PASADENA, Calif. — The Longhorns needed another trip to the Rose Bowl to find their swagger.
And they got it back on the same field that’s produced some of the greatest moments in Texas football lore. More importantly though, they got it back against a University of California, Los Angeles team that robbed Texas of its swagger a year ago in Austin.
The Longhorns dominated the Bruins both physically and on the scoreboard. Texas bulled its way to a season-high 284 yards rushing and pushed UCLA around from the get-go en route to a 49-20 blowout.
Kenny Vaccaro set the tone early with a bone-jarring hit, the first of many by the Longhorns.
“They were calling us weak last year,” Vaccaro said. “The main thing for us was to be physical.”
The Longhorns sent the Bruins a message: this year’s team won’t be pushed around again, this year’s squad will fight.
“It’s a statement, we’re from Texas and we want to be Texas tough.” Vaccaro said. “Last year they kept saying stuff about California football players. We want to show the world that Texas has the best football players.”
On Saturday, Texas had the best players. And UCLA knows it.
Some weren’t sure the Longhorns would make it through their non-conference schedule unblemished. But they did.
They did it with toughness and a mean streak that simply wasn’t there a season ago.
Marquise Goodwin laid out Bruins cornerback Andrew Abbott with a head-rattling block in the second quarter. Yes, Marquise Goodwin the track star. Last year it was the Bruins who knocked out the Longhorns. This time, Texas dished out the punishment, even if Goodwin’s block was ruled a personal foul.
“It signified our game — physical,” Vaccaro said.
But with a 3-0 record comes a new set of challenges, and it doesn’t guarantee any continued success.
“We’ll have to handle some people bragging on us for the first time,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We’ve got to keep working because we’re not near as good as we can be.”
Still, the Longhorns haven’t played a top-flight opponent. I’m not on the bandwagon just yet.
UCLA was torched by Houston in its season opener and barely escaped San Jose State at home.
Brigham Young’s win over Mississippi lost its luster when the Rebels fell handily to Vanderbilt this week while the Cougars were busy losing 54-10 to Utah.
And Rice is, well, Rice.
Come talk to me after the Longhorns go on the road and face an undefeated Iowa State team that has shown just as much fight as Texas this year.
As Brown pointed out, this is far from a finished product.
Texas had UCLA bruised and bloodied in the first half, but couldn’t score the knockout punch.
“We had them on the ropes a couple times and we didn’t finish them,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “And that was disappointing.”
Yes, the Longhorns answered questions about their toughness and ability to win on the road, but they still have strides to take.
The encouraging thing is this team has responded to a new challenge with each week.
“We’re taking the right steps and we’re taking them fast,” said sophomore cornerback Adrian Phillips, who had an interception and forced a fumble against UCLA.
But if Texas continues to build on its success from game to game, the sky is the limit for this young group.
“As long as everybody plays hard we’ll pull out wins like this all year,” Vaccaro said.
The Longhorns rediscovered their swagger amongst the palm trees and mountain ranges that enclose the Rose Bowl.