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November 25, 2011

Post-game drama from UT's win over A&M

QUICK THOUGHTS

***Justin Tucker booted that thing right down the middle from 40 yards out. Texas A&M's members of the corps were ready to run onto the field, and they were gutted. Instead, it was UT players running all over the field, dog-piling Tucker. Marquise Goodwin ran to the north end of the field by himself and just got down on his knees and looked to the heavens.

***Case McCoy was a rock star after the game. He ran and gave high-fives to members of the band. The band chanted his name, and the band chanted Justin Tucker's name.

***After Texas players sang the Eyes of Texas after the game, they began chanting, "S-E-C, S-E-C!"


1. With that, let's start it off with Blake Gideon, who said before the game Texas wanted to send the Aggies off to the SEC the "right way."

"I think we did. So they can go do whatever they want in the SEC because we are still running it," Gideon said.


2. Tucker was incredibly composed in the post-game. But you could tell how special the moment was. He knows his name is going to be tied to this final victory in the rivalry forever.

"That's incredibly special to me, and to my family," Tucker said.

"It's huge for me. Going out to the Westlake practice fields in the cold, when it's raining and 40 degrees, and then in the summer when it's 110, just picturing this moment.

"My dad and I would set up the ball, and he would tell me a game situation, 'Well there's three seconds left, no timeouts and it's going to be a 40-yard field goal to beat Texas A&M,' and I would knock it down every time. It's not just a testament to my hard work, but to our whole team. It's a team win."

Tucker said A&M's timeout with 3 seconds left didn't bother him.

"We see it on TV all the time, people trying to ice the kicker, and I just see it as another opportunity to visualize it before I hit it. I get to think about the ball going down the middle, time and time again," he said.

Tucker has a reputation as a bit of an eccentric on the team with his bright orange shoes and musical tastes. But his teammates never doubted him.

"J-Tuck might be a weird guy and sing opera in the shower," said senior tight end Blaine Irby. "But he's a great kicker. He's confident. And we've never lacked confidence or trust in him. We knew it was going to go in. "

Irby thought about closing his eyes and listening to the crowd. But then he thought of all the times Tucker had made those kicks in practice when coaches pumped noise into the bubble.

"So I just watched the ball," Irby said. "It was surreal running onto the field. A lot of people ran to J-Tuck. I tried to take down a couple of our O-linemen. But they were too big."

Tucker struggled with his punting. He said he tried to "drive" his punts but kept "popping them up."

"He was popping them up in the wind," Mack Brown said. "And they were blowing back in his face. Then, he drove the next three and then started popping them up again. I know because he wasn't proud of his punts
tonight that he was glad he could finish the game with a field goal."

Mack Brown recounted all of the big field goals he's been part of at Texas, including Kris Stockton's kick to beat A&M in 1998, Dusty Mangum to beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl (2004 season); Ryan Bailey's kicks to beat Nebraska in 2006 and Oklahoma State in 2007; and Hunter Lawrence in the 2009 Big 12 title game.

He put this one right up there.

"That's what you dream of as a kid. We've had that opportunity come up five or six times with guys like Kris Stockton, Ryan Bailey, Dusty Mangum, and thank goodness (knocking on wood) we haven't missed it."

At halftime, Mack said his mind flashed back to 1999.

"I was hoping this game would be the opposite of 1999, when we led 16-7 at halftime, and they came back and won 20-16," he said. "It really turned out to be more like 1998. That's what I hoped with 1:42 left. I saw the comeback with Major the other day, and I think there was 1:21 left. We had two timeouts in this situation, we only had one with Major.

"But it came down to a field goal again. This one was from the 23. Kris (Stockton's) kick was from about the 9, and there wasn't any wind. But we had missed two field goals with Kris earlier in the third quarter of that game. But you never know what happens. I was just proud of our snap and hold. You don't notice those snappers and holders until you get down to about three seconds."


3. The Texas defense took advantage of an A&M offense that did not include RB Cyrus Gray and intercepted three passes, including a 58-yard pick-six by Carrington Byndom.

