If there was ever a sign of things to come, this was it.
The game was barely a minute old, and Missouri was driving from its own 25-yard line, looking to jump ahead against a Texas team ranked No. 2 in the country. Quarterback Brad Smith, under pressure, threw a pass that ended up in the arms of Texas’ Brian Carter, who returned the ball to the Missouri 3-yard line and paved the way for running back Jamaal Charles’ touchdown one play later.
And things would only get worse as the game dragged on.
Missouri walked away with a 51-20 loss, its worst since the team fell 38-0 to Kansas State in the 2002 season finale. The Tigers turned the ball over three times in the first half, and each time the Longhorns converted it into a touchdown. Not only that, but Texas scored on the first official play on each of the ensuing drive.
With 10:06 remaining in the second quarter, the Longhorns led 21-13 and had possession of the ball for a total of 42 seconds.
“Our bunch,” said an upbeat Texas coach Mack Brown following the game, “can score fast.”
Texas’ bunch, in fact, can also score in droves. The Longhorns racked up 585 yards of total offense, including 349 rushing yards, and at one point scored on six straight drives. If a Carter end-zone catch hadn’t been ruled out of bounds in the second quarter, the score might very well have been even more lopsided.
“They have a great team,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “They’re one of the best teams in America. There’s no question about that.”
In running Texas’ potent offense, quarterback Vince Young showed the 57,231 fans assembled at Memorial Stadium why he is a front-runner in this year’s race for the Heisman Trophy, and Missouri’s Smith showed why he’s not.
Young was nearly flawless Saturday, taking it to a hapless Missouri defense both with his arm and with his legs. By the end of the third quarter, Young had amassed 220 passing yards and two touchdowns, along with 108 yards and another touchdown on the ground, before happily retiring to the sideline late in the fourth quarter.
Smith, on the other hand, had one of the worst performances of his four-year career. His first quarter interception was complemented by three fumbles, two of which Texas recovered, and a number of ill-advised passes. Smith, who through three games this season had led a powerful offensive attack, showed that the mistakes that plagued the team for much of last season are still a cause for concern.
“That hurts,” said Missouri running back Jimmy Jackson, who rushed for 36 yards and a touchdown in place of the injured Tony Temple (sore ankle). “That hurts a lot. I mean, we can’t put ourselves in that kind of position. We just can’t.”
Missouri battled back from its early miscues, however. On the team’s second drive, Smith marched the Tigers 87 yards down the field, and Jimmy Jackson concluded the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. On their next series, Smith bursted three yards into the end zone to make the score 14-13 with 1:13 left in the first quarter.
But that was the closest Missouri would get. Each time the Tigers appeared poised to take advantage of a scoring opportunity, the series would stall, and Texas would manage to get the ball back. And the result was a 24-13 halftime deficit that would only grow in the second half.
“It’s difficult to win anyway when you’re playing a great football team,” Pinkel said. “But we certainly had some opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of. We had some chances to get back in it in the second half, but I think they just wore us down.”
Four Texas players rushed for 50 yards or more. Running back Jamaal Charles finished with 97 yards and a touchdown and freshman back Henry Melton added 57 yards and two touchdowns, proving that this Texas team is worthy of its No. 2 ranking.
And as the saying goes, to the victor go the spoils. So as Texas players exited the visiting locker rooms late Saturday afternoon, cheerful and relaxed, they found more than 100 pizza boxes stacked up waiting for them. The Tigers, on the other hand, exited their locker room with a bundle of unanswered questions, and a serious blow to their collective confidence.