Longhorns defense comes through one last time

Christian Corona

Just like it had all season long, the Texas defense bailed out the offense.

As the Longhorns offense struggled to get into a rhythm, going three-and-out on four consecutive first-half possessions, the defense kept its cool and continued to keep Texas in the game. Other than two scoring drives to open the first and second half, Cal’s offense had little success getting the ball downfield as the Longhorns took down the Golden Bears, 21-10, at Snapdragon by Qualcomm Stadium Wednesday night in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

“We knew this wouldn’t be an easy game to win but we kept working the body and we were able to make the plays to win the game,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “I think the whole point of this game was just being relentless. We never quit. We never gave in.”

Cal went 40 yards on their first offensive possession as a 47-yard field goal gave the Golden Bears an early 3-0 lead. But the Golden Bears mustered just 41 yards on six drives the rest of the first half and jogged into the locker room with the Longhorns leading, 7-3. Zach Maynard and the Cal offense came out of the gate quickly in the second half again with an 11-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that allowed the Bears to retake the lead at 10-7.

“Our defense did not play well on the first drive of the second half,” said head coach Mack Brown. “The offense answered and after that, the defense just took over. It was very difficult for [Cal] to get the ball down the field.”

But once David Ash and the Texas offense got into a groove, the Longhorns had plenty of time to put enough points to win. Ash, who was on the receiving end of Jaxon Shipley’s first-half touchdown pass, his third of the season, hit Marquise Goodwin on a 47-yard bomb that gave Texas a lead it would not relinquish, thanks to another dominating defensive performance.

“We pretty much executed the game plan perfectly,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson, who made eight tackles, 2.5 of them for loss. “We were able to stop the run and then whenever third down came around, we got sacks and turnovers because we put the quarterback under pressure.”

Following the long scoring march the Bears had to start the second half, the Longhorns allowed just ­­­28 yards on Cal’s final six possessions, three of which ended on turnovers. Texas had six sacks and five turnovers on the night and would have had six if a first-quarter punt had not grazed Tevin Jackson before being muffed by the Bears and recovered by the Longhorns.

“Texas has one of the top defenses in the country,” said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. “Turnovers were a big key and we were definitely on the wrong end today with five of them.”

But it wasn’t until the fifth and final Cal turnover that the Texas offense converted a takeaway into points. In fact, the Longhorns went backwards following the first three turnovers forced by their defense, going -6 yards on nine plays as Texas went three and out on all three drives.

“The difference in this ball game, like the difference in most of them, were the turnovers,” Brown said. “And we didn’t take advantage of them early in the game.”

All seven of the players that had a hand in forcing a turnover will return next season. Quandre Diggs, who intercepted Maynard in the first quarter, was named the Big 12’s defensive freshman of the year earlier this month. Sophomore defensive tackle Calvin Howell recovered a fumble in the first quarter and recovered another in the third. Fellow sophomore Carrington Byndom, recovered a Cal fumble in the fourth quarter, the fifth and final takeaway by the Longhorns.

The prospect of playing another year with guys like that was apparently enough to convince junior safety Kenny Vaccaro to stay on the Forty Acres for his senior season. Vaccaro tweeted shortly after the game that would come back for another year. He cited both individual accolades and an opportunity to end the season with a trip to Miami to play at the Orange Bowl, the site of the 2013 national championship game.

“I want to win the Thrope,” Vaccaro said. “Then I want to go to South Beach.”