What a feeling.
Those were my first thoughts as I watched Gunner Graham’s kick sail down the middle to stamp a 27-24 overtime thriller against Auburn that handed us our first championship. A championship trophy that escaped our grasp in season three and four thanks to late-season meltdowns was finally heading to Austin thanks to clutch plays and players. A trophy that symbolizes the hard work that was put in not only by the coaching staff but the players themselves. So how did we come to this point? How did we accomplish our goal in season five? It all started with the Huskies of Washington.
Coming into the season the spotlight was on Washington. Signing Dong and Graves to a team that had already won a championship a few seasons prior only made these Huskies the heavy favorites. Even in the podcast season previews, Texas was an afterthought. “Texas will struggle to run the ball and Voodoo will have to throw it and Washington will be waiting” was what some of the commentators said regarding the game between Texas and Washington. That quote stuck in my mind as we watched players like Tarraj Walker stiff-arm Dong into the shadow realm. And that guy Voodoo? He tossed almost 400 yards and five touchdowns in the first game. We would go onto win the game 49-20, thanks to big plays by Voodoo and new transfer WR Ray Conley. A big first win for sure but the next game was against a team that we have struggled against in Notre Dame.
Notre Dame always presented problems for us in prior seasons. We play them close but struggle to move the ball and eventually lose. The prior season we lost 38-33 and we were out for revenge. Jumping out 17-0 in the first quarter, the offense forgot that you have to keep pressuring this defense the rest of the game. Notre Dame kept attacking and caught up in the second half and took the lead early in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns would eventually lose their only game in season five, a nailbiter to the Irish 34-27. The offense played okay but the defense struggled by giving up 542 yards of offense including 417 in the air. One of the worst marks ever against a Longhorn defense.
After the Notre Dame game, I sat with my coaches Voodoo and Jimbo. More sims were run and discussions took place on how to correct our defense and keep our offense scoring later in games. After some quality sims took place, we changed the way we ran our defense and offense. Well, things worked out well. Big wins over Michigan (56-13) and Florida (48-7) continue to propel Texas to greater heights in season six. Another monster victory over TCU (55-27) gave Texas blowout wins in four of our first five games. But now the schedule started to dive us deeper into the SEC conference as we were lined up against Auburn.
Auburn is a well-coached school led by Matt Pack. Pack is a regular of someone that I always bounce ideas off of, more of a mentor role. As many people may know, my career to AD did not start well. I started as a coach at LSU only to be thrust into the AD limelight late in the season. I was never properly taught how to run sims or even how to make a roster. A lot of my knowledge was gained by sims and questions to other ADs. Pack was one of those ADs as well as Neversatisfied. They both helped me in ways that would eventually allow me to lead my team with my own torch. Being given Texas in season three was probably the most exciting thing I could have ever imagined. Quickly building my locker room with highly active guys, Texas had hype and joined the SEC with Auburn. The Tigers were always a measuring stick. If I could beat Auburn then I know that I am doing something right. Unfortunately for Pack, we have beaten Auburn every time we have played them.
Back to this season, we took on Auburn and we started to roll on offense. A 31-13 lead was built by half-time but the rest of the game we would only score three points en route to a 34-23 victory thanks to our defense. An all-around victory was celebrated but little did we know what we would run into when we faced Miami. Something happened that rainy Septemeber night. Voodoo was broken. A QB that was crushing records this season, threw five interceptions in the first half. Texas was getting outplayed at every level against a very good Miami offense and defense. We were able to tie the game up shortly before the end of the game and we went into overtime where star safety, Jimbo Smithers, created a fumble that would eventually secure our win and we escaped.
