DALLAS — Head coach Mack Brown fumbled a bit, but he eventually snagged the Golden Hat and lofted it proudly with a smile so bright it took years off a face withered over the past few seasons.
Texas’ convincing 36-20 win over No. 12 Oklahoma is huge on its own. It’s the Longhorns’ first victory in four years against their rivals and alleviates the pressure from a reeling Brown. It will be hard for anyone, at least for a little bit, to question the status of Brown’s job.
But, most importantly, this win signals that Texas could, and should compete for a Big 12 championship.
The pieces are there.
The Longhorns showed balance Saturday, rushing for 255 yards and passing for 190, all against a defense ranked No. 6 in the FBS entering the contest. McCoy only threw for 190 yards, but he showed poise and an aptitude tossing the deep ball — an area that he’s lacked — adding a new dimension to a potentially potent Texas attack.
Still, the Longhorns biggest boast Saturday came on defense. A unit wallowing in the bottom one-third of the FBS statistically, represented the orange and white proudly in Dallas, holding Oklahoma to 13 points offensively. The front seven caged quarterback Blake Bell and limited Oklahoma to 130 yards rushing — a total BYU eclipsed in one quarter earlier this season.
The defense showed resilience with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, as senior defenseive end Jackson Jeffcoat’s sack froze the Sooners’ comeback attempt. Good defenses halt drives when they need to, and the Longhorns’ showed that ability in a critical moment Saturday.
Texas looked and acted the part of the favorite, despite being two-touchdown underdogs entering the contest. Perhaps this team finally found the confidence it’s lacked. Because outside of confidence, what would prevent this squad from success?
They have the talent to matchup with every opponent. But following the team’s national championship appearance in the 2009 season, Texas just hasn’t featured the self-assurance great teams hold. The Alabamas and LSUs of the world aren’t worried about who they’re playing — only what they need to do. That’s all they need, they know they’re better than the team on the other side of the field.
The Longhorns haven’t had that. But after a win against Oklahoma, where the players celebrated with leaps of joy, victory laps and Kodak-ready toothy grins, the team may have found it.
If the self-belief comes to fruition, a Big 12 title is more than possible. There isn’t an easy game on the Big 12 schedule — a league defined by parity — but Texas, at least the inspired team on display at the Cotton Bowl, can scathe through.
The scene following the game was that of chaos. Texas players didn’t know where to go, some ran to the fans, others hugged their peers and some stood in the mayhem and soaked in the noise of the “Texas! Fight!” chants pouring down from an orange sea encompassing half of the Cotton Bowl.
The celebration wasn’t cohesive, but the unity of the group was evident. They believe in each other, even if the people on the outside haven’t.
“Some people had us fried, died and laid at the side,” co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. “[But] to hell with ‘em and continue to focus on the team.”