One tough Knight
Central Florida opens new stadium by pushing Texas to brink.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
ORLANDO, Fla. — A hellish road trip to the Sunshine State had a pleasant ending Saturday for the Texas Longhorns.
Cornerback Brandon Foster smothered an onside kick attempt with 35 seconds to play, allowing the sixth-ranked Longhorns to leave pristine Bright House Networks Stadium with a 35-32 victory over Central Florida.
In some cases, Texas' third victory of the season was as close as the score might indicate. Three turnovers (including two big ones by Longhorn tailback Jamaal Charles) — mixed with a 15-minute lightning delay, third-quarter rain and injuries to three starters — all served as neutralizers for the Longhorns' talent advantage over the Knights.
Texas even had a tough time getting to Orlando on Friday. A mechanical problem with a chartered aircraft kept the team grounded in Austin for nearly three hours. A busted transmission on the lead of three buses also forced one-third of the team to change modes of transportation, with Colt McCoy, Charles and Quan Cosby catching a ride with a police escort. That limited what was scheduled to be an hour-long walkthrough at the new stadium to five minutes.
Adding to the problems, UCF quarterback Kyle Israel had a one-yard touchdown plunge over the right side to give his team a 24-23 lead with 13 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in Saturday's game. It delighted the vocal, sellout crowd of 45,622 that gave the Knights a home-field advantage in the first game ever played on campus.
"I don't like the fact that we let them get ahead," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "I really liked that we responded to come back like good teams do."
The Longhorn offense responded with a 12-point flurry to build a 35-24 cushion with 3:37 to go. But Charles' second fumble, at the end of a 5-yard run, allowed UCF the chance for one final touchdown drive that culminated in Israel's pass to Kamar Aiken with 35 seconds remaining.
Foster's recovery of the onside kick, and McCoy's one final play, put an end to a nearly four-hour game played in 90-degree heat and humidity about as high.
From the statistical view, the game wasn't very close. The Longhorns amassed 488 yards, their third-largest total in the last 16 games, to UCF's 326. Texas owned the ball 33 minutes, 33 seconds to the Knights' 23:27.
McCoy set a UT individual-game record for completions (32) and tied one for attempts (47). His completions bested the 30 by Vince Young (2006 Rose Bowl) and Major Applewhite (accomplished twice in 1999). The attempts equaled the number of passes thrown in a game by Applewhite, Chris Simms and Shea Morenz.
"I'm exhausted," McCoy said. "That was a tough game. ... It could have been so easy for us to lay down."
The UCF defense was effective at holding the Longhorns to minimal gains, forcing them to grind downfield and settle for field goals. Texas kicker Ryan Bailey converted five of his six field goal attempts to tie a school record.
UCF frustrated Texas by dropping four defensive backs into deep coverage, which allowed them to limit McCoy to just more than eight yards per completion. It also helped Central Florida that Limas Sweed, the Longhorns' most adept deep threat, left the game for good with a twisted ankle in the second quarter. He had just made what appeared to be a 42-yard catch, which officials ruled incomplete on review, when the injury occurred.
Texas had three drives of double-digit plays, with two of them only achieving field goals. A nine-play drive was snapped by Charles' fumble at the UCF 3 late in the second quarter. Another nine-play drive ended in a field goal, as did an eight-play series.
"It's one of those games you like, where you got to grind it out," said Cosby, who caught a career-high 10 passes for 61 yards. "You had to make the small plays."
One of the biggest plays came from Foster, who — in addition to smothering the final onside kick — also returned an interception for a touchdown. It was his second score in two games.
But what eventually gave the Longhorns some breathing room was a deep pass from McCoy to Jordan Shipley, who was finally healed from an almost four-month hamstring strain. McCoy bootlegged to his left. Without any blockers, he dodged a UCF linebacker and threw to Shipley, 38 yards downfield.
"I'm just glad Colt got the ball off," Shipley said. "It seemed like it was going to hang up there forever."
The catch set up Bailey's 37-yard field goal to give the Longhorns a 29-24 lead.
Charles scored a 46-yard touchdown on an inside zone play, one snap after Marcus Griffin recovered an Israel fumble.
On paper, Charles had a nice game, rushing for 153 yards on 22 carries. But when the Longhorns were coming from behind, and then preserving a lead, Brown used backup runner Chris Ogbonnaya as much as he did Charles.
"I let my team down," said Charles, who had more distractions when Hurricane Humberto hit near his family's home in Port Arthur last week.
Brown and his team wanted to waste as little time as possible dawdling in the locker room. They won't have to return to snakebit Orlando any time soon.
Brown termed the team's 26-hour stay in Orlando as "unbelievable."
"Every time somebody walked up to me, it was never good," he quipped.
And that's why the three-point victory didn't look too bad to him.
6-Texas vs. Rice Owls
6 p.m., Saturday. Royal-Memorial Stadium. TV: FSNSW Radio: KVET (98.1 FM, 1300 AM); KWNX (1260 AM, Spanish)