The Texas defense saved the day again.
The crowd at Kyle Field was in a frenzy, and the Longhorns had just blown a coverage allowing Texas A&M to score the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. But when UT desperately needed a defensive stop, the Longhorns regrouped to stuff the Aggies’ on a crucial two-point conversion with 1:48 to play in the final game of the 118-year rivalry.
As they had done all night, Texas stood tall with a gritty defensive effort. After giving up the first touchdown in more than 28 minutes, a 16-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to Jeff Fuller, the defense denied the Aggies’ bid to take a three-point lead. They got pressure on Tannehill, forced him to the sidelines and nearly intercepted a pass to the end zone. With the game hanging in the balance, the Longhorns preserved a chance for a struggling offense to win the game.
“Our guys were heartbroken, but they had to understand that those two points were invariably the difference in the game,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “That play ended up being decisive.”
That final stop, combined with a stellar offensive drive, set up Justin Tucker’s game-winning 40-yard field goal to push Texas past A&M, 27-25, on Thanksgiving night.
While the Longhorns’ special teams tallied the deciding points, it was the defense that got them to that point. Texas forced four turnovers, including three interceptions, and held the Aggies’ vaunted passing game to only 224 yards. The Longhorns turned those takeaways into 17 points, and the defense consistently gave UT a short field to work with.
Carrington Byndom returned his pick 58 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 16-14. Freshman Quandre Diggs had the secondary’s first interception of the game in the second quarter, his third of the year. And junior safety Kenny Vaccaro, wearing a No. 2 jersey in honor of the injured Fozzy Whittaker, had the final pick, a leaping catch on the sidelines.
“They were unbelievable,” Diaz said. “And that’s a really good passing attack. We punished them when they made a mistake. We made the plays to make it happen.”
Diaz said in a game of this magnitude, the defense needed contributions from everyone. He sure got them.
Emmanuel Acho had a game-high 14 tackles and fellow linebacker Keenan Robinson had his best game of the year with 1.5 tackles for loss and two pass break-ups while constantly applying pressure to Tannehill. The defense, buoyed by a strong performance from the defensive line, disrupted the Aggies passing game and generated a great pass rush that lead to bad throws and interceptions.
“The defense is selfish. We want the game to be in our hands,” said Robinson, a senior who finished his career 3-1 against A&M. “We want to shine, and this game was a perfect example. The defense played great.”
With the Aggies bolting to the Southeastern Conference next year, Texas gave them a preview of the dominant defenses they will inevitably face in their new league.
“There’s no better way that you could send off A&M,” Vaccaro said. “Good luck in the SEC, that’s all I can say.”
Printed on Monday, November 28, 2011: Texas defense stifles opponent once again