The next game lined us up with Clemson. Arch-rivals since season three when we both entered the league, Clemson has been the only team to blow us out in our first meeting. Ever since that meeting, we have come out on top but it has not been easy. The bowl victory in season three was our definition of payback as we were able to match the blowout received earlier in the season. In season four we came out with a 31-28 victory over the future champions and this season Clemson was entering this game 7-0 and wanting to secure the SEC title again. Trash talk followed but again Texas was able to come out on top 49-28. We were up 38-7 by half and cruised the rest of the way. Voodoo threw six touchdowns against the former number one defense and we had secured our first SEC title since joining the league.
With the playoffs returning for season five, we were matched up against a very good Oregon squad and boy was it a dandy. Thanks to the heroics of Voodoo, we managed to pull away 35-34 late. While Tatum still threw three more interceptions, Texas was heading to the grand finale, the championship game against a familiar foe, Auburn.
During the season my schedule drastically changed and more responsibilities were added to my plate. Even much so that after a lengthy discussion with the commissioner, Majesty, I had asked that I be allowed to step down as my position as athletic director of Texas. During our many calls, I stated that I did not want to give my guys anything less than what they signed up for. It was agreed upon and plans were made to move forward. After receiving a call from Majesty again, he had another idea of allowing head coaches to run the program and elevating ADs to a new level over a program. By doing this, I would have a Head Coach run sims and the locker room among other things, and this allowed me to still be in charge of my favorite school while focusing on life activities. I naturally agreed and Jimbo started to call the plays on defense starting with the Oregon game. This part is key as it was our defense that won us the national championship.
As the title game approached, I was asked about joining the CFSL hangout. Unfortunately, I had been in a car accident a few days prior to the meetup and suffered a concussion. This caused me to not be able to run sims and to fully rely on my coaching staff for our settings. I was not able to make the hangout because of the concussion as well as preparing the sale of our current home. Still, I was pretty nervous. Never had there been a bigger game in the history of our team. Even though we had beaten Auburn multiple times, this time it was different. A late playbook change before playoffs for Auburn had me second-guessing myself on how we should run things. Suggestions were made to the coaching staff and we went back and forth on our offense and defense. Finally, our gameplan was set and we were ready.
As I have mentioned to many people before, you can usually tell what your team will do the rest of the game by the first couple of quarters. Well, it was not looking good for us. Voodoo was struggling on offense with multiple interceptions and we trailed the majority of the game. Our defense was able to continue to pressure Auburn’s QB, as well as get turnovers only for our offense to turn it back over. Trailing late in the game with three minutes to go, a play that will forever live in Texas legend lore, Terrence Top intercepts a screen pass and returns for a pick-6. This made the game 21-17 in our favor and flipped the script for the rest of the game. Auburn would come back and drive down the field and score a TD of their own but the rest of the game had a different feeling. Voodoo would take the ball and drive to field goal range and watch as Gunner Graham kicked the game-tying field goal with six seconds remaining.
Once in overtime, Auburn drove to about the six-yard line and Jelkic threw his worst pass of the night. An interception right to the hands of our three-star senior, Pluto Ross. We would then run a few times and one pass and that set us up for the game-winning field goal and a national championship.
Being a national champion is one of the best feelings you can have. It was well worth it for players like Ray Tatum, who stuck with me for four seasons. Tatum will probably go down as one of the best players I have ever coached. A two-time OPOY and AA selectee, he helped build our locker room into what it is today. Jimbo Smithers is another person that comes to mind. Already a DPOY, he went out and caught some INTs only to win DPOY again. Having him as my Head Coach was a no-brainer. As far as the other guys, each player like Scooby Lewis, Ray Conley and Zachary White, just to name a few, contributed in the locker room and on the field. I have been blessed as an AD to having each of them on my team.
This season will be different. Gone are Ray Tatum and the Air-Raid we ran. In comes Walker Mills. A very hyped up recruit, only to join two teams that folded the past two seasons. Mills was second in the league in rushing and has been questioned as a passer. Also new this year will be Jimbo taking the reigns of game-planning. (With some insight from me of course). We look forward to facing our Auburn brothers and hope to continue the SEC title-winning ways!