AUSTIN, Texas – The touchdowns are usually all most people notice, and all they remember days later. The little plays, the ones that don’t pop up during Sunday film review, get Mack Brown just as excited.
You don’t win games like Texas’ 47-40 overtime victory over West Virginia last weekend without sneaking in a handful of those small, but significant plays. Under Brown, Texas is 22-5 in games decided by three points or less. You don’t win those without getting the upper hand on a few sneaky-important plays.
There were plenty to choose from in Morgantown, W.V., last Saturday. Cornerback Carrington Byndom snuck in and blew up a run on third-and-1 late in the fourth quarter. Texas preserved its timeouts for its final offensive drive by stopping that conversion.
On West Virginia’s first offensive snap in overtime, Mario Alford took a reverse 20 yards to the 5. He could've scored, but Texas safety Adrian Phillips fought off a block and managed to force Alford out of bounds.
On second-and-goal on the Longhorns’ game-deciding goal-line stand, cornerback Quandre Diggs got a finger on Paul Millard's pass to an open receiver. The box score didn’t credit him for a pass breakup. On the final play of the night, Diggs pressured Millard with a blitz off the edge and was smart enough to avoid roughing the passer.
Those aren’t glorious plays like Steve Edmond’s interception or Jaxon Shipley’s touchdown, both of which merited praise, but these details garner almost no attention from the public and they helped swing a shootout on the road that sent Texas home 6-0 in the Big 12.
Under Mack Brown, Texas has now pulled of 31 second-half comebacks and 20 fourth-quarter comebacks. The Longhorns might need a few more of those plays to go their way against a 12th-ranked Oklahoma State team that’s a tough out in all three phases.
What makes the Longhorns so proficient in these close games? You could chalk it up to practice habits or savvy play-calling or plenty of other factors. It’s a bit simpler than that to co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.
“Me personally, just my own personal opinion, I think you’ve got good players,” Applewhite said. “When you have Vince Young and Colt McCoy and you have Ricky Williams and you have Jaxon Shipley, I just think players usually end up winning the game over the course of time.
“I’d love to attribute it to something out there, but I think it’s good players making big-time plays in big-time situations.”
But contributions like the ones Byndom, Daniels, Phillips and Diggs made don’t go unnoticed. They’re the kind of detail plays that come from a 2013 team loaded with experienced veterans.
It’s also a group that has produced enough close wins and last-second victories to know how to thrive in these high-pressure spots.
“I don’t think anybody wants to be in a close game with us in the fourth quarter,” senior guard Mason Walters said. “I’m really confident the guys I play football with thrive in that. I really think it’s that pride in being able to win close games that really helps us.”
And by now, this Texas team has had enough close calls to know the “big-time plays” Applewhite seeks aren’t always the ones that put points on the scoreboard.