November 8, 2008

Texas rebuilds some young psyches in Baylor win

AUSTIN - Earl Thomas buried himself in the Disney Channel this week. Quan Cosby's back was buried beneath acupuncture needles. Colt McCoy and Cosby discussed the Baylor game plan from neighboring ice tubs in the training room. And senior Ryan Palmer was doing his best to pick up the spirits of his teammates after the most gut-wrenching loss of his career.

"I've been around here for five years, and I've never seen anything like that," Palmer said. "It was painful."


No one in the Texas locker room wanted to speculate where Saturday's game against Baylor might have gone if Palmer hadn't intercepted a deflected Robert Griffin pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown after Baylor had tied the game 14-14 in the second quarter.

But Palmer's interception was just what a teetering No. 5 Texas team needed to blow the game open en route to a 45-21 victory and start the heeling from last week's 39-33 loss at Texas Tech in the final second of that game.

"I was sick to my stomach," Thomas said of Michael Crabtree's touchdown for Tech, a play in which Thomas and Curtis Brown had double coverage on Crabtree. "I couldn't sleep. I wanted to play the next day."


Thomas said he thought Crabtree had stepped out of bounds, so he let up on the play.

"We had double coverage on him, and I thought he was out of bounds, and my heart dropped when I saw him cut up field," Thomas said. "I said, 'I can't believe what just happened.' It was a heart-breaking experience, but it was also a learning experience."

Thomas, Blake Gideon, who dropped an interception on the play before Crabtree's touchdown, and Curtis Brown all made big plays for the Longhorns (9-1) against Baylor (3-7) Saturday in a bounce-back game for UT's young psyches.

"You want to get the bad taste out of your mouth after a loss," Mack Brown said, his left ear bloodied during the game by a player running out of bounds in the first half. "Especially when you were No. 1 in the country and had everything riding on it and were beaten in the last second of the game.

"So more than anything else, I felt bad Monday. I know the kids did. We had to come back and fight and compete."


Texas score on its first two possessions - drives of 65 and 70 yards - as Foswhitt Whittaker started his first game at running back, finishing with 15 carries for 77 yards (5.1 ypc). Cosby, who underwent treatment all week on his back for an injury that knocked him out of the Tech game in the first half, had four catches on those drives, including a 35-yard TD grab, putting Texas up, 7-0.

"I did it all - acupuncture, digging, massage," said Cosby, who had eight catches for 111 yards and two scores. "It usually started at 7 a.m. until I had class at 11. Go to class, then start at 1:30 until practice and then start it again. Colt and I were talking about Baylor as we were in the training room screaming in pain. It's amazing what Brett Favre did considering how banged up we get."


McCoy got knocked around for the second straight game, including a safety blitz by Baylor's Jake La Mar as McCoy delivered a pass intercepted by the Bears' Krys Buerck on the final play of the first quarter . Buerck returned it 46 yards to the Texas 6. It took Baylor five plays, but on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Robert Griffin ran it in to cut Texas' lead to 14-7.


Texas went three-and-out on its next drive, and Baylor answered with a five-play, 96-yard drive aided by a 34-yard run from Kendall Wright and capped by a 55-yard pass to Wright, tying the game at 14-14.
An uneasy feeling settled over Royal-Memorial Stadium after Hunter Lawrence missed the first of two field goals on the day - this one from 44 yards wide right - on UT's next possession.

But Palmer wiped away any fears of a second straight week of despair by closing hard on a bubble screen pass that went off the hands of Wright straight to Palmer, who darted 22 yards for a touchdown and a 21-14 lead.

"I released and the guy dropped the ball and I could see it coming," Palmer said. "Pot of gold."


Texas' defense stiffened on Baylor' next drive, and the Longhorns went right down the field for a five-play, 73-yard drive capped by Cosby's second touchdown of the day - a 26-yarder that put Texas up 28-14. Texas increased its lead to 45-14 before Baylor's Jay Finley scored on a 40-yard TD run in garbage time with 4:58 left.

"The first half we didn't play well," said McCoy, who finished 26 of 37 passing for 300 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. "The second half we were more physical, dominated and put the game away."


The Texas running game looked OK. In addition to Whittaker's 77 yards rushing, Vondrell McGee had 10 carries for 55 yards (5.5 ypc) as the Longhorns totaled 194 yards on the ground in 47 carries (4.1 ypc).

"I feel like I'm getting better at blitz pickup but I still have a lot of work to do in that area," Whittaker said. "Last week against Tech, we didn't get to do as much in the run game as we wanted to. So the coaches had us come out on Tuesday and just pound the run, make sure we get the O-line steps right, the receiver blocking right and the running backs flowing."


While Texas' defense held Baylor to less than 100 yards passing (71), this game was about restoring confidence, especially among young players like Blake Gideon, Curtis Brown and Earl Thomas.

"All three of the guys who had the tough plays at the end of last week's game all played well today," Brown said.

Gideon helped break up a deep pass in the end zone in the first quarter. Curtis Brown was flagged for pass interference but also had a quarterback hurry. And Thomas had five tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.


"I'm more at ease now," Thomas said. "When Crabtree scored that touchdown it was the worst thing in my football career.

"I've tried not to see it. A lot of my friends said to check it out on YouTube, but I never did. I just saw it that one time in film and tried to put it behind me. I haven't been watching ESPN. I've been trying to watch happy pictures. I watch Disney, the Disney Channel."

Thomas said he and Gideon did their best to pick each other up after the Tech loss.

"I told Blake you can't dwell on that," Thomas said. "You have to move on. We're young. We're going to make mistakes. I told him you have to move on to the next game. After the game he was pretty down, but as the week went on he got his momentum and confidence back and everything went well."


Thomas hurt his ankle on a play in the second quarter, when he got rolled up by linebacker Jared Norton. He said he played in pain the entire game.

"We prepared real well for this game," Thomas said. "We made up in our minds we didn't want what happened at Tech to happen again. We didn't want that taste in our mouth. We had a real good week of practice and it paid off."


With Thomas now nursing a bum ankle and Chykie Brown not even dressing for the Baylor game with a bad ankle, Texas finds itself in need of rest. But it won't come until after next week's game at Kansas, which lost to Nebraska in Lincoln on Saturday - 45-35.

And unlike Baylor, which did most of its offensive damage with Robert Griffin's legs - 101 of Baylor's 201 yards rushing came from Griffin - Kansas will test Texas' secondary with quarterback Todd Reesing, and receivers Dezmon Briscoe, Dexton Fields and Kerry Meier.

"As a team we're gelling even more even though we had a hard loss last week," Palmer said. "This win got us back on track. We needed it. Now we've got to get to Kansas."

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