AUSTIN, Texas — Here’s the best rule of thumb for a coach with a team trying to fight off an upset: Lean heavily on the running game.
It worked for the 15th-ranked Texas Longhorns, who held off Wyoming 37-17 in front of 101,142 fans at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
By game’s end, the Longhorns sported two runners over 100 yards.
Starting tailback Malcolm Brown, a sophomore, gained 105 yards on 14 carries. Joe Bergeron, another sophomore, rushed for 110 yards on 15 carries. Each averaged more than seven yards per carry.
Longhorn quarterback David Ash, who beat out Case McCoy for the starting job in preseason camp, was asked to throw shorter passes. He had one fumble on a bobbled snap with no interceptions. His numbers weren’t gaudy — he was 20 of 27 for 156 yards — but Ash was efficient.
“I just wanted to get a completion, to get the ball in someone’s hands,” Ash said. “Our running backs and offensive line really wore out their defensive line as the game wore on. Joe and Malcolm and the guys were really successful.”
The Cowboys, who returned 13 players from an 8-5 bowl team, scared UT a bit because of the presence of salty sophomore quarterback Brett Smith.
Statistically, Smith was the second-best quarterback in the Mountain West a year ago behind only Kellen Moore of Boise State. He started hot against UT, throwing for an 82-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter to give Wyoming a 9-7 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, his 16-yard touchdown pass to Robert Herron, his favorite receiver, allowed the Cowboys to pull within 14 at 31-17.
But then Texas responded with a 91-yard touchdown drive. Bergeron scored from 17 yards out.
“I do want to brag on their quarterback,” Texas coach Mack Brown said of Smith. “He was good.”
Smith threw for 276 yards — with Herron catching five passes for 143. But Smith had two second-quarter interceptions that cost his team momentum and allowed the Longhorns to take a 24-9 lead at halftime.
“He was great,” Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said of Smith. “Tonight was the best we’ve thrown the football against one of the top defenses in the nation.”
Longhorn defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wasn’t thrilled with his unit’s play, although he said most of the mistakes were correctable.
“We gave up a long pass for a touchdown, which makes everybody feel terrible,” Diaz said. “But we did block the extra point, which shows a little bit of the heart of the football team.”
The score could have been more lopsided if not for Texas’ mistakes in the kicking game. New field goal kicker Nick Jordan missed two field goals. Plus, there was a botched extra point on the final touchdown.
The heat likely had an impact on the game. The temperature was a toasty 94 degrees at kickoff.
But the Longhorns after halftime never looked to be in danger of blowing the lead as UT turned to its running game to control the contest. There were only three scores in the second half, with UT’s two top runners each getting a touchdown. Then there were the brief theatrics of Smith, who a year ago statistically was the best quarterback in the Mountain West Conference behind Boise State’s Kellen Moore.
After Wyoming briefly took a 9-7 lead, Texas blew the game open in the second quarter, scoring 17 points.
Ash found fellow sophomore Jaxon Shipley for a 16-yard touchdown. And D.J. Monroe, classified as a hybrid running back-receiver, ran for a 7-yard score out of the Longhorns’ “Wild” formation. That gave Texas a 21-9 lead. Jordan converted a 31-yard field goal with three seconds in the half to push the Longhorns’ lead to 24-9.
“You’ve just got to give it up to Texas being a good team,” said Wyoming linebacker Korey Jones. “They have a lot of talent and they executed well. You’ve got to be able to run the ball and score.”