Marquise Goodwin scored twice in his final college game, including a 64-yard touchdown run. (US Presswire)
TEXAS WON. Down 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Longhorns rallied behind a furious pass rush and two late touchdown passes by David Ash to clinch their largest comeback of the season. The late surge was an appropriate finish for a roller coaster of a campaign, and for a young team facing even higher expectations in 2013, a crucial shot of optmism to carry into a crucial offseason.
HOW TEXAS WON. Despite some ongoing issues against the run (Oregon State tailback Storm Woods finished with 118 yards rushing on 5.6 per carry) the night ultimately belonged to the Longhorn defense, which limited big plays, forced three turnovers and held the Beavers below 300 yards of total offense for only the second time this season. More specifically, the night belonged to the pass rush: Altogether, the 'Horns sacked OSU quarterback Cody Vaz ten times for –81 yards, and hounded him into a pair of interceptions and a fumble. Senior defensive end Alex Okafor alone was an unstoppable force off the edge, devouring Vaz on a career-high five sacks in his final college game.
Meanwhile, for an offense that spent most of the night struggling just to pick up a first down, the takeaways were critical opportunities to points on the board. The first, following an interception by linebacker Peter Jinkins on Oregon State's first series of the game, went to waste when a subsequent field goal attempt was blocked. But the next two, the result of a forced fumble by Okafor and an interception by Quandre Diggs, respectively, set up the offense in OSU territory for a field goal in the second quarter and a touchdown in the third, keeping the 'Horns in striking distance even when the night wasn't going according to script.
Alex Okafor celebrated a dominant finale. (US Presswire)
WHEN TEXAS WON. It wasn't until well into the fourth quarter that the sputtering UT offense finally found its groove, on a pair of clutch touchdown drives. On the first, his team trailing 27-17, Ash connected on six consecutive passes for 77 yards, highlighted by the play of the night – a Houdini-like escape from an unblocked Beaver blitzer on third down, allowing Ash to find Johnathan Gray on the run for a 15-yard touchdown pass that cut the OSU lead to 27-24. On the second, Ash followed a key 4th-and-1 conversion with a 36-yard, go-ahead bomb to Marquise Goodwin on first down, putting the Texas in front for the first time, 31-27, with 2:24 to play in the fourth quarter.
From there, the defense closed out the win by forcing the Beavers to go four-and-out, adding an exclamation point with back-to-back sacks by Okafor and Kendall Thompson on third and fourth down. That was Oregon State's seventh offensive possession of the second half, and the sixth in which it failed to cross midfield.
WHAT TEXAS WON. Under the circumstances, it might make more sense to ask what the Longhorns didn't lose: The win means they won't have to go into the offseason on a three-game losing streak, and won't have to bear the weight of three consecutive seasons with at least five losses. In the span of a few minutes, the next eight months got significantly less depressing.
In fact, given the sluggish pace of the rebuilding campaign over the last three years, the mood toward the 2013 'Horns should be fairly optimistic. For a program that judges success on conference championships and BCS bowls, the 'Horns are still a work in progress, clearly. But for a team that expects to return the vast majority of tonight's starting lineup – Goodwin, Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro were the only seniors on the two-deep – nine wins and a return to the final polls is a much clearer step in the right direction than no ranking and a three-game skid to remember it by.
WHAT OREGON STATE LOST. The Beavers blew a rare, golden opportunity to finish off a 10-win campaign over a name-brand opponent, and will limp into the offseason instead with four losses in their last seven following an exhilarating 6-0 start. Once the sting of tonight's fourth-quarter fade wears off, though, Oregon State still has a 9-4 campaign that vastly exceeded expectations and a solid core of returnees in 2013 who will certainly not have the luxury of taking anyone by surprise.