At times like this, I like to call on my old buddy, one of the great coaches and leaders from the Roman Empire days. General Maximus Decimus Meridius, your thoughts on Sunday night’s game?
Regardless of the four-plus hours of gridiron entertainment, the fact was that Texas and Notre Dame is a matchup of college football royalty. The Longhorns are second in all-time victories while Notre Dame is third.
UT’s victory edge is now 893 to 890 thanks to the Longhorns’ 50-47 double-overtime upset of the 10th-ranked Irish. A record crowd of 102,315 and a national television audience for a Sunday night game on Labor Day weekend turned out to be the perfect showcase for the best thrill ride of the greatest opening weekend in the sport’s history.
“We needed a win to get the program back in the spotlight,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said. “This is a win to get us back.”
And, for, oh, maybe a month or so, get people off Strong’s back.
His hot seat has cooled considerably. How much attention does being the coach at Texas bring? A pre-game tweet noted Strong was wearing a burnt orange polo shirt. He changed into his usual mock turtleneck for the game, but that’s how the microscope focuses on the Forty Acres.
Even if the Longhorns had lost a game they led by 17 and appeared to have won, only to then face overtime roulette, they showed they’re a vastly improved team to start Strong’s third season. Starting 1-0 and beating a team that embarrassed UT 38-3 last year in South Bend leaves the eyes of Texas shining bright with delight.
“A year ago we probably would’ve lost that football game,” Strong said. “We wouldn’t have known how to finish.”
Last year Texas lost to California by missing a game-tying extra point. Against the Irish, after falling behind 35-31, Texas drove for a touchdown. But instead of a 38-35 lead, Notre Dame blocked the extra point and returned it for two points and a 37-all tie that led to overtime.
Then, after UT scored a touchdown in the top of the first OT inning, Notre Dame responded with a one-play touchdown. The Longhorns’ defense, though, held the Irish to a field goal in the top of the second overtime to set up a chance to win.
Senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, all 6-foot-4, 250 pounds of him, danced and darted and dove for a TD on a six-yard keeper that gave Texas its biggest victory since the 2009 Big 12 Championship Game. That victory over Nebraska sent the Longhorns to the BCS National Championship Game in the Rose Bowl stadium to face Alabama. On that night in the Arroyo Seco, senior Colt McCoy was knocked out on the first series, the Crimson Tide won, and UT started its slide down the razor blade of mediocre football.
Texas, though, showed up and played high-quality football in its season opener. The Longhorns, who started pointing to Notre Dame’s visit since “5-7” happened, didn’t melt down in that spotlight Strong is craving. Teams such as Oklahoma, LSU and USC couldn’t say the same thing.
We’re nearly 500 words into this report and have yet to mention the Longhorns’ starting quarterback. Freshman by the name of Shane Buechele.
He. Is. The. Real. Deal.
“You knew (Buechele) could handle it,” Strong said of naming a freshman as the starter. “You knew the stage wouldn’t be too big.”
In the first quarter, Buechele and speedy wide receiver John Burt nearly connected on a deep throw, but Burt couldn’t catch a 50-yard throw that was Mona Lisa perfection. That incompletion proved that Buechele’s arm and accuracy are magical, and Burt’s straight-line speed is hard to stop.
The second play of the second half proved both statements. With Notre Dame’s Nick Coleman in press coverage, Burt went on a go route. Buechele, facing some pressure and with his feet not completely set, launched another parabola that hit Burt in stride for a 72-yard touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
Buechele finished 16-of-26 for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He had one interception that was tipped and led to a Notre Dame touchdown. He delivered two 60-yard completions. Texas produced two 60-yard completions in 12 games last season.
This really is amazing to watch. Texas just flipped a switch and now they have an unreal looking offense! Sterlin Gilbert doing wonders!
— David Pollack (@davidpollack47) September 5, 2016
Let’s go ahead and add that “g” to the offensive coordinator’s first name.
Sterlin Gilbert required a visit from school president Greg Fenves to take the job, but it appears that trip to Tulsa was worthwhile. Having a quarterback like Buechele obviously makes a big difference, but the Longhorns’ offense was purpose-driven. That hasn’t been the case in recent years.
Texas had 517 yards of total offense (467 of that in regulation). The warp-speed tempo to start the game waned, but one would expect the accelerator can be tromped more often as a bunch of young players gain experience.
Obviously, the two-quarterback system worked. At times, it worked last year with Swoopes (13 carries, 53 yards, three touchdowns) in the 18-Wheeler package in place of Jerrod Heard (who flashed his potential in this game with a 68-yard reception). The offense has worked on using both quarterbacks – even with subbing on the same series – and it’s a viable option going forward.
The end-of-game sideline shot of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly having his headset removed by an assistant was poignant. His lack of conviction in picking a quarterback cost his team the game. Senior Malik Zaire was ineffective in the first half while junior DeShone Kizer completed 15-of-24 for 215 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 77 yards and another TD.
Apparently, Kizer had one of the worst months of practice in college football history. If it wasn’t apparent in August to the Irish coaching staff that Kizer is the superior quarterback, the coaches should visit the optometrist in South Bend on Monday.
The other image that told the story was Strong being crowd surfed by his team. His tough love has turned around this program and his players believe in him. He told Buechele that he would start and told Swoopes that he would have a chance to win it. That’s how you coach.
“I know one game does not make a season,” Strong said. “We have many more to go. But it’s a great start.”
And a huge victory.