It was a flashback to the games in which the defense forced multiple turnovers against UCLA and Iowa State.

Emmanuel Acho had 14 tackles. Blake Gideon had 8. Keenan Robinson and Carrington Byndom both had 6. Desmond Jackson had a sack. Quandre Diggs and Kenny Vaccaro both had interceptions.

"When they made a mistake, we punished them," Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "In this game, you could almost win or almost lose, and we found the way to make the plays that helped us win."

Diaz praised Emmanuel Acho and his whole group.

"Acho was dynamic, physical, aggressive," Diaz said. "I thought a big story in the game that with Gray being out, it became hard for them to run the football. It turned into a throw game, and then our secondary did a great job of punishing them back there.

"In a game like this, you need everybody."

Diaz said he was impressed with Tannehill, who took a lot of hits and kept bouncing back.

"I ran up and told Tannehill after the game, and he didn't want to hear it from me, but I told him, 'You're a warrior. You battled us to the end and never gave up,'" Diaz said. "We had him on the run a great deal, but I respect the way he played tonight."

Kenny Vaccaro said the interceptions were more about the plays Texas made than about Tannehill's mistakes.

"You can't say it was Tannehill's mistakes. We made some great plays," Vaccaro said. "Quandre made a great play in cover three. Byndom was up against Jeff Fuller, who is supposed to be an NFL type guy, and Carrington just locked him up in man coverage.

"Mine was just scheme. I had to go to my area. I went to my area and picked the ball off. Tannehill could have made better decisions, but I give credit to our guys making plays."

Vaccaro honored Foswhitt Whittaker by wearing No. 2 with no name on the back of his jersey Thursday night.

"Fozzy, I really look up to him as far as his work ethic on and off the field," Vaccaro said. "He's really taught me a lot - how to be a football player and how to be off the field. I wanted to honor him tonight. I wanted to play to the best of my abilities. I asked Coach Brown if I could wear it, and he said it would be an honor."

Vaccaro gets most of the credit for locking down A&M leading receiver Ryan Swope, who had just 3 catches for 33 yards and never really made an impact on the game. Vaccaro said he's glad the defense made a statement in such a big game.

"It means a lot," Vaccaro said. "It's more of a confidence builder for our team. Our defense has been trying to serve our offense all year, and we did that tonight.

"I think we've made statements the last four weeks that we can play with any offense in the country."


4. When Texas A&M went 68 yards in 8 plays to score on a 16-yard TD strike from Ryan Tannehill to Jeff Fuller, it looked like the defense might not get credit for a gutsy performance.

But the defense broke up a pass on A&M's two-point conversion attempt that would have put the Aggies up 27-24. Instead, A&M led 25-24, allowing Texas the chance to win the game with a field goal instead of tie and go to overtime.

"We were telling ourselves, 'Just keep them out of the end zone,' because we wanted to give ourselves a chance to win the game with a field goal," said Byndom.

"We continued to play physical as a defense and tonight we had turnovers that came with that. We showed we're not easy to score on."


5. What a huge night for Case McCoy, who made a key play when he needed to - with a 25-yard scramble to the Texas A&M 23 with 28 seconds left - and didn't have a turnover.

"It was an emotional night," McCoy said, covered in dirt. "I lost my voice. They're loud, real loud. We didn't play well the first half or most of the game.

"But our defense got us back in with the turnovers and took one back. That was huge.

"I'm just proud of the way we fought and were able to come back. We were upset because we weren't able to do it last week (against Kansas State). The two-minute drill didn't go so well last week.

"We harped on it this week, spent extra time on it. And it showed up tonight. We were able to get into position for a field goal, and proud of Justin Tucker.

"He does that every day of every week. None of us had a doubt that he would make it. He did and what a great feeling to leave this stadium with a win and go celebrate Thanksgiving."

It wasn't pretty - at all. McCoy was just 16 of 27 passing for 110 yards and took two sacks. But his 25-yard scramble was his signature moment of the season.

"That's just instinct," McCoy said. "We knew they were bailing out and we had to pass in those situations, and it was a play I was able to make with my feet. Jeremy (Hills) was lead-blocking.

