AUSTIN, Texas -- The dam broke just before 8 p.m. What ensued stunned Texas to its core and set in motion the downfall of a regime.
At that precise moment, one hour and six minutes in, Taysom Hill ran right up the middle. Five Texas defenders cleared a clean path with diving missing tackles and half-speed effort.
Hill's second touchdown dash, a 20-yarder, gave BYU a 17-14 lead. There was 7:48 left in the first half, but the game was almost over.
The Longhorns didn’t just go on to lose 40-21 that night. They’d lose their quarterback, their defensive coordinator, their next game and eventually their coaching staff. And if you ask Texas players today, they lost some dignity that fateful night in Provo, Utah.
“That’s probably the most embarrassed I’ve ever been,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said.
As receiver John Harris solemnly put it: “I think that was one of the all-time lows for us as a team in general.”
What will motivate Texas on Saturday night, when Hill and BYU visit Austin for a rematch, won’t be payback so much as pride. Charlie Strong’s staff didn’t hesitate this summer to remind players about the butt-whooping the then-No. 15 Longhorns received on Sept. 7, 2013.
“Oh man. That’s all we hear,” defensive end Cedric Reed said in July. “That’s all we hear is BYU. We’re ready to play BYU this year.”
Imagine how Strong, a defensive guru, must’ve felt the first time he popped in the game tape and watched Texas’ defense permit the school-record-torching 550 rushing yards, the 679 total yards on 99 plays, the 17 missed tackles, the 233 yards after contact.
Last month, Texas defensive tackle Desmond Jackson denounced the belief that Texas had a “soft” defense in 2013. This was the game that bolstered that reputation.
Hill’s first touchdown, a 68-yard run late in the first quarter in which three Texas defensive backs whiffed at stopping a quarterback with a knee brace, set the tone early.
“At that point, we knew we were going to win this football game,” Hill said Wednesday. “We were so geared-in and having fun. Everything just became pretty easy.”
By the time Hill crossed the 30-yard line, Mack Brown had already spiked his headset.
But Texas hung in there for the first hour. Then, finally, the fracture. A roughing the punter penalty gave BYU the ball back. Four plays later, Hill scrambled. Steve Edmond could’ve stopped him after 6 yards but dove and missed. Hill split right between Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson. Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips slowed up as Hill neared the goal line.
“Give him a little space and he showed everybody what he’ll do with it,” Thompson said. “I have no idea how many times I’ve watched that film from last year.”
While BYU celebrated, Manny Diaz walked past Brown. The head coach shook his head.
Soon after, Brown pulled Diaz and secondary coach Duane Akina aside. Their conference lasted no longer than 20 seconds. The head coach enumerated his complaints. Akina threw up his hands and shouted. Diaz just nodded.
Maybe he knew, from there on out, his job was on the line. But BYU was just getting started: 404 total yards on 57 snaps came after Mack’s meeting.
Midway through the fourth quarter, more disaster. A helmet-to-helmet hit left David Ash squinting and down on one knee. The yearlong struggle initiated by that concussion has sidelined Ash again, perhaps for good.
The mood in the locker room afterward? Uncomfortable. The overwhelming sentiment, Harris said, was clear: Did we really just get beat this bad?
“The morning after, waking up that Sunday, you’re asking yourself, ‘Did that really just happen?” Thompson said.
At 3:30 p.m. that Sunday, Brown told the team they had a new defensive coordinator.
“We laid an egg and we lost a guy’s job. Plain and simple,” Diggs said this week. “We let those guys down. We let ourselves down.”
One year later, Texas defenders stand by a compelling belief: They liked the game plan.
“It was a good scheme,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “The big thing was missed assignments.”
Strong agreed. On BYU’s biggest gains, a Texas player freelanced, didn’t respect gaps or didn’t trust a teammate to do his own job.
“If we just eliminate those mental errors, then you have a chance to go stop them,” Strong said.
Those simple fixes made Greg Robinson successful in Diaz’s place, but the Ole Miss game was a lost cause. You can’t fly in a new coordinator from California, ask him to install his brand of defense and expect winning results in six days.
A 1-2 start raised the stakes for Brown to the point that only a Big 12 title might’ve sufficed to save his job. Now Texas has a new coach with new answers for stopping BYU.
When Hill, the No. 3 rusher among all FBS quarterbacks last year, thinks back on his breakthrough night, he says he was “in the zone.” He didn’t plan on running 17 times for 259 yards. But Texas’ ends kept crashing on the read options to stuff the back. So he kept taking his easy outside lanes. Hill knows not to expect such permissive defense Saturday.
“They’ll come out with a revenge attitude,” Hill said. “We’re prepared for that and prepared to come in and match their energy.”
New DC Vance Bedford watched last year’s game live on TV. As a former Texas defensive back, he was offended. But revenge isn’t what he seeks.
“If you need motivation to go out there and get fired up, you shouldn’t be here,” he said. “If you’ve got to get amped up because something happened in the past, something’s wrong with you.”
The burden of shutting down BYU got heavier when Texas lost Ash and three starting offensive linemen. A redemptive performance is now a must.
Last year’s BYU game was Texas’ first treacherous step toward reconstruction. This year’s game can be the first step toward a revival.
“It’s a new year, new day, new team, new coaches,” Diggs said. “We’re going to go out, have a new attitude and we’re going to have fun.”