AUSTIN, Texas — It’s OK to invest yourselves again, Orangebloods … emotionally, financially, perhaps even absolutely.
For one night, it was easy to go all-in on Texas. The Longhorns scored, they stumbled, they got back up and they finally dusted off Notre Dame in two overtimes.
Then they breathed a sigh of relief that could be heard from here to San Antonio.
This Charlie Strong thing just might work out after all. Sunday’s 50-47 double-overtime win lasted four hours but left an impression going back a decade.
“There’s only one way I’ve ever seen it topped,” said Texas governor Greg Abbott. “That was when Vince Young went across the goal line against USC 10 years ago.”
That was how Texas’ last national title game ended. This was a mere season opener. A season opener against Notre Dame in front of a record crowd in what’s normally prime-time NFL territory on a Sunday. Still, it’s just a beginning.
“But it feels like a championship,” Abbott countered.
Right here, right now, it matters little there is an entire season left to play. Or that Texas blew a 17-point lead.
The Longhorns have a future and a freshman (quarterback Shane Buechele). Really, that was enough.
“It was a night for us just to make it right,” said Charlie Strong, whose job security has practically made it into the game notes.
“At least for one game — for one game.”
For that one game, Texas had an identity. That starts with having a quarterback. Sure, it’s been a while. Going on seven years, in fact, since a Longhorn State quarterback was worth a darn at Texas. Praise the Lord and pass from the shotgun, the kid from Arlington is wise beyond his years.
Alternating with senior Tyrone Swoopes, Buechele threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns. That didn’t make him even the best quarterback on the field. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, sharing time with Malik Zaire, accounted for six touchdowns (five passing).
These Longhorns are going to rise and fall on the arm of the 18-year-old Buechele and the legs of Swoopes. The senior goes around trucking people so often his package is called the “18-Wheeler.”
The last poor sap to get in his way was Notre Dame safety Avery Sebastian, who was on the receiving end of Swoopes’ 10-yard run that set up the winning touchdown.
It was an up-the-gut Swoopes six-yard run that won the game after Notre Dame had kicked a mere field goal in their second-overtime possession.
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Swoopes when asked about playing second-fiddle to a freshman.
Once Buechele enrolled in January, it would have been seen as a failure had Swoopes started another game. Swoopes knew that from social media alone.
“I deleted my account — Twitter and Instagram — off my phone because I didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to mess with it,” he said.
With nine minutes left in the third quarter, Texas led 31-14 and the party had begun. Not counting a first-half kneel-down, Buechele had led four consecutive scoring drives.
He then kick-started a Notre Dame comeback by throwing his first career interception. Three straight touchdowns and the Irish were up 35-31.
There was reason to skip right to the NFL Draft where Kizer is expected to be one of the top quarterbacks selected. His performance made you question Brian Kelly’s decision to play two quarterbacks from the onset of the game.
Malik Zaire, injured last season, is a nice change-of-pace, but he’s not Kizer. And he certainly isn’t Swoopes, a 250-pound designated bulldozer.
Buechele alternated with Swoopes on a 16-play, 88-yard drive. Buechele also threw a 72-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the second half.
Not bad for a kid who found out Sunday he was starting. He was greeted with a record Darrell K. Royal Stadium crowd of 102,315. No pressure, kid.
How wild was it Sunday night? With 30 seconds left in the third quarter, Kizer zipped a pass into the end zone to Torii Hunter Jr. Hunter, who was poised to complete the catch before being knocked silly with a helmet-to-helmet hit by Texas’ DeShon Elliott. Hunter dropped it, as one would expect, instead receiving a laceration above his eye.
No ejection. Not even a flag or a review. Hunter had to be helped off the field after several minutes and didn’t play again. Notre Dame got its ensuing field goal attempt blocked.
How wild was it? Texas was flagged for sideline interference as Notre Dame returned a blocked extra point for a defensive two pointer that tied the game 37-37.
“I knew it was me who hit the official,” Strong said.
Not intentionally, of course, but the official did throw a flag as he tumbled to the ground.
How wild was it? There were a combined 162 plays, 971 yards, 19 penalties, 16 quarterback changes and those two overtimes.
Going into the game, things were so tenuous around here that even Bevo — all 1,100 pounds of the new on-the-hoof Longhorn mascot — was reluctant to take the field. Who could blame him?
Strong’s first two offenses had finished near the bottom of the pack in most NCAA statistics. All in 2015, Texas beat Oklahoma and Baylor but also got shut out by Iowa State.
Scoring wasn’t the issue Sunday. There were plenty of points to go around. Perhaps because of that, there wasn’t one question about Strong’s job security. Not as Texas was defeating a top-10 team in its season opener for the first time since 1983.
How’s that for an identity?
“We needed,” Strong said, “a signature win.”