LUBBOCK, Texas — Colt McCoy stood in stunned disbelief: Texas’ run at No. 1 was done.
Battered and bloodied — a hard hit in the third quarter split McCoy’s lip and he was spitting out blood on the sideline — the quarterback had dragged Texas back from a 19-point deficit to take the lead with 89 seconds left against Texas Tech.
Eighty-eight seconds later, the Red Raiders scored the game-winning touchdown on a spectacular pass and the Longhorns were no longer undefeated after a 39-33 defeat.
After three impressive wins over Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State, Texas (8-1, 4-1 Big 12) is back at No. 5 — just where it was a month ago — because a defense that had been able to mask poor pass coverage was exposed by Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell. When the cover guys couldn’t do their job, the line couldn’t come up with the big sack or turnover to stop drives.
And McCoy, although very good in the second-half comeback, couldn’t get things going in the first and made a crucial mistake in the third quarter with an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The offensive line that protected him so well let him get sacked three times in the first half when Tech was building a big lead.
McCoy, the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy going into the game, likely now must take a back seat to Harrell, who spent the game coolly avoiding the Texas pass rush to rip the Longhorns for 474 yards passing and two touchdowns.
“When you lose, it’s tough,” said McCoy, sacked four times in all. “That’s a hard thing to deal with, but this team is awesome and this team fought.”
What the Longhorns couldn’t do was cover Michael Crabtree and the rest of Texas Tech’s receivers. With freshman safety Earl Thomas and sophomore cornerback Curtis Brown trying to double cover Crabtree, Harrell knew he could still find his favorite target on the winning play.
Texas may simply have run out of gas on the South Plains.
The Longhorns rose to No. 1 by beating then-No. 1 Oklahoma in Dallas back on Oct. 11. Then came a rout of Missouri and a hard-fought win over Oklahoma State, both at home.
On the road again against Texas Tech, the Longhorns didn’t put up much of a fight early and had to claw their way back into the game even as two seniors and emotional leaders, wide receiver Quan Cosby (back) and defensive end Brian Orakpo (sprained left knee), went down with injuries. Both will be evaluated further this week, trainer Kenny Boyd said.
“It’s an excuse. A schedule’s a schedule,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “I mean, you’ve got to play. It’s the hand we were dealt and we got to step up to it and handle it.”
The Longhorns nearly staged an incredible comeback. McCoy threw touchdown passes of 37 and 91 yards to Malcolm Williams in the second half. The second TD to Williams allowed McCoy to pass Major Applewhite as Texas’ career passing leader.
Texas outscored the Red Raiders’ offense 27-10 in the second half, but the Texas Tech defense made a huge play when Daniel Charbonnet returned an interception 18 yards for a TD and a 29-13 lead. Still, McCoy engineered the drive that nearly won it for Texas when Vondrell McGee crashed over the goal line to put Texas up 33-32.
Texas’ porous pass defense couldn’t make it hold up. Freshman safety Blake Gideon could have ended the game when a tipped ball practically hit him in the stomach. Instead of an interception, the ball fell through his hands and hit the turf. Harrell and Crabtree connected for the game-winner on the next play.
Now a Longhorns team that shot up to No. 1 a month ago needs Texas Tech to lose if it still hopes to play in the Big 12 championship game and contend for the national title.
A national championship “was the dream,” Brown said. “The goal is the conference championship.”
It could happen. The Red Raiders, who climbed from No. 6 to No. 2 in the rankings, have a much tougher schedule than Texas down the stretch. Texas Tech (9-0) hosts No. 8 Oklahoma State next Saturday night, then has an open date before traveling to No. 6 Oklahoma and finishing with Baylor.
The Longhorns play Baylor next Saturday, travel to Kansas and finish the regular season at home against rival Texas A&M.
“We’ve got a lot of things to fix to get ready and play better next week,” Brown said. “We don’t have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves.”