Though Colt McCoy was recovering from the flu, Texas managed to exact revenge on a conference rival last week, pulling out a win over the only team it lost to last season.
With their Heisman hopeful quarterback healthy again, the Longhorns have to like their chances of staying undefeated against UTEP.
McCoy and the second-ranked Longhorns look to build on their first Big 12 win by continuing their dominance of non-conference opponents when they host the Miners on Saturday.
Texas (3-0) didn’t distinguish itself early in last Saturday’s game against visiting Texas Tech, which kept the Longhorns out of last year’s Big 12 title game and perhaps the national championship game by beating them 39-33 in November.
The Longhorns struggled early, perhaps in part because McCoy was feeling the effects of an illness that kept him out of most drills during the week. Texas staggered to a 10-3 halftime lead, with its only touchdown coming on a 46-yard punt return.
McCoy felt better after eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinking a children’s hydration drink at halftime. He completed 15 of 18 pass attempts in the second half and threw his only touchdown early in the fourth quarter to help Texas to a 34-24 victory.
“I just felt weak (in the first half). I wasn’t myself,” said McCoy, last season’s runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. “(At halftime) I ate a bunch and drank a bunch. I felt recharged. I ended up playing great.”
Coach Mack Brown was encouraged by the way his team responded to its biggest test of the young season. The Longhorns cruised to blowout victories in their first two games against Louisiana-Monroe and Wyoming.
“Survival,” Brown said. “I’m proud of the way our guys grew up, the way they worked, and fought and hit.”
Brown has good reason to be proud of his team’s performance against non-conference opponents. Including bowl games, Texas is 25-1 against teams outside the Big 12 since the start of the 2004 season, the lone defeat coming against then-No. 1 Ohio State on Sept. 9, 2006.
Since a 38-28 loss to Arkansas on Sept. 13, 2003, the Longhorns have won 21 in a row against unranked non-conference foes by an average of 36.6 points.
That is bad news for the Miners (1-2), losers of 10 straight against Top 25 teams and 3-46 all-time against ranked opponents. They dropped their most recent meeting with the Longhorns - who were ranked 10th at the time - 42-13 last Sept. 6.
Texas won its three previous matchups with UTEP, which is visiting Austin for the first time since 1933.
McCoy was 20 for 29 for 282 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in last year’s meeting. Dan Buckner, then a freshman, caught one of those TD passes for the first reception of his career.
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Buckner is flourishing after moving from wide receiver to what Texas calls its “flex” position, lining him up closer to the ball. After catching five passes in 12 games as a freshman, he is second on the team with 17 receptions and 223 yards through the first three games of 2009.
Buckner said making the move was about getting a chance to play, and it’s worked out well for him and the team.
“It gets me on the field,” said Buckner, who caught McCoy’s touchdown pass last week. “I just want to play, contribute and win.”
UTEP got its first win of the season last Saturday, scoring the first 31 points in a 38-12 rout of New Mexico State. Donald Buckram rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and Vernon Frazier also ran for two scores as the Miners compiled 14 more points than they had in their first two games combined.
Coach Mike Price liked what he saw last week, but he knows it will take a very strong performance to hand Texas its first defeat.
“We’re going to be challenged in every phase this week,” he said. “We just have to play better, play closer to our potential. … We have a lot of work to do. We’re not there yet.”