28 December 2011
The last time Jeff Tedford and Mack Brown faced each other, it didn't go well for Texas.
When most people think of the two head coaches, they remember the 2004 episode when both Tedford and Brown lobbied for their respective teams to get a BCS bowl berth. Tedford's Cal team narrowly beat Southern Miss on the last week of the regular season while Brown's squad took down rival Texas A&M. The Longhorns leapforgged the Bears in the BCS standings and defeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl while the Golden Bears fell to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
But Tedford's and Brown's history go back even further than that. Tedford was the offensive coordinator at Oregon when the Ducks faced the Longhorns in their first Holiday Bowl appearance in 2000 and their first loss to Oregon in five meetings (Texas won the first four by an average of 32.3 points per game). Tedford had his hands full facing a defense that feautred future NFLers Quentin Jammer, Nathan Vasher, Shaun Rodgers, Cory Redding and Casey Hampton but managed to help the Ducks pull out a 35-30 win.
"I don't know that you could have played a team as talented as Texas that year. They were loaded," Tedford said. "There was a scout who came over that day who had just been to the Texas practice. I said, 'How do they look?' He said, 'You don't stand a chance.'"
Now Tedford and Brown meet again in this year's Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl today. Both teams come into the game 7-5 but arrived at that mark very differently. Texas lost three of its last four games with the only win coming by two points on Thanksgiving in College Station. Meanwhile, Cal won three of its last four regular season contests with the only loss coming in Palo Alto by three points to the Andrew Luck-led Stanford Cardinal. Tedford cited his quarterback Zach Maynard's improvement managing games as the most important reason why the Bears played so well down the stretch but knows it's not the only one.
"We've grown, not only one the football field but off the field," said Tedford. "The guys with the balls in their hands typically get all the credit or all the blame. But the guys up front - our offensive line, our tight ends, our fullbacks have done a nice job of blocking in the run game, of protecting the passer."
Cal running back Isi Sofele running for more than 140 yards per game and averaging 6.5 yards per carry over those last four games didn't hurt, either. As for the Longhorns' ground game, it should get a boost with freshmen Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron both being healthy at the same time for the first time October. The two combined for more than 1,100 yards despite each missing three games and should help Texas jumpstart its offense.
"[Malcolm Brown's] better than he was in the A&M game," Mack Brown said. "He's been full speed and he's done really well. We expect him to be fresh and ready to go."
Texas did not release a depth chart or name a starting quarterback Tuesday, although Brown did reiterate that both of his quarterbacks - sophomore Case McCoy and freshman David Ash - should see significant playing time today. Both McCoy and Ash have played hot potato with the starting quarterback spot since Garrett Gilbert was ousted in the Longhorns' second game against BYU, had shoulder surgery, and decided to transfer to SMU. The "or" between their names on the depth chart finally disappeared before Texas faced Baylor in its regular season finale as McCoy got the nod. He completed 11 of 18 first-half passes for 235 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions before getting picked off three times after halftime. Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin indicated after the game that McCoy would start in the bowl game but it seems like the two-quarterback system that was used in three contests earlier this season will return today.
"Both have played well at at times this year and both have struggled," said Brown. "I thought we were getting back on track and then all our running backs and receivers got hurt at one point so we didn't help them enough. In this ballgame, we've got to help our quarterbacks. [Cal] does a tremendous job on defense."
The Longhorns have a terrific defense in their own right. Despite facing three of the top of four most prolific offenses in the country and six of the top 13, Texas managed to boast the Big 12's best defense. The Longhorns' secondary faced the likes of Landry Jones, Brandon Weeden, Collin Klein and last but not least Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III but became the conference's top pass defense despite the glaring lack of experience that resulted from the departure of three players to the NFL.
One of those youngsters, Quandre Diggs - the Big 12 defensive freshman of the year - should feel right at home in San Diego, where he planned to spend the holidays before Texas accepted an invitation to play in the Holiday Bowl. Diggs' older brother and current member of the San Diego Chargers' secondary, Jammer, will share both his home turf at Qualcomm Stadium and his locker.
"It's not going to make him taller, but he's still going to have [Jammer's locker]," Brown said of the 5-foot-10 freshman. "Quentin is obviously long-armed, taller and he's been one of the best corners to play in the NFL. Quandre is a much better ball catcher. He's physical, very fundamentally sound."
Diggs and the Texas secondary will face another good quarterback in Maynard but will be facing a quality signal-caller in a bowl game for the first time. Because the Longhorns played more freshmen than anyone in the country, many of their biggest contributors simply haven't played a full season at the collegiate. But some of the other players have last year's 5-7 season to blame for not having participated in a bowl game before. In fact, it's been nearly three years since the Longhorns have ended a season with a win.
"[Winning a bowl game] makes everything so much better for next season," said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. "It really helps the players, it really helps the coaches, and it really helps recruiting because now we can focus on Texas football - having 10-plus win seasons like we have had here in the past."
Texas can't get to 10 wins this season after racking up half that many losses but like, Robinson said, an eighth win would help the program give it the boost it needs to become a conference and national title contender again. Before the 1,086-day bowl win drought, Texas went five seasons between bowl losses, winning five in a row between the victory over Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl and the triumph over Ohio State in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. Year after year, the Longhorns feeded off the euphoria of finishing the season with a win. Three of those five were BCS bowl victories and one, of course, resulted in a national title.
"One of our main motivations this season was not being home at this time of year," said senior safety Blake Gideon. "7-6 sounds a lot worse than 8-5. It's more than just getting the eighth [win]. We want to get the last win. We want to finish strong."
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