SAN DIEGO — The Texas Longhorns understand the recent history of the Holiday Bowl a little more than they would like.
But having played in three of the last four Holiday Bowls gave the Longhorns some solace when Washington State appeared to have them buried midway through the fourth quarter.
"It's the Holiday Bowl so you know it's going to be an instant classic," said Texas senior receiver Roy Williams.
In Pullman, the 26th edition surely was. In Austin, it came up just short, kind of like the Longhorns all night long.
"Nothing happened right for us," said Texas coach Mack Brown after the Cougars beat the Longhorns 28-20, stopping a furious rally that saw Texas score with 4:29 left and then drive to the WSU 11 with a chance to tie the score a couple of minutes later.
But that drive ended, like so many others, thanks to a WSU blitz. This one, courtesy of linebacker D.D. Acholonu, caused Texas quarterback Chance Mock to fumble the ball away and essentially decided the game.
"They brought the house almost every play," marveled Texas guard Tillman Holloway. "We expected them to bring it 38 percent of the time and they brought it 60 percent of the time."
Texas, which came in averaging 42 points and 448 yards per game, was held to just two touchdowns and 328 yards in losing the Holiday Bowl for the second time in four years, both times after being a big favorite against a Northwest Pac-10 team (Oregon beat Texas 35-30 in 2000).
The obvious question afterward was whether the Longhorns — who came in ranked No. 5 in the country and would have been in the Fiesta Bowl if not for Kansas State's upset of Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game — had overlooked the Cougars.
One reporter, in fact, tried to ask it, but referred to WSU as "Washington," forcing Brown to correct him.
"No, we didn't (overlook them)," he said. "We knew they were really good."
So good on this night that it didn't matter which former Parade All-American quarterback Texas trotted out — starter Vince Young, or Mock.
Young, a dangerous runner, never got untracked, and was benched for good after playing two series in the third quarter in favor of Mock, a better passer.
"I thought Vince played good, we just didn't protect him very well," Brown said. "We got ourselves in a bind (when WSU pulled ahead in the third quarter) and we felt like we had to throw the ball and be in our one-minute (offense) and those are the things Chance has done best for us."
With Texas down 28-13, Mock led a touchdown drive that made it 28-20 with 4:29 left. Texas then got the ball back and drove to WSU's 11.
"I really thought we were going to overtime," Brown said.
Instead, on second down Mock tried to evade the rush while running backward and was hit as he threw with the ball squirting sideways. It was ruled a fumble and WSU recovered.
It was one of several calls that the Texas sideline argued. Asked about the fumble afterward, Brown said "do you mean the one when the tight end had both knees down (referring to a fumble by Matt Melton that WSU's Jason David returned for a touchdown) or the one where it looked like the ball might be going forward (referring to Mock's fumble)?"
Texas also thought WSU's Sammy Moore might have gone out of bounds when he tiptoed down the sideline on a 54-yard TD pass in the third quarter that put WSU ahead for good.
Asked about that play, Brown said, "you sure can't question that one. You all saw it." As Brown talked, Williams muttered into a microphone "four steps" — an apparent reference to how many times he felt Moore was over the line.
The interview ended shortly afterward, and Williams and the rest of the Longhorns hustled quickly out of Qualcomm Stadium, surely hoping they don't return for a while.
"Guys are having a tough time in the locker room," Brown said. "But they understand when you play a good team and make that many mistakes and they don't, you are going to lose."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org