A Major improvement

AUSTIN, Texas -- When it was over, Mack Brown exited stage left and embraced Major Applewhite.

Given the new play-callers' first game and first victory, Brown might want to hold tight. Not because Applewhite was some flawless diamond that allowed this beleaguered offense to finally shine. Really, more because Applewhite proved, once again, that he was anything but.

Yes, Applewhite accepted the obvious and put the ball more into the playmakers' hands.

"Coach Applewhite definitely found a way to use me a little more than I was used early on during the season," said wide receiver Marquise Goodwin who scored touchdowns receiving and rushing and gained 132 combined yards.

That wasn't genius. That was logic.

The genius in Applewhite's game was his unabashed temerity to believe his players were better than the ones they line up against and that together they would find some way to get done what was needed.

That didn't just start at 5:45 on Saturday. It began at 11 p.m. on Dec. 11 when Brown called Applewhite to ask him if he were ready to take the lead.

"Yes, sir. See you in the morning." Applewhite told him.

Simple. Perfunctory. Get out of the way, I'm getting it done.

That attitude continued as Applewhite not only settled on his quarterback, David Ash, but infused him with as much confidence and cockiness possible in the two weeks leading up to the Valero Alamo Bowl.

In the hours before the bowl, without a backup because the suspension, 24 hours before the game, of Case McCoy, Applewhite was in conference ballroom 15 of the hotel. For two hours, he worked with Jalen Overstreet, going over plays, letting the true freshman, who had been fourth string on the depth chart and never touched the field, know that if called upon he would be ready and, more importantly, believed in by Applewhite and his teammates.

It was belief that made the difference in the game against Oregon State. Too often when Ash has started poorly -- and 23 yards in the first quarter was only eclipsed in its ineptness by the Oklahoma first quarter -- he appeared stuck ankle deep in a cow patty of awfulness, unable to escape. Oklahoma, Kansas and TCU served as testament to that.

Something changed against Oregon State. Ash refused to let his shoulders slump and the team fall from them. Instead he stood tall. Even after an interception that led to a 27-17 Oregon State lead, Ash was back, making things happen. From that point he went 8-of-10 for 126 yards with two touchdowns.

When Ash scrambled, dodged, ducked and found Johnathan Gray for a 15-yard touchdown pass, it was vintage Applewhite, turning something into nothing and turning questions into belief.

"It takes every guy on that bench to lead and get the job done, and the guys believed tonight, believed in each other, believed in our preparation and played as hard as they could, and it was a lot of fun, and just couldn't be more thankful," Ash said.

Much of the thanks belong to Applewhite, who was far from perfect in his debut but perfectly fit what Texas needed. This is a team that has talked about swagger and identity and toughness for three years. In Applewhite, Texas might finally have someone in a position of power who actually possesses those qualities and understands how to infect others with them beyond speeches or sayings or double claps in the post-practice huddle.

Appelwhite is stubborn and tough enough to believe he can always get it done. The players are smart enough to see and feel that. His recalcitrant nature will undo him in a few games, to be sure. But it will serve him well enough in others, and if Texas can embrace it, the Longhorns might once again be able to hold something other than just hope at the end of a season.