AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Colt McCoy made rare mistakes. The Texas defense got pushed around and the Longhorns watched their big lead and momentum gradually disappear.
Suddenly, the No. 1 team in the country looked vulnerable.
Yet here they are, still unbeaten, and with still more tough games to play.
McCoy passed for 391 yards and two touchdowns Saturday but the Longhorns defense needed to come up with two huge stands in a 28-24 win over No. 7 Oklahoma State after he threw a third-quarter interception and fumbled late in the fourth.
“We’re not going to beat everybody by 50 or 60,” Texas cornerback Ryan Palmer said. “We showed we can dig down and fight.”
Texas led 28-21 when McCoy threw the interception—his first in 101 pass attempts over the last four games—and the Cowboys seemed to have stolen all the momentum with the ball near midfield.
Instead of allowing a touchdown, Texas held OSU to a field goal that cut the lead to four. And when McCoy fumbled as he was swarmed by three defenders at the Cowboys 10 late in the fourth, Texas didn’t allow the them to get past their own 30.
Texas fans have watched McCoy play with near-perfect precision—especially while beating Oklahoma and Missouri the previous two weeks—and the turnovers seemed to stun the crowd of 98,515.
“No one plays this game perfect,” said wide receiver Jordan Shipley, McCoy’s roommate who was also his favorite target with 15 catches for 168 yards.
Texas (8-0, 4-0 Big 12) had a chance for a final touchdown after getting the ball back at the 30, driving to the 1 before a busted call on fourth down gave OSU one last chance to cover 99 yards in about 30 seconds. The Cowboys got to midfield before a desperation pass fell just short of the end zone on the final play.
“I’m very relieved to be out of that game,” Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller said.
Texas got its third straight win over a ranked opponent and it was the toughest by far. Texas beat Oklahoma 45-35 in Dallas with a big rally and used a 35-point first half to swamp Missouri in a rout at home.
Saturday’s slugfest with Oklahoma State sets up yet another big game next Saturday night at No. 8 Texas Tech.
“Our reward is Tech won 63-21 (over Kansas),” Longhorns coach Mack Brown said. “We’ve still got some work to do.”
Texas has won 11 in a row over Oklahoma State (7-1, 3-1), including several big rallies in recent years. This time, it was Texas hanging on at the end. With 56 players on the roster from Texas, the Cowboys were eager for payback and a chance to get in the national title chase after their first 7-0 start since the 1945 team went undefeated.
“We kind of let them off the hook,” said Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson, his hands still shaking after the game. “We had them where we wanted them all game, and we were just a few plays short.”
The Cowboys’ Kendall Hunter, the Big 12’s leading rusher, ran for 161 yards and a touchdown against the nation’s No. 2 rush defense. But he also fumbled inside the 10 in the first half when Oklahoma State trailed 7-0. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew had eight catches for 83 yards.
Brown knew his team was in for a tough day when the Longhorns had to punt on their first possession and tailback Vondrell McGee was knocked into a somersault with a big hit by Orie Lemon.
“I said, `Boys we got us a fight. You better hang on,”’ Brown said.
McCoy, who was 38 of 45 passing, threw touchdown passes to Shipley and Quan Cosby in the first half. The pass to Cosby, just over the outstretched fingertips of safety Jacob Lacey, put Texas up 21-7 late in the second quarter before OSU answered with a 9-yard scoring pass from Zac Robinson to Bo Bowling just before halftime.
Texas went up 28-14 when McCoy ran 3 yards for a TD midway through the third. The score came two plays after McCoy threw a pass that was picked off inside the 10 but the interception was nullified by a personal foul when linebacker Andre Sexton hit the quarterback in the face.
The Cowboys kept coming back. Hunter ripped the Longhorns for huge yards and Keith Toston cut the lead to 28-21 with a 1-yard run.
McCoy then made another big mistake and this time it counted. Trying to beat a blitz, McCoy lofted a soft deep pass toward Cosby and Lacey grabbed it. Dan Bailey’s 39-yard field goal made it to 28-24 with 13 minutes to play.
Texas then used a 15-play drive that ate up 7:31 before McCoy dropped the ball while being sacked for his second turnover.
“We can’t turn the ball over down there. Next time in that situation, we’ll finish,” McCoy said.
Two quick plays moved the ball to the 31 before Texas ended the drive by sacking Robinson and dropping receiver Dez Bryant for a loss on fourth down.
Even then, it still wasn’t quite over.
Brown wanted to try for a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal on fourth down from the 1 with less than a minute left.
“We didn’t think they could beat us if we left the ball at the six-inch line,” Brown said. “And if we score, we win.”
Of course, the Cowboys wouldn’t go meekly. Robinson got them to midfield, but couldn’t pull off a miracle.
“It took everything we had,” Shipley said, “to win this game.”