"There are times a quarterback has to be a playmaker and make plays with his feet. We were able to do that. It opened up. Our receivers were blocking downfield, and it was one of the plays that helped lead to the victory."

McCoy said before the final drive, which began with 1:48 left, "I said a little prayer and just went out there and performed like I thought I should. We weren't hesitant. We attacked the field and executed the way we needed to."

McCoy hadn't been given most of the plays at quarterback since the UCLA game in Week 3. And he hadn't started since the OU game.

"Thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity and our team this opportunity," he said. "I don't want this rivalry to be over. But if it has to end, I definitely wanted to go out on top. And on Thanksgiving we are very thankful."


6. I asked Mack Brown about the patience the coaches showed in McCoy after the offense suffered five straight three-and-outs (and five straight punts in the first quarter) to open the game.

"Bryan (Harsin) has more patience than I do," Mack said. "He hung in there and said, 'We're going to be OK. They're stacking the line, and we're into a big wind, and we've got to be smart. We're not going to turn the ball over and keep playing defense and when we get it turned, we'll start playing some offense on the other end and make a play.'

"I thought Bryan did a masterful job tonight on a night when we didn't move the ball very well against an A&M defense that played really well."

The offense managed just 12 first downs to Texas A&M's 22 and was just 4 of 17 on third down conversions, but Harsin said he stuck with Case because "he was managing the game and not turning it over."

"He managed the game well tonight," Harsin said. "The biggest thing was there were no turnovers from that position. We had a couple on some other plays. But if we can win the turnover battle and don't put ourselves in a bad position from the quarterback position, then we have a chance to be in every ballgame.

"And I thought Case did that tonight. And then on the final drive, he went from managing the game to having that one play the quarterback has to make to spark the offense, and he did that with his run and got us in position."

Harsin talked about how McCoy being on the field for the failed two-minute drive at the end of last week's K-State game probably paid off for Texas this week.

"We were just trying to think from the game what we were going to see from them coverage wise, what would work against it and what personnel we needed on the field," Harsin said. "I thought we made some key adjustments right before that drive that helped us with a couple ideas. It got us off and rolling.

"From being in that situation last week, Case went in and executed it in this game. He made plays with his arm and his feet and got us in position, and we knew Tucker was in a good spot to make that kick."

Mack reiterated that extra time was spent working on the two-minute drill after the K-State game.

"We didn't handle it well last week, so we put a special emphasis on it this week," Mack said.

It paid off.

7. Mack said he had some words for Case McCoy before the final, game-winning drive to Justin Tucker's field goal.

"I told him, 'Here's where you become the guy and take us down to win the game. Every quarterback has to have a signature moment, and this is going to be yours,'" Mack said. "I told him, 'I thought it would be last week. You weren't ready for that, but now you are, so you're going to take it down and win the game.' He had such a big smile on his face after the game, it was nice to see."

Blaine Irby said McCoy "is our guy."

"That last run by Case was unbelievable," Irby said. "Everyone did what they had to do to win.

"It's a confidence thing with Case. He's our guy. He might be excited in the pocket, but he's got a cool face on. So we have all the confidence in him.

"Tonight was one of those examples. I think we had the ball with 1:48, and we just believed that this was the drive we were going to put it together.

"We were in 10 personnel (one back and three wides) most of the time, and our receivers did a great job catching the ball and getting out of bounds, and then Case had the big run. And J-Tuck finished it off. It's just surreal how it all ended."


8. Having Jaxon Shipley back was huge. That kid, in many instances, seems like the only playmaker on the field at times. At least it felt that way, Thursday night.

Shipley finished with 3 catches for 34 yards and threw a perfect, 41-yard TD pass - on a double-pass play - to Blaine Irby with 9:10 left in the second quarter that swung the momentum to UT's favor after falling behind the Aggies 13-0.

The pass play came right after Texas' Jamison Berryhill recovered an A&M muffed punt.

"Shipley provides that spark," said Harsin. "He's the kind of guy who's going to make plays for you. I was happy to have him back and have him out there again in our final game."

Shipley said he couldn't miss this game.

"It meant a lot, especially with this game being our last one against A&M. I knew this was a game I couldn't miss. So I'm excited to be back. It was an awesome game. I'm very glad that I played."

Shipley added, "We put it all together in the end, and that's all that matters. Coach Brown told us we're a second half team and that we're going to come back and win this game in the fourth quarter, and we did."

Shipley was excited his roommate, Case McCoy, got the chance to show what he could do.

"Case is a great leader, and he talked to us before that final drive, and he said, 'Hey, we're going to go down the field, and we're going to win,'" Shipley said. "I think it was a great opportunity for him, and he definitely pulled through in the end. He proved himself."

Shipley said he never threw a TD pass in high school. He's thrown two this season (he connected with D.J. Grant for a score against UCLA.) Shipley is just one TD pass behind David Ash this season (3), and two behind Case McCoy (4).

"We obviously weren't doing a whole bunch in the beginning, and we got that play, and it sparked some momentum," Shipley said of his TD throw to Irby. "I didn't throw any touchdowns in high school, but it's definitely a lot of fun."

Irby said the safety bit on the first pass on the play, from McCoy to Shipley, leaving him wide open on Shipley's pass.

"As soon as I saw the safety bite on the pass to Jaxon, I knew I was just hoping Jaxon could toss the ball up there," said Irby, who caught a TD pass for a second straight game. "He said before that play, he told me to get on my horse and run. And it was a perfect throw.

"It was a huge shift in momentum, because their defense was really holding us down. That play helped out."


9. In addition to Quandre Diggs' interception, his 81-yard punt return to the A&M 9 in the third-quarter set up UT's go-ahead points on a field goal putting Texas up 17-16.

"I thought I was going to score," Diggs said. "My teammates gave me some great blocks. That's what started it off. I made a couple cuts. I wish I could have scored. But we set up the offense and got the momentum going.

"It's special to win this game," Diggs said. "Everyone watched this. It was a big game and growing up, you know how special this game is. And this atmosphere was incredible. So to get the last win in the rivalry, it's special. It's something you can tell your grandkids."


10. Here are Mack's other thoughts on the game:

"Sports can be really cruel. I think there was a time tonight when both teams deserved to win. I give Texas A&M so much credit for the way they started. This crowd was unbelievable. They are a factor in ballgames. They made it tough for our guys to hear.

"The wind was a huge factor again tonight, like it was at Missouri. The team that had the ball with the wind was scoring more. They jumped up, then we took over the ballgame, and then they took it back.

"And then with 1:42 left, Case takes us down the field and Justin Tucker kicks the winning field goal. Really proud of our guys for the way it finished. But it was a great college football game, and I don't know if you can call a team a loser tonight. We were simply the ones with more points at the end.

"It helps our team because we were in the same position last week and couldn't finish it. So we developed more at quarterback tonight.

"Case had a great drive at the end of the game to win it. Justin Tucker has been great his entire career, so we didn't question if he would hit it.

"The great run by Case and the couple passes he made put us in great position. I thought Bryan Harsin called a great game tonight, and we didn't finish two or three different drives.

"We're sitting there with a throwback screen to the tight end that's wide open. We miss a block on a linebacker and fumble the ball on a third-and-8 that would have led to points right after we force a turnover.

"Bryan calls a reverse pass on the goal line, and it's wide open, and Mike Davis falls. And then we get an interception.

"And the one thing we couldn't do to lose points was take a sack right before the half, and we took the sack, pushing us out of field goal range.

"We were so backed up in that fourth quarter, and we didn't handle it real well. We had penalties coming off the goal line. But we protected the ball in the second half, and our defense forced turnovers and a tremendous play in the kicking game by Quandre Diggs on the punt return and getting points.

"This was very much like the Nebraska game last year in that we may not come back here again. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on our guys, and they hung in there and fought.

"Again, I'm a Mike Sherman fan, and I thought they did a great job coaching their team tonight. They played with a lot of emotion and energy, and it's a shame either team lost."

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