession to take a 3-0 lead. It marked Texas’ first lead at any point in a game against Oklahoma since 2009. By halftime, Texas held its first halftime lead in the series since 2006.
After the game, members of Texas’ senior class celebrated their first career victory over the Sooners. But defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who posted a team-high two sacks, said the seeds for this upset were planted in the locker room following last year’s 63-21 loss to the Sooners.
“After last year’s game, guys were saying, ‘That’s embarrassing. It shouldn’t happen. We should never let anybody beat us that way,’ ” Jeffcoat said. “We agreed then that we needed to beat Oklahoma.”
A year later, Texas’ players made good on that vow.
The Longhorns went ahead for good on defensive tackle Chris Whaley’s 31-yard interception return for a touchdown that broke a 3-3 tie in the first quarter. When the Sooners seized some third-quarter momentum, Daje Johnson took it back with an 85-yard punt return that stretched a 10-point lead to 29-13. McCoy followed up by finding Mike Davis on a 38-yard scoring strike, his second of the game, with 21 seconds left in the third quarter.
At that point, Texas led 36-13 and had converted 11 of 15 third downs. Oklahoma, by comparison, was 2 of 10 on third down with the game on the line and finished 2 of 13.
Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said the Longhorns sought to take away the Sooners’ quarterback run game by preventing Bell from scrambling “up the gut.” The Longhorns succeeded, holding Bell to minus-27 rushing yards that included the four sacks.
“We covered well and when we pressured, we pressured well,” Robinson said. “The discipline of the rush jumped out.”
So did the signature victory for Brown, whose embattled status became a rallying cry for players and others on the Texas sideline.
“We love the guy, we’re playing for the guy, and we’re going to continue to play for the guy,” McCoy said. “Y’all keep writing those bad articles about him and we’ll keep playing for him.”
Robinson, who replaced the fired Manny Diaz as Texas’ defensive coordinator after the Sept. 7 loss to BYU, called Saturday’s proceedings “all-important for Mack Brown.”
“He has had tough situations that he has been having to deal with here for a while,” Robinson said. “I’m just so happy for him. I think he guided our team and our coaching staff well.”
As a result, Brown received lots of kudos Saturday in the Cotton Bowl instead of the postgame pink slip some had envisioned.