Ames, Iowa, isn't quite Lubbock weird, but it's a close second as far as Big 12 Twilight Zones rank. Understandably, then, Thursday night's 31-30 win by Texas over Iowa State was so many different kinds of bizarre.
First, there was Case McCoy's successful Hail Mary throw to wide receiver John Harris at the end of the first half to put the 'Horns up 17-13—a play that apparently inspired some odd confidence in McCoy's passing ability the rest of the night.
Then, there was the cheap shot from Texas wide receiver Mike Davis. The dive at ISU defensive back Deon Broomfield's knees merited an unnecessary roughness penalty, but Davis should be suspended for the first half of UT's next game against Oklahoma like it was a targeting penalty.
That's because it was targeting, even though it won't be recorded as such. But what Davis did was just as harmful to a player's safety. It was intentional, and that shouldn't be tolerated by Texas or the Big 12.
Mack on the Mike Davis hit: "He couldn't hear (the whistle). There's 70,000 people screaming their guts out."— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) October 4, 2013
But that play, as bad as it was, won't be nearly as controversial on Friday as the fumble—or, non-fumble, depending on what you saw—by Texas running back Johnathan Gray in the final minutes of the game.
On first-and-goal from the Iowa State 2-yard line, Gray ran forward and was stuffed just before the goal line. Seconds later, Cyclones linebacker Jeremiah George emerged from the pile with the football. But officials ruled the play dead before the strip of the ball, and video review later determined there was not enough evidence to overturn the call.
Was Gray's forward progress stopped before the ball came loose? Take a look for yourself.
Two plays later, McCoy dove into the end zone on a sneak. An extra point later and the Longhorns had a one-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. And, for the time being, Texas sits alone atop the Big 12 standings—much to the dismay of many, including one former (and unverified by Twitter standards) Texas A&M athletic director.
Watched it happen too many times. When tu needs a call, they get it. Clearly a fumble. Call goes for tu.— Bill Byrne (@Bill_Byrne) October 4, 2013
And one current Iowa State head coach too.
But perhaps the biggest indication that Thursday night's game was played in an alternate universe was the trust Texas coaches had in McCoy throwing the ball 45 times. History shows the more the senior throws it, the less likely Texas is to win, as the 'Horns were previously 1-6 when McCoy threw more than 16 passes in a game.
and now, the time when case mccoy is best: when you’ve absolutely given up on any notion of his competence.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) October 4, 2013
But while we've established that Case McCoy is the football child of Harry Potter0 and Rudy, it wasn't like he was Texas' only hope to win. The Longhorns could run the ball. Quite well, in fact.
On Gray's third touch of the game Thursday, he ran for a 45-yard touchdown. The three running backs for Texas—Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and Gray—averaged 5.8 yards per carry on the night.
Why the ground game wasn't a bigger part of the offensive plan is an absolute mystery. It wasn't uncommon for McCoy to throw seven, eight, nine, even 10 passes in a row. Meanwhile, two scoring drives for Texas directly came as a result of rushing touchdowns from a running back.
Texas coaches called pass plays roughly 60 percent of the time when it should have been the other way around. McCoy was either missing receivers or throwing it up for grabs down the field. Save for the Hail Mary, the passing game was ineffective no matter how the Longhorns tried to get it going. Yet Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite were committed to it.
It was almost impressive, but mostly surreal.
Maybe starting quarterback David Ash will be back for next week's game against Oklahoma as he recovers from concussion-like symptoms. If he's not, there is no way McCoy throws the ball another 45 times against the Sooners and